In the last two weeks we have discussed the Impossible Relationship (IR) and the Impossible Partner(IP). Those blogs focused on the characteristics of an IP, and understanding how your self-doubt plays into the chaos and drama. This week, in the last blog of this series, we will explore how to deal with Impossible Partners when the relationship cannot be completely severed.

Ideally, it would be the healthiest for you to sever all ties with an IP and thus completely eliminate all the chaos and drama from your life. Unfortunately, there are situations when you find you are locked into an ongoing relationship after you realize that the relationship is toxic. This scenario is common when you share children with an IP. However, it can also be with a family member with whom severing the relationship comes with consequences that feel too dire.  Unfortunately, being forced into an ongoing relationship with an impossible partner can, if you let it, wreak havoc on your life. It is very important to recognize that this person, although in your life, does not have to be the focus of your life. (Although it may feel that way!).

Here are three very specific strategies that can greatly reduce the negative impact the Impossible Relationship has in your life. Rather than focus on the Impossible Person, let’s focus on the relationship because while you can’t change a person you can change the relationship- maybe just enough to make it manageable. Think of small changes as big victories with the emphasis on minimizing your own stress.

Be Safe

While it might seems as if it goes without saying that safety is the number one priority, the reality is that after years of minimizing the toxicity of the relationship, it can be difficult to see this situation as potentially dangerous. It is for most of us, inconceivable that a parent, a child or spouse are capable of being hurtful especially because these are “supposed” to be loving relationships. We grieve for the fact that our relationship is not loving and often keep hoping it will change. This denial leaves us open to being hurt-either emotionally and sometimes even physically. Pay attention to your intuition. Consider physical safety as well as emotional. You may question “what is normal” after years of brainwashing. Discuss strategies with a trained professional who will have the perceptive and experience to see your situation without emotional distortion. Making yourself safe will result in feeling less vulnerable and threatened by the IP and thus, will make the next two steps easier to follow.

Let Go of all Your Expectations

What makes the IR so crazy-making is that you have expectations of reasonable cooperation and accountability. These expectations set you up to be disappointed. Expecting the IP to honor a commitment or cooperate even when there is absolutely no cost to the IP is one of the ways we create chaos in our own lives. Remember the IP likes to “mess” with you and while you can’t imagine someone would deliberately go out of their way to sabotage you, they do!

When in an IR, carefully examine your own expectations and work to abolish them.  Asking for favors, extracting promises or relying on the IP will make your living hell. Don’t get caught up with, “Well, other mothers do that,” “or “No other fathers behave this way!” or “I don’t understand why my brother is so selfish” and so on. It is irrelevant what others do, because your IP will do exactly what he/she feels like doing at the moment. Reduce your expectations and you change the amount of heartache in your life. The IP will interact as s/he always has, but by changing your expectations you limit the damage to yourself.

Set Boundaries

Hooray for Boundaries! You may be thinking none of your other relationships require boundaries. Well, of course they do! Boundaries is just another word for “rules of engagement”. For example, just because you are good friends with someone doesn’t mean you would go into their purse and take money without asking! Of course not! Usually we aren’t aware of boundaries and the need to enforce them because most people respect the boundaries of others and therefore, it doesn’t become an issue.

One of the major problems of the IR is that boundaries mean nothing to the IP. They don’t honor your privacy, your time table, your personal life; they steamroll through most boundaries either without a clue or with a smirk. How to get them to respect your boundaries?

They won’t.

But respect your own boundaries and see what happens….Here’s an example- Never say to the IP “Don’t call me after 11pm,” and expect adherence. Tell him/her once and then expect s/he to test it. While you can’t stop them from calling (and they will) you don’t have to pick up the phone. Let it go to voice mail. By being consistent with your own boundaries, you will not “teach” the IP anything, but you will reduce the stress level in the IR for yourself. Many of you make the mistake of picking up the phone and then yelling at the IP for violating your boundaries! They love this. They broke your boundaries, got their way and got you upset all at once. This is a triple crown win for the IP!

Stand firm on your boundaries even when they are tested…often over and over. The IP may yell, scream, threatened or try guilt, but if you know your boundaries and respect yourself, you will begin to see their behavior as less powerful (while still irksome). Your life will be far less chaotic if you treat yourself with the honor and respect you want instead of trying to get the IP to do so.


Obviously all of these sound so simple, but if you are or have been in an IR, you may feel these three tasks to be enormous. Surround yourself with supportive people-friends and professionals who “get it.” Support groups can be very helpful. All of these serve as a source of encouragement and reinforcement. They will cheer you on, back you up, talk you down and stand by you. Just having healthy supportive people in your life can put your relationship with an IP in perspective. The IR is only one part of your life. How big a part you chose to make it, is up to you.


Recommended readingsYour Perfect Right, by Alberti and Emonds and The Four Agreements, by Miguel Ruiz.


© 2013 Donna F. Ferber, LPC, LADC is a psychotherapist in private practice in Farmington, CT since 1986. She is the author of the award winning From Ex-Wife to Exceptional Life: A Woman’s Journey through Divorce now available in Kindle format for $9.99 as well as in paperback.


  1. cj golden on the 05. May, 2013 remarked #

    These strategies work for all relationships and are what keeps us on an even keel through all of our lives as we interact with the people on our paths.

  2. Pat on the 05. May, 2013 remarked #

    I almost always let my ex’s messages go to voice mail. Later I can listen to them without having to reaqct. I can figure out what I want to stay and then i e-mail him back. Sometimes, when I don’t respond he seems to have forgotten and has moved onto something new to scream at me for. talking to him only aggravates me and we never get anything accomplished.

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