The Honeymoon Hormone
Yesterday we looked at four patterns that emerge when relationship stress builds up. Today, let’s apply those patterns to a dating relationship.
For the first several months of a dating relationship, the real problems of life don’t crop up much at all. The new relationship is unencumbered by financial, sexual, parental and familial issues, because the new couple is simply enjoying the fun and frolic of the happy hormone, dopamine.
How frequently the couple gets together, how rapidly the relationship develops, how quickly sex enters the mix, when the couple starts cohabiting, when and how they introduce children and other family members, etc., will determine how soon the relationship has to contend with the realities of their lives.
Development is Inevitable
As each of these new realities enters the mix, the tension will increase–a natural result of moving from the first stage of new love (symbiosis) to the next two (differentiation and practicing). (For more on these stages, see post titled, “Why Men and Women Fight, Part 8.”) There’s no point in trying to avoid this progression; it has to happen some time. In fact, if it doesn’t, the relationship won’t last. Some relationships fail simply because one or both partners want/s to hold onto symbiosis rather than do the more difficult work of relationship development.
As life’s realities come into play more and more, the four relationship patterns introduced yesterday will also come into play more and more. Conflict will arise–relationship pattern #1); one partner will become the more accommodating than the other, and the overly-accommodating partner will develop psychological symptoms (panic attacks, e.g.), medical issues (digestive issues, e.g.) or social problems (using alcohol or drugs to quell anxiety, e.g.)–relationship pattern #2; the couple will talk about their issues less and less because they can’t seem to solve them anyway–relationship pattern #4; and they may either focus on a child’s problems and/or use a child to vent to or receive comfort from–relationship pattern #3–rather than seeking help from an unbiased third party who could serve as a mediator or relationship coach.
Catching Patterns Before They Become Patterns
This process, of course, takes years to develop. Fortunately, you can catch it before it gets that far, now that you know how it goes.
I won’t tell the story again, but armed with this useful information, I began to ward off these patterns on our first date (see post titled, “Dating Wisely 1.10”). By the time I met Brad, I had been single for almost nine years, and had placed many men in the friend zone during that time. I simply wasn’t finding men with the essential qualities of solid relationship, and I wasn’t willing to settle for less than what I knew I needed. When you find out that you can live without a man, you’re free be alone until you find a man you don’t want to live without.
By the time I met Brad, I’d also learned that being myself was the best way to start a relationship, because I wouldn’t have to later present who I really am. So I was willing to put myself our there, even if it turned out that my date was disinterested in who I am. That would likely stir some conflict, but I’d learned that conflict was a good way to find out whether the conflict style of my potential partner was compatible with mine.
Consider what might have happened on that first date if I had made a different choice. What if I had decided not to share with Brad how I was experiencing his presentation in that first car ride? The tension within me would have increased, and I would have simply friend-zoned him, missing out on the most beautiful experience of my life so far.
Let’s take it a little further. Imagine that I wasn’t conscious enough of my own needs to friend-zone a guy whose character I questioned but was too afraid to challenge, and imagine that I decided, because of unconscious desperation or loneliness, to let the relationship develop by accommodating or overlooking a perceived character issue. Fast forward a few months after the dopamine high had diminished. By this time, having squashing my anxiety too long, I’d now either explode (intense interpersonal conflict–relationship pattern #1) or implode (develop some psychosomatic issue–relationship pattern #2).
Let’s say I unconsciously internalize my stress, and I develop panic attacks. It’s unlikely, if I’m this undifferentiated, that I’ll be able to tie this symptom directly to my pattern of muzzling myself when what I really need is the self-awareness to kindly but firmly voice my concerns, and trust my partner to be able to enter into the teamwork of problem-solving. In my undifferentiated state, it’s likely that my body will continue to carry the internalized stress to a greater and greater degree. Eventually, not dealing with my own undifferentiation could cost me my life (as it did my father at age 48, as noted in “Dating Wisely 1.16”).
Yes, that’s the import of becoming solidly differentiated. I highly recommend it.
I had intended to address all four relationship patterns in this post, but I see that I’m waxing long, so I’ll hit the pause button for now, and apply the other two patterns to a dating example tomorrow.
Don’t go away! I’ll be right back!