Nuclear Family Emotional Process
At this point, we’ve applied two of the nine concepts of Bowen Family Systems Theory to the act of dating, as a way to diminish the inherent anxiety of the dating process and to offer a structure by which one can make informed, wise dating choices.
Dating Wisely Concept #8: Study Your Nuclear Family Emotional Process refers to becoming consciously aware of the package of four relationship patterns that develop when tension arises between intimate partners:
- Conflict between partners – includes blame-shifting and trying to control one another
- Psychological, medical and social dysfunction, especially in one partner – results from one partner trying to accommodate the other at the expense of his or her essential self
- Impairment of one or more children – occurs when the partner/s focus their anxieties on the child/ren
- Emotional Distance – attempting to use psychological and/or physical space to make the problem/s go away
Most Localized in One Person
As the emotional intensity and anxiety in the relationship system increases, these four patterns generally localize most acutely in one individual, making that individual appear to be the (biggest) problem. The more anxiety this person takes on, the less others do. Practically speaking, this allows some members of the system to function better at the expense of others, although no one is consciously aware of the patterns governing the chronic anxiety of the whole system.
In dating, hormones prevent this process from occurring for several months. However, life eventually creeps in, and the issues change as a relationship develops. This reality tends to leave both partners feeling like the other is changing, but in reality, hormones have been in charge and the couple hasn’t been challenged by any of life’s real problems.
After six months or so, the hormone high dies down, and the new dating relationship is tested by the realities of life. This is when the couple finds out if they actually have cake under the icing that has been sweetening their relationship so far.
In Your Family of Origin and Beyond
The best way to open your eyes to these unconscious processes is to study the dynamics of your family of origin. Who functioned best? Who functioned least well? How did these four patterns–these four symptoms of relational tension–get expressed and passed around when you were a child?
If you’ve gone through a divorce, see if you can identify the tension that each person in the family was carrying, and how it eventually resulted in a complete breakdown of the system. Understanding these patterns can help you identify them when they crop up in your dating process now.
Tomorrow, we’ll provide an example that includes all four of these symptoms of stress, and how they may get expressed in the development of a dating relationship.