The Dynamics in Couple Relationships
We wrote in Being Right and Being Wrong about the dynamics that occur between the partners in a couple relationship, and about going beyond right and wrong.
We want to go into more depth on this topic. Let’s start with A Course in Miracles, which says:
Reason will tell you that the only way to escape from misery is to recognise it and go the other way. (T–22.II.4.)
Let’s Become Aware, then Do Something Different
Despite repeatedly seeing that there’s something happening with our partner that’s locked and is producing undesirable results (arguments or worse), again and again we batten down the hatches. We take on siege thinking.
What if we could see another way? What could happen in our relationship if we could really do something different? Insanity is doing the same thing again and again and expecting to get a different result. So, what if we could really listen rather than trying to get our point of view across to the other person; what if we could forgive when we want to blame; what would happen if we could let our defences down when we most want to protect ourselves? A miracle could occur.
Why do we repeatedly do what doesn’t work? Because at some point, for a time, it did work. Growing up we had to learn to cope with situations we could not change, with people who had all the power – our parents or other carers. Creative adaptations are ways we learned to cope when we were young, to deal with our environment. In Gestalt we call these “creative” because they worked well in the original situation. But we tend to carry these ways of being on in our lives and expect that they will continue to work. In fact we may no longer even be aware of so doing – adaptations can become such habits that we believe there IS no other way.
How do we go the other way if we believe what we do works, if we’ve invested in it and it has worked before? We usually try to change the other person. We imagine if they change all will be well and that’s where we invest our energy. And that is what leads to arguments, held positions, stubbornness and pain. Going the other way means seeing what we do, how we defend, what we imagine we will gain; and doing the opposite. It means gently opening up to understanding ourselves and our partner better.
Going the other way means seeing what we do, how we defend, what we imagine we will gain; and doing the opposite.
Going the other way means first that we have to recognise and become aware of our beliefs about what we can expect from the environment… or our partner. For example, we may have a belief that if we are vulnerable our partner will use this against us later. Or we may think that if we said what we really feel, or disclose something that is important to us, our partner will judge us or worse, leave us.
Maybe we could keep the word “creative” and think about how to use it differently. We support the idea of creative disagreement as an important tool to understanding ourselves and our partners better. Then disagreement can be something welcomed rather than feared. Learning that we can grow closer through difference is often a surprise to our clients, but imagine knowing from experience that you can grow closer and learn rather than feeling that disagreements lead always to full blown arguments, where both get hurt and nothing is actually resolved.
What people fight about tells a lot about their core values and sense of themselves. If we are not afraid to have a difference of opinion then we can truly build intimacy in a relationship. We can discover all manner of treasures in our partner if we are willing to see how they are different from us. That is part of the beauty of a relationship: not imagining we know everything about the other person (or even that we should) but that there’s always more to discover.
- See also: Attack/Defense versus Mutual Exchange
Finding the Treasure
But first we have to be willing to go the other way, which means to not defend ourselves against our partner, not blame them for our feelings, not ask them to change to make us more comfortable and less fearful or less jealous. It requires a deep willingness to look at ourselves and discover what the treasure is that we are trying to protect by fighting – and equally be willing to see what the treasure is that our partner is defending. This is where the love is, the intimacy, the delicacy of the relationship. And it requires time, care and attention to allow this to flower and grow.
The Counter-intuitive Way
So when we’re finally tired of suffering, when nothing else is working, there is this alternative – go the other way. This means to do the very thing that may seem the most counter-intuitive at the time. It means dropping the attack / defence position we’re holding. And it always entails dropping from the head (thinking) to the heart (feeling). It can only be practiced (rather than just thought about).
To do the very thing that may seem the most counter-intuitive at the time…
It Requires Practice
We’re not saying it is easy to change. It requires patience (towards ourselves and our partner) while digging to find our defences. It requires sensitivity and care not to crush blossoming openness and to trust when our partner is vulnerable. It requires a fierce courage to show all of ourselves when we think we could be criticised or misunderstood.
But we have supported many couples through this process and travelled this road ourselves. We have experienced this process first hand and have seen miraculous results. If you are willing to go this way, the other way, you too can find a new type of peace in yourself and with others. And if you want some support – you know where to find us!