What can we learn from our relationships?
It's time to deepen our understanding of what relationships can teach us so that we can make better choices to suit our life's goals, but more importantly, so that we can create better foundations for our children.
When people are asked to describe relationships, most will come up with words like love, happiness, rings, wedding, sex, dating, marriage, kids, family, and even divorce. However, few really know what these words mean with regards the reality of relationships.
Young girls especially, are fed fairy tale stories and dream of having their day in a white wedding dress as they walk hand in hand with their prince to live happily ever after. Few questions are really asked. As long as there is a beautiful dress, a ring and a wedding, most are happy -- until of course, the problems begin. Indeed, until reality sets in and the "happy ever after" dream is shattered. In some cases, it's often also too late to backtrack. Once children arrive things can get complicated, and many may find themselves stuck in relationships due to financial concerns, lack of career options, confidence or self-esteem.
But it doesn't have to be this way.
Over the years, I taught my clients that because relationship are risky, one way to reduce that risk is to ask certain questions before they fall in love. Here are those questions.
In this article, I provide you with 3 basic concepts that show you that relationships are far more complex than we realise. These observations are seen particularly in married couples. This is because when a couple decides to commit via marriage, they deepen their emotional connection. And any issues that were not evident or dormant will often emerge, even if they've been living together for a while:
1)The Relationship Fit.
Birds of a feather flock together and we usually attract people that we feel comfortable with. People are attracted to what they know or understand - or recognise within each other. This can be either conscious or unconscious. And when people are attracted to one another, it's usually not a random choice. There is more to it. We often share past experiences which is why there is an attraction.In some cases, it could take years to find out exactly what this is. On the surface we may think we know what it is, but years later me may realise a different truth. But also, if you wait long enough or if you dig hard enough, you'll find something that you and your partner have in common.
What staying in an unhealthy friendship or relationship is doing to you, according to a relationship expert conversations.indy100.com
It is also worth noting that, usually it's the more important or long-term relationships that give us the most clues to who or what 'type' of person we are inclined to attract and why. On the other hand, when people say, "He/she is not my type", they don't always realise that what they're actually referring to, is that they instinctively don't share past experiences with that person, and therefore there is no attraction. How do I know this to be true? There is an exercise written about in John Cleese's book called "Families And How To Survive Them", which I first learnt about during my early days of training. Before we knew one another, we were asked to walk around a room and without speaking, we were then asked to choose a partner by nodding our heads. Once everyone had chosen a 'partner' they were given ten minutes each, to tell their 'partners' about their lives, their experiences and their backgrounds. Almost without fail, everyone chose someone with a similar experience or background to them. It was most uncanny. And we do the same in 'real life'. In other words, through our body language and without even talking to one another, we are often able to select or attract partners or friends that are in some ways 'similar' to us.
However, it may take more than 10 minutes to discover what we share, and what we share may even be buried or unconscious. This is why sometimes, couples may need help to discover exactly what it is they share or how much they have in common. This is particularly important as it provides a better understanding of the couple's dynamics or reasons for relating the way they do - especially if a couple finds themselves struggling emotionally.
How can a therapist help a couple discover what they share? During childhood we develop both emotionally and physically in stages, and each stage usually leads to the next. But sometimes a child can get stuck in a particular stage. This is when parents can be reminded that their child will grow out of it. Unfortunately, it is not always that obvious. Sometimes a child may remain emotionally stuck. And not having the emotional language to express it, emotions may get suppressed due to a loss or a trauma, or if a particular stage has not been sufficiently worked through.
However, especially if a child is intelligent, it may appear that they're able to cope sufficiently through school, college or university. Their careers may prove successful and they may even get married. But at some point, the unaddressed emotional issues may begin to emerge - often when we least expect them to.We all regress depending on the circumstances - often without knowing that we even do. And therapy can help adults work through what happened years ago or whatever it is they may be struggling with. A trained and experienced therapist will also be able to pick up on any regressions which is when we return emotionally to the age that created the emotional paralysis.
During couple therapy, the same occurs but often both parties will at times, regress to similar ages. For example, a couple could be discussing a certain issue when suddenly both partners will start 'looking' like two eight years olds. When asked what happened to them at age 8, often they will discover something they didn't realise they both share - it could be an experience, or a feeling, and so on. This behaviour may also be relevant to a current issue which can help a couple understand why a partner behaves as they do, in certain circumstances. And this knowledge usually helps a couple find a deeper bond via what they share.
However, relationships can also struggle when a partner's past unresolved issues cause destructive or abusive behaviour, verbal or physical abuse. When this occurs, it can take some time helping a couple untangle the issues so as to discover the root causes. Sadly, couples often wait too long before seeking help and as a result, they may land up divorcing. Also, after a divorce many often find themselves selecting the same type of partner over and over again -- until in some cases, the lessons are learnt. But this can land up being extremely expensive and it can also cause a lot of pain, especially if children are involved.
And it's worth knowing this too:
2) Your Internal Parents -- Good Or Bad?
This term covers a very important area and if you are thinking about marriage then this is vital for its success: The relationship that parents have, whether married, partnered or divorced becomes the blueprint or the relationship model for a child. How parents behave, how they deal with conflict, how they argue, or how they resolve certain difficulties and most importantly, how they manage to sustain their relationship over many years, will get absorbed or internalised by a child. This is because children are like sponges, and as a result, they absorb everything they see and hear.
