Understanding Relational Disorder

Historically, mental health disorders have pertained to the individual and the problems that cause them distress, impairs their ability to function, or increases their risk of suffering pain, death, or loss of freedom.

Relational disorders share many of these common elements although the focus is on the relationship and not just the individual. They often, involve those relationships between family units such as a parent and child, siblings, partners, or spouses, but, they can occur within any important relationship.

About Relational Disorder

Certain characteristics often exist within the relationship, but, not in any of the individuals who make up the relationship, so the relationship, itself, can be considered “sick” causing a series of behavioral and emotional consequences. According to the American Psychiatric Association, there are no specific criteria provided in the DSM-IV for relational problems or any diagnostic, or V-codes listed. Counselors must first rule out any co-morbid disorders between any of individuals in the relationship and any relational influences upon the relationship.

relational disorder

Relational disorder causes a variety of behavioral and emotional effects.

Diagnostic, or V-Codes, listed in the DSM-IV include:

  • V61.9 Relational Problem Related to a Mental Disorder or
  • General Medical Condition
  • V61.20 Parent-Child Relational Problem
  • V61.10 Partner Relational Problem
  • V61.8 Sibling Relational Problem
  • V61.81 Relational Problem Not Otherwise Specified

Despite the lack of specified criteria, there are clinically significant behavioral or psychological syndromes that are a direct result from distressing patterns within relationships that can be recognized, treated, or prevented.

Behaviors of Relational Disorder

Relational disorder may be considered when the following behaviors exist:

  • Recurring conflicts or arguments in the relationship that causes preoccupation or stress for one or the other distracting them from their daily life.
  • Lack of communications and/or withdrawals between individuals causing anger or frustration.
  • Inappropriate communications between individuals including criticism, withdrawal, or unrealistic expectations.
  • Avoidance of an individual to prevent contact with the other.
  • Stress related to separations such as a child running away or marital separations.
  • Overprotection or overly involved in the other individual’s life unless a presence of possible danger exists.
  • Under-involvement or disregard for another individual such as parental neglect or the isolation or lack of attention paid to any one individual apart from the others.
  • Excessive fighting, arguments, or jealousy between siblings.
  • Paying more attention to one child or expressing a greater degree of acceptance in them above the others.

Symptoms of Relational Disorder

  • Stress related to separations such as a child running away or marital separations.
  • Distressful symptoms resulting from neglect, violence, abuse, or avoidance by another important individual such as between the parent and child, siblings, spouses, or partners.
  • Increased irritability, sleeplessness, anxiety, depression, and/or social withdrawal.
  • Distraught, low levels of energy, depression, and withdrawal over relationship concerns.
  • Overly suspicious or lack of trust within the relationship.


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