For the past couple days, we’ve been looking at four relationship patterns that occur when tension enters a relationship, and we’ve noted that partners tend to take the patterns from their respective families of origin into the intimate relationships they form as adults. Consequently, it behooves us to study how these emotional processes operated in our own family of origin so that we can consciously change them, if they aren’t working for us.
Of course, changing automatic reactivity is no small task, and even becoming aware of it is difficult. Someone said, “If you want to know about the water, don’t ask the fish.” If we don’t know anything else and have nothing else to compare these patterns to, it’s hard to ferret them out. But ferret them out we must if we want to live more consciously, and that takes skillful sleuthing.
Tension Converted to Medical Issues
Yesterday, we began considering how the four relationship patterns (conflict, dysfunction, distance, and impairment in a child) might have occurred between Brad and I, had I not consciously chosen to address a dynamic that was uncomfortable for me the first time we met together. I may have spared some awkwardness and discomfort in the short run, but our relationship would have paid with unnecessary conflict in the long term (relationship pattern #1).
Over the following years, that initial choice to quell my concern and to ignore the intra-personal tension, might have turned into a psychosomatic medical condition (relationship pattern #2), which would have been difficult to trace back to that automatic reaction of that first date and the string of subsequent accommodations that internalized into chronic physical problems.
Tension Converted to Social Issues
Furthermore, I may even have tried to manage the tension by drinking, using prescription or illegal drugs, having an affair, over-eating, over-working or some other compulsive behavior and social dysfunction (relationship pattern #2).
Tension Converted to Distance and Conflict
To quell the inter-personal tension and conflict (relationship pattern #1), Brad and I would likely have sought distance from each other (relationship pattern #4), and increasingly so, the longer we were unable to identify and resolve the problems that arose. Furthermore, if I were unable to see or acknowledge my own inability or unwillingness to address my tendency to over-accommodate, perhaps due to an unidentified fear of abandonment, our inter-personal conflict would likely come out sideways with secondary issues, such as money, domestic issues, toilet-paper roll position, etc. (relationship pattern #1). Consequently, we’d never really address the initial real problem of not knowing myself and being unwilling to suffer some awkwardness on that first car ride together.
Tension Converted to Impairment in Children
Over time, if we had children, one or more of them would likely become a conduit for our tension (relationship pattern #3). We may do this by focusing on their problems to distract ourselves from our own; venting our frustrations to them, putting them in a position to take sides; and/or seeking their acceptance and love in place of our our blame-worthy partner.
In turn, the child/ren would then unconsciously accommodate the emotionally tense system by creating a diversion for us (a problem around which we could unite); by getting sucked into taking sides; or by becoming a source of comfort for one or both of us.
Any of these reactions would then translate over time into a host of their own emotional, physical, and social problems (potentially providing Brad and I with an endless source of distraction from our own problems or by giving us a reason to incessantly blame one another), which they would then take with them into their own adult relationships.
All because Brad and I weren’t solid people when we met.
Know Thyself, Be Thyself
And so, over time, avoidance of conflict on that first date, potentially fueled by a fear of abandonment (likely from unresolved family of origin issues), would actually create even more debilitating conflict, threatening the foundations of the relationship and the future well-being of our children.
On the other hand, identifying these patterns and how I play into them would allow me to determine the kind of person I want to be, not just the kind of person I’ve been conditioned to be. And if I were to do this as much as is possible before I put myself in the dating market, how much wiser I would be when I put myself out there. Then I’d be able to distinguish between healthier and unhealthier people in the dating pool, so that I could make wiser choices.
Relationship = Growth Opportunity
Some of our automatic patterns are hard to identify until we’re in an intimate relationship, however, which means that you and your date will find them as a result of how you interact, if you’re committed to becoming aware of them. And yes, that means conflict will arise, and you’ll get an opportunity to identify more issues to resolve within yourself. Great! Every conflict that comes your way is an opportunity to grow more and more into the kind of person you aspire to be.
A Predictable Path to Disaster
Just remember that your date is also coming with unresolved issues and will need the same commitment to growth that you have, or the relationship will go down a predictable path, with you and your partner having front row seats and leading roles in the arena of relationship disintegration.
No thank you. I’d rather have necessary conflict at the front end so as to spare unnecessary conflict later on. I’ve mentioned before that the process of establishing a solid foundation for a solid long-term relationship takes about three years, and requires both partners to be equally committed to it.
In the meantime, study your own emotional patterns stemming from the emotional processes in your family of origin, and you’ll do a great service to whatever dating relationship you choose.