Toxic Hope Affects Marriages And Relationships

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How do you decide if your relationship has a potential to change for the better? A Los Angeles therapist, Marc Sadoff, has developed a way of giving people in 'high conflict' relationships the confidence to know they've tried everything before ending their relationships. If there is real hope that disrespect or abusive anger can change, this communication skills training course or seminar will give them the tools to find out. Toxic hope occurs when unrealistic hope exposes you to more unnecessary harm.

I know the way I treat you is wrong.... but I have bigger problems to deal with now.

How do you decide if your relationship has a potential to change for the better? Los Angeles therapist, Marc Sadoff, has developed a new method of giving people the confidence to know if it's possible. If it cannot then, the recommendation is to accept it... or to move on.

Answering the question, "Will this relationship change?," gets into the realm of Toxic Hope vs. Real Hope, according to Sadoff. Marc was featured in Time Magazine in their special Educational Alternative Approaches To Marriage Counseling as well as Cosmopolitan, Shine and Nurses Week magazines. He maintains a website at RealHope.com

Toxic Hope is the kind of hope that allows damage to continue to occur despite the absence of real evidence that things are changing. Or conversly, there IS evidence that it is NOT changing and the person continues to cling to the 'toxic hope.'

The Deadly D's are Denial, Detour, Delay, and Dilemma. They are four ways in which people avoid making hard decisions about things like health, addictions and in our case here relationships.

The way this applies to relationships looks like this:

Denial- "I do not have a problem with the way I treat you. I do not need to work on myself." Denial includes blaming, justifying, rationalizing and minimizing.

Detour- "I know the way I treat you is wrong.... but I have bigger problems to deal with now." Detour may include vague statements of responsibility and intent to change.

Delay- "Yeah, I know it is a big problem. I/we should get some help... I promise I will deal with it... tomorrow."

Dilemma- The Dilemma stage is very similar to what happens with addicts and alcoholics. For them it's called 'hitting bottom.' This is when there's no way around taking some action on the problem. "What do you mean you're leaving?" It's when a person must either decide to deal with this problem now or let the problem take them down.

Let's use the problem of a man who is disrespectful or abusive to his wife. And, he has trouble showing that he knows he is responsible for a part of the problem. Although, women can also resist saying they need to work on themselves, or getting help also. Sadoff says that in his experience it is more often the men who avoid seeking help for themselves or their relationships.

One sign that is necessary to decide if it's Real Hope or Toxic Hope, is whether he is able to say "I know that I'm a part of this problem, and I want to change." Without the other partner's ability to share being a cause of the problem, it is toxic to keep hoping that he or she will work on it. In this case of the trying to get the man to deal with this problem he will often avoid taking action or blame his wife. It could read straight from the process described above.

First, he will say it's not really a problem, or that she causes him to be this way. Denial.

Then, he may say it is a problem, but that help is too expensive. Or, that areas other than communication should be worked on like money, sexual issues or problems with children and in-laws. Detour.

Then later, he says he knows it's his biggest problem, but delays and resists getting help for it. Delay.

Finally, after his wife has filed for divorce or has had an affair, he says "Oh, honey I can see I need help!" He may even be resentful at his wife for not appreciating what he is doing for her now. He might chastise her for not telling him how important it was to her. But, he says he's now willing to get help. Dilemma.

Of course, she was telling him all throughout the relationship. The tragedy is that after all her energy is used up trying to get connected... she often cannot find her affectionate and loving feelings any longer. Her love is eroded away, often too late for repairing it... even when he is more sincere this time.

While this story is told with the woman being the one trying to get her husband to do something about the problem; it also happens that it's the man in a relationship that is trying to get his partner to do something about her part in the relationship. (i.e.- harsh criticism, not listening, drug/alcohol concern, lack of physical affection... etc.) The Deadly 'D's' applies to women as much as to men.

Most problems of high conflict communication in marriage are about someone not being able to stop doing a certain disrespectful behavior. Behaviors like reflexive arguing, interrupting, not listening all the way through, screaming or yelling, name calling, shaming, blaming, intrusive interrogative questioning, unrealistic jealosy and in general being unwilling to take responsibility for being at least some part of the problem.

The method, according to Sadoff, of determining whether hope is toxic or real is to put to the test exactly those behaviors that are problematic. Each partner should be willing to look at what role he or she plays in the problem or how it escalates. And, each partner should be willing to put themselves in the other's shoes to see how it could make sense that the other ended up thinking or feeling what they say they thought and felt.

The most common reasons that communication becomes difficult, if not impossible include deficits of responsibility and empathy. Add to that medical and psychological reasons that people can not be in control of their behavior.

He says, that what's needed are agreements between partner's that have consequences that are agreed upon; including seeking individual help if other agreements can't be executed in a reasonable way. Sadoff's method includes Five agreements. The fifth agreement is, 'What I'm willing to do about getting help if I cannot reasonably execute the prior four agreements.'

The first four agreements are about the basic guidelines of communication and guidelines. They include:

The Listening Exchange- About taking turns being the speaker and the listener.

The Couples Time- About reserving 20 minutes once a week to connect with each other.

The Time Out- The agreement that allows either person to stop an interaction or argument at any time without interference from the other. As long as there is a time also stated for coming back to the subject.

The Respect Agreement- This allows for either party to say that they are close to taking a Time Out, but that they will give the person who was just disrespectful one chance to restate what they were trying to say.

And, the Fifth Agreement- Which says, "If I cannot reasonably execute these agreements I want to see myself seeking further help. This could be individual psychotherapy, a medication consultation or an anger management group.

If a partner decides that the other person is not able to change in a way that feels acceptable then if that person may decide to leave. He or she can now do so with the peace of mind that everything possible was tried.

Difficult issues can be discussed productively and more safely using structured methods of communication. You can also read about some central ideas in the manual at his free tips web page.

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MARC SADOFF, MSW, BCD
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