This 'absorption' process usually occurs both consciously and unconsciously. And what gets internalised -- is then taken with them into their adult relationships. And they then act this out accordingly. Also, because our relationships can mirror our parent's relationship, (and again this may take therapy to realise exactly how deep the parallels may go), what can sometimes be observed is that the length of a parental marriage may also 'influence' the length of a child's relationship/s. In other words, if a parental marriage lasted for only 4 years, then sometimes a child's relationship (depending on their partner choice), may only last for around plus or minus 4 years. Because once again, children absorb and take on board patterns of behaviour more than we sometimes realise.
What is also true is that as people age, how they were brought up and what they were taught can begin to emerge. This is also why the saying that "when you marry, you also marry your partner's family", has a deeper and more complex ring of truth to it. Because yes, partners may resort to behaviour similar to their parents. And no matter how hard some may deny or try to avoid acknowledging this, people often revert back to what they know. It's therefore worth carefully observing your partner's family - because the chance of your partner eventually behaving similarly, is usually pretty high.
It is therefore also important that we spend some time, learning to understand what we have internalised from our parent's relationship as it provides a better understanding of how we may relate, or what patterns of behaviour we may be repeating or taking with us into our relationships. Indeed, what we absorb as children or what we pick up, can be very powerful. Often, we may have no idea until certain problems arise. But, all is not lost. You can learn to understand yourself better and who you've become as a result of your past and your parent's relationship and so on, so that you can design a better future with what you've got.
3) The Unconscious Contract.
This is an area that requires the attention especially of a trained and experienced relationship therapist to make sense of the following: So far you will have gathered that we often choose our partners as a direct result of our shared past conscious or unconscious experiences. What also happens is that when two people come together romantically, and especially if they are not self-aware, without realising, they can 'sign an unconscious contract'. And this can create a deep and very powerful emotional locking system, again, often underlined if a couple chooses to get married.
9 questions you should ask before falling in love, according to a relationship therapist conversations.indy100.com
What this refers to is that the couple can share an unconscious hope or desire that somehow the relationship will help heal their individual pasts and give them what their parents never gave them. But relationships are not a form of therapy. No one can save another emotionally. Yet sadly, this inner hope or fantasy, can also set up a whole ream of expectations that can be hard to live up to. It can create disillusion and indeed, disappointment if a partner is unable to provide what is expected of them emotionally, albeit unconsciously. Or if a partner does not respond according to what is expected. And if the expectations are unconscious, and if it relates to past trauma etc, a partner may find themselves constantly unhappy, without really understanding why.
How a couple sets up their 'relationship rules' can however be determined by this unconscious contract. It lays down a foundation with regards the accepted or required behaviour within the relationship, which can of course also relate back to a couple's parental relationships.And just to make matters more complicated, there can also be more than one contract depending on the couple's emotional needs. These contracts can be subtle and totally hidden to the conscious mind. But it can also cause friction and tension within a relationship - if the contracts are not consciously understood, they can result in certain roles being taken on, played out or assumed, which can cause confusion, resentment and even anger.
The roles that each party is expected to play is not always constructive or indeed, positive. There can be an unconscious collusive role agreed upon by the couple that involves playing out various roles like - the bully, the victim, the rescuer, the addict, the abuser or the violent aggressor and so on. Sadly, and for example, a bully will need a victim or the victim may also require a bully, can apply to the kind of 'conscious or unconscious contract' two people manage to set up for themselves. But beware, this behaviour can trigger the Karpman drama triangle creating a rescuer/victim/punisher situation that is never healthy. The unconscious contract can also set up rules as to how each individual is required to behave during a crisis, in grief, during the birth of children, the different roles played out within the home, who the bread winner is, dealing with retirement, money, moving home, looking after parents, and so on.
Also, unconscious expectations and requirements can be projected onto each partner. And each partner may also begin to take on these expected roles and behave in certain ways to 'emotionally please or satisfy' their partners. This can even create a 'change' in an individual's behaviour. In some cases, some may even change their careers or stop seeing their friends, depending on what the relationship requires.Sadly, each member of the couple might find themselves playing out certain roles that they hadn't wished or hoped for. And this is when sadness and tension may begin to emerge, especially if a loss of identity and lack of self-worth begins to creep into any partner's psyche. Sadly, it is as a result of these unaddressed issues, that we often and unwittingly sabotage our relationships in ways that are often entirely unconscious - due to either our conscious or unconscious hopes and expectations.
What Can You Do?
If a couple can begin to understand and accept what has been internalised from their past and what their unconscious contract is, then the reasons as to why they relate as they do and why they chose one another in the first instance, will become clear. If each individual of the couple can begin to take responsibility for their behaviour and their part of the contract, this is when the healing begins. We call this process -- "taking back the projections". Also, by understanding the concept of internal parents and the marital fit, then the couple will begin to understand their relationship better and why they chose one another in the first place.
Through better understanding of the self as well as one another, the couple can then begin to relate differently and this is when a new healthier intimacy can be found.The important takeaway is that we all need to become wiser and smarter, if not for ourselves then certainly for our children. Understanding that relationships are tricky and that they often rely on partners having self-awareness, suggests too that we need to start thinking more carefully about the foundations we wish to create for our children, and whether these foundations are strong enough for us to make a serious commitment. In other words, relationships are there to help us become conscious, not happy. Indeed, Jean-Paul Satre once wrote that, "We are our choices -- but before that, we are often products of our parental choices....!" And this is why Soren Kierkegaard words are so apt: "In Life one is condemned to live life forwards and to understand it backwards". Wisdom indeed.
For more information head to my blog website which describes the above in more detail.
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