by Stacy Bremner, MA, RP
In the April issue of North Bay Life I wrote an article entitled “What is Love?” which was a brief introduction to the 3 stages of relationship (Romance, Power Struggle and Real Love). I wrote that piece to normalize the conflict and disillusionment that is so common in couple hood.
When Romance fades and we find ourselves in the Power Struggle, we do not know we are in a “relationship stage”, or what to do about it. Let’s face it; most of us did not have great role models. We try our best, and if we cannot resolve things, the arguments continue.
We may say to each other in times of stress: “Why won’t you see my side?”, “Why won’t you talk/listen/ do it my way?”, “Why don’t you have my back?”, “No matter what I do it’s not enough!”, “It’s all about you!” Do any of those pleas sound familiar?
The exact plea or frustration tends to mirror what we felt in childhood. This has to do with an unconscious childhood agenda which guides our mate selection. We think we are marrying all the great qualities, but we also marry specific negative qualities. Why? It sounds so crazy! It is an unavoidable phenomenon and so unexpected that I love to educate couples about this.
So for example, if as a child we felt rejected, abandoned, smothered, controlled, not good enough, like our needs didn’t matter, like there was no one around who cared, or if we felt misunderstood …those same feelings will crop up in our adult relationships. And not only will we have that same feeling, but we will have a story attached to it to justify WHY we feel this way.
Let’s try some examples for clarification: If I had a chaotic childhood and now have a desire for peace and understanding, I will unconsciously choose a partner who replicates chaos in some way OR I will see my partner as causing chaos OR I will behave in ways that cause chaos and then I will blame my partner.
Here is another example: Let’s say I had an angry unavailable mother. As an adult, I will either choose a partner who is angry and unavailable, OR I will see them as angry and unavailable OR I will behave in ways that cause them to be angry and unavailable and I will blame him/her.
In these ways, I get to replay childhood to get someone who is just like my parents (or siblings etc.) to love me and care for me so I will be healed. I.e. the unconscious wish is that person who creates chaos will work to be more peaceful because they love me. Or that angry unavailable person will become more present and happy (and whatever else I wish for). And according to the Inner child, these changes and improvements must take place regardless of how I act!
But to complicate things even further, it is happening with our partner too! So at the same time, our partner will be frustrated with us, having the same childhood feelings and stories to back up his/her ongoing frustrations with us!
Since Nature wants us to grow and heal, we all choose a partner that is unable to meet our needs in a very particular way. This seeming incompatibility brings us the tension for growth. It keeps us interested, but we also need to know how to work with these differences if we are to stop the arguments.
So what can we do? Generally speaking, we need to do the opposite of what we normally do. 1. Get curious and listen to what your partner is asking for. Then stretch to meet those needs. Also continue to communicate your needs and wants in clear and respectful ways. When we stop talking, and our needs go underground, we cannot feel good together. 2. Express appreciation and gratitude for the efforts you see from your partner. A great mistake is to push away efforts, “Oh you are just doing that because I asked you to.” Like that is a bad thing & that doesn’t count. I like to say, “That is the most loving thing of all, when your partner puts effort into doing what you asked!”