Insights, understandings & strategies for being a better partner.

"We don’t receive wisdom; we must discover it for ourselves
after a journey that no one can take for us or spare us".
Marcel Proust

Everyone who gets into a relationship brings baggage with them. But what exactly is this ‘baggage’? Baggage is our set of beliefs, thinking patterns, emotions and behaviours that have become embedded within us because of childhood (or possibly later) trauma and conditioning (which many of us don’t think we experienced – but be sure we all did!) This manifests as:

 

  1. Beliefs about ourselves or the world which dictate our choices, our value system, what we deem right/wrong, and the way we actually view our world. Examples would be behaviours we choose due to our religious affiliation, familial beliefs and expectations, beliefs of worthiness or deserving or our ability to do well in life, values about how to raise children. (There is a comprehensive list of the sorts of beliefs about the world and self that will sabotage your personal power in Appendix A at the back of the book.)

  2. Interactive patterns with our mates that are less than mature because we get triggered into old reactive patterns that were first established in childhood. Such reactivity occurs because we have missed out on learning some aspect of self-care, self-empowerment, self-prioritization, self-regulation or self-ownership as a child or young person. Examples would be reacting angrily to another, or withdrawing defensively from them.

  3. Reactivity to others because we buy into their views, comments and the like. This pattern arises because we were raised by adults who themselves were unable to recognise when others were dumping on them, and so they too as children owned criticisms, blame, and so on as the Victim of projections from others. Specifically, it’s a problem of inadequate self-regulation, and inadequate self-ownership when we dump on others. To expand on the example above, it would be common for the person who is angry to think that the problem was created by their partner, and also common for the partner to react as if they are indeed to blame.

The requirements of a stable ego needed for a successful relationship

  1. In order to sustain a healthy relationship, each partner must ‘grow up’.

  2. This requires self-management of emotional reactivity originating in childhood. Because everyone brings a child-like reactivity into adulthood, everyone has some work to do to become a mature partner.

  3. If as children, developmental stages of growth were not completed satisfactorily, then gaps are left in one’s persona that show up most obviously in later intimate relationships.

  4. This reactivity and a lack of progression from childhood habits and reactions can show up in a number of ways. These developmental delays are somewhat embarrassing to have to learn about, but what we don’t own and address could precipitate the downfall of our relationships.

  5. Check this table out and score a one (rarely), two (sometimes) or a three (often) to anything which describes you and would have to be addressed if your relationship (now or in the future) were to be more successful. If you’re bold enough, you might invite your partner to similarly put a number in those boxes s/he may consider relevant for you to work on.

Can I caution you about judging your partner as doing any of the above.  Attachment styles ‘read’ each other differently. For example, when a person feels hurt, that is not an indication that the other has been intentionally hurtful.

Strategies for relating better

 

  1. The above list while not exhaustive demonstrates the wide range of behaviours that can disrupt a relationship. There are also few people who could claim not to have to address at least a few of these.

  1. Couples must therefore work together to address any of these patterns that their relationship dynamic causes to erupt. Ideally, they will be supportive of the work each has to do on themselves.

  2. Relationships trigger unresolved childhood thinking, emotions and behaviours to surface in virtually everyone in a way that is unlikely to occur in a work or other environment where emotional relationships are not as intense.

  3. Thus, emerging from childhood we may have a rigidly bounded ego where we go in to bat for self as if we must defend ourselves from others.

  4. Alternatively, we may have an overly soft or even weak ego with very porous boundaries where we give away our power, needs, wants, desires or values to the interests of others.

  5. A healthy ego steers a course between these two extremes. Attending to the interests of others is only done after carefully considering one’s own interests, needs, wants and values.

  6. The skills of someone who no longer regresses to child-like behaviour might include the following. Take a good look and see if you can score some of the items below as being worth working on. Put a one (sometimes), a two (more often) or a three (a lot) to indicate how important they are for you to put energy into. Check if your partner agrees with you. Most require a conscious act of moving from child-like behaviour into chosen and practiced forms of more mature behaviour.

If one or the other of a couple is struggling to do any of these, then a past reactive pattern is getting in the way and would be best addressed.

Beliefs, thoughts, values

 I would never die for my beliefs because I might be wrong.
Bertrand Russell

 False beliefs about self and the world create a lot of damage in people’s lives, not only in relationships.

  1. There are so many of these that I have listed a few of the more common ones in Appendix A. I invite you to peruse these quickly, and note in some way any that resonate for you. Don’t think about them; just record those that create some sort of feeling based recognition or ‘uh-ha’ moment.

  2. The most insidious beliefs are those that relate to your view of yourself, and each is connected to a disempowering emotion. Thus, ‘I’m not good enough’ when expressed in some form as ‘You’re not good enough’ will be felt as disempowerment, fear, loathing of self, self-inadequacy, hurt or as an angry reaction to the person who seems to have pushed that button.

  3. When these buttons are pushed, they will seem to have come from ‘out there’. However, if they were not already alive and well within you ‘in here’, you wouldn’t have been affected by what was said.

