What I Learned from a Decade of Failed Relationships (part 3)


You are 100% Responsible for Your 50% of the Relationship

Three entities exist in every relationship – the two individuals and the relationship itself. A therapist once told me that each partner is 100% responsible for their 50% of the relationship. Energy and effort exerted in pursuit of relationship success requires a degree of mutuality. For a relationship to work, each partner must carry their weight.

The 100% responsibility principle is significant when relationship problems surface. Does he sit passively, leaving the responsibility for resolution on the shoulders of his partner or does he take initiative in the matter? What if the problem at hand is only a problem for her and her partner is oblivious to the fact that anything is wrong? Does she sit passively, expecting her partner to get it? Does she communicate her needs or what she sees affecting the relationship, or, just remain silent allowing resentment to build?

How does he respond when his partner approaches with concerns – anger, defensiveness, indifference? Is a little psychological jiu jitsu used where suddenly the focus of the conversation is redirected to his grievances about his partner?

Pointing the finger of blame is a common response when problems arise but rarely, if ever, is responsibility for the relationship not shared. Blame, in this context, is nothing more than responsibility avoidance…at least, as it relates to resolving the problem.

“It’s your fault!” Ok, now what? Blame offers no solution or strategy to address the issue and outsources that task to the one blamed. A victim stance is assumed and the authority and capacity to act from an empowered stance is sacrificed.

Own Your Sh*t

Acknowledging mistakes, shortcomings, wrongdoings, etc. (i.e. imperfection) is often a starting point in resolving relationship problems; particularly when there is an issue between partners. It amazes me how difficult it is for some people to say, “I was wrong” or “I f***ed up.” The earth does not stop spinning and it goes a long way toward a harmonious relationship.

A mature relationship requires mature partners and mature partners don’t engage in finger-pointing and blame. When partners are willing to own their sh*t, and we all have it and bring it to our relationships, there is no reason to engage in such antics.

It is important to note that we are often unconscious of the sh*t we bring to our relationships and our relationships are sure to stir it up. Getting caught in the blame game cheats us out of the opportunity to address old stuff that, if resolved, could actually help to improve life with our partners. We can only do that if we are willing look in the mirror and see parts of ourselves previously hidden or unknown.

The Drama Triangle

Being an adult requires being responsible and being responsible requires giving up your victim. In the late 60s, Stephen Karpman developed a model of human interaction known as the Karpman Drama Triangle. He describes three roles we assume in the course of our interactions with others – victim, persecutor and rescuer.

We can assume any of these roles and drama is typically the result. In the victim role we exist disempowered, at the mercy of our persecutors (people or circumstances), blaming them for what is not working in our lives.

I think of persecutors as victims who have had enough. Being victimized imprints the psyche with the capacity to victimize. Tired of the powerless state of the victim, the persecutor role is often a quick path to empowerment.

The same is true of the rescuer role. Rescuers enter to save to the day, unknowingly reinforcing the victim/persecutor dynamic and the victim’s identity as helpless and dependent. It is a position of power and esteem.

Taking responsibility begins with acknowledging the role(s) assumed. As victims we may view our partners as persecutors, blaming them for all that is wrong in our lives or the relationship. As victims we may seek inappropriate rescue, looking to them to assume responsibility for that which is ours. When they do not, they can easily become persecutors in the eyes of someone assuming a victim orientation.

As rescuers, the tendency is to over function; assuming your 100% and perhaps 25% that belongs to your partner. It is akin to giving assistance neither asked for nor desired and can result in a partner feeling disempowered or controlled. In other instances, rescuing behavior can be elicited by a partner in victim mode. Those who over function often become resentful, thinking they are giving too much while failing to realize it is a self-imposed state.

Healthier alternatives exist that facilitate greater relationship balance where both partners take responsibility, not blame. Where both mutually seek support, not rescue. Where both serve as facilitators of the others growth, not advantage at the expense of the others well-being.

In the event you are assuming 100% responsibility for your 50% of the relationship and your partner is not or neither of you are willing to do so, relationship success is highly unlikely. If you are over functioning, assuming responsibility that is the domain of your partner, an imbalance exists that can lead to resentment and disharmony. If both are over functioning, essentially what exists is a struggle for power and dominance; not necessarily the stuff of successful relationships.


Mutuality and balance in relationship functioning are essential. Assuming responsibility for your part of relationship success is as much about the big things as they are about the little things. Many dimensions exist in all relationships – resolving problems, fun, household tasks, socializing, finances, etc. One partner cannot bear the burden of the whole of relationship life while the other exists passively.

No magic formula exists regarding the relationship equation. Partners must discern, based on personality, strengths and weaknesses, preferences and many other factors specific to them, how they will function as a couple and what is required of each to ensure needs are met.

If relationship success is the goal, we must do our part and do it to the fullest – 100%.

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