  4. These beliefs, views of the world and values about the way self or others in the world ‘should’ be require scrutiny, acknowledgement, and processing. This is the only way to stop them running your life and creating bedlam in your relationships. Check our chapter 6, “The process of change in our relationships.” This tells you the process through which you must take yourself if you are to defuse your emotional reactivity.

  5. Never lose sight of the fact that all emotional reactivity is internally generated. Other people or events may trigger this reactivity, but they don’t create it.

  6. So if a partner continues to blame someone else for how they feel, this pattern must change for the relationship to become more functional.

  7. This of course isn’t licence for a partner to be as horrible as they can manage to be. Many conflicts however originate through misunderstanding of what has been said or misinterpretation of meanings or intention.

  8. Such miscommunication usually occurs because what is said is interpreted through the lens of childhood programming and associated emotional reactivity.

  9. Some struggle to own this reactivity, firmly believing that how they feel is caused by others. This tendency not to own any of their reactivity, and often also not to own any of the impact of such reactivity, makes a sustainable relationship with them an almost impossible challenge.

  10. The origin of any such personality idiosyncrasy lies of course in childhood. This person has learned to avoid feeling shamed, criticised, blamed , hurt or rejected by refusing to own anything about their behaviour that they have learned (i.e. been trained) to be judgemental of.

  11. Because most of us have experienced such emotions in childhood, many of us protect ourselves from these emotions in one way or another as adults. We tend to respond either angrily – as either the anxious to connect style might do, or we withdraw and become defensive and maybe eventually angry, as a conflict withdrawer might do.

  12. The ambivalent and dismissive types are the most likely to be those taking little or no responsibility at all for their reactivity or its consequences. People who are unable to look at themselves or acknowledge any behaviours that require attention will be unlikely ever to explore alternative ways of behaving.

  13. I recall an ambivalent client who claimed that she had an excellent childhood, describing her father as wonderful and her mother as caring even if not lovingly demonstrative. However, her partner told a very different story of the abuse her father meted out on her mother. This client as a child would run away from home seeking safety, and both she and all her siblings turned to hard drugs giving rise to or exacerbating serious mental imbalances. Such denial of childhood pain makes it impossible to heal the resulting damage.

  14. A guy I worked with who had a dismissive personality not only blamed his wife when anything went wrong for him, but manipulated her defensive comments to ensure any argument was turned around to make her look bad. He demonstrated no willingness at all to own anything, and I was told rarely apologised for any of his behaviours. This relationship fell apart as you might expect.

  15. The above personalities are seen as Persecutors by others, but might argue that it is they who are being persecuted. They exemplify individuals whose boundaries are rigid and uncompromising in an attempt to protect themselves from emotions they struggle to cope with now as was the case in their past. (Read detailed descriptions of Persecutors in Part One)

  16. Others who crumble when they perceive they’ve made a mistake have the opposite problem. They’ve grown up believing they were wrong/bad/a problem/damaged and collapse emotionally because they don’t have a strong enough emotional boundary when others are critical or blaming.

  17. Rather than taking no responsibility, they tend to assume most if not complete responsibility when this is not warranted. These people are more often seen as Rescuers, but can often feel like Victims when caught in the Control Drama Triangle (see Part One). They lack a strong enough sense of self to keep the comments of others at bay, and have self-sabotaging self-beliefs that tend to keep them disempowered, lacking self-esteem, or struggling to interact assertively in a relationship.

  18. It is important in a relationship to know what you feel or think, need or want, and be able to articulate that. Relationships work best when both have a strong sense of self, of their own knowing, and each is strong enough to listen to the other. That way, both viewpoints or feelings get heard and considered, and negotiation is possible. Two strong selves have the ego strength to stop and listen to each other without being triggered or getting anxious that their own story won’t be heard.

  19. Strong and mature personalities also know that their own feelings and thoughts are valid no matter what others think. Weaker personalities either doubt themselves, or have to over-ride others.

  20. Interrupting a partner often comes into this category, where anxiety about waiting and taking one’s turn to be heard or understood (self-doubt) quickly generates an urgent interjection. A secure person would know that they can ask for time to speak at an appropriate moment.

  21. Sometimes, a person can feel overridden by another because that person expresses themselves powerfully. It is up to the person feeling overwhelmed to invite their partner to stop and take an alternative viewpoint or set of feelings into consideration. If the ‘over-rider’ has sufficient self-esteem and self-management skills, they will not treat such a request as threatening, unless of course the request is delivered with an emotional charge. But even then, a person who knows him/herself well, has good boundaries and ability to self-regulate, will know not to react to someone else’s problem. Instead, they will attempt to empathise with it.

 

You could also consider reading The 12 Choices of Winners which is a step by step program to fully reclaiming yourself and thereby preparing yourself to be an excellent partner.

Brief exercise:

 Use the insights from this chapter to help you consolidate the goals you began setting previously. Page 142offers a summary page for how unresolved issues play into the negative interaction cycle and page 145 offers a template for a loving and supportive relationship. Transfer insights from this reading and exercise to those pages.

 What is your attitude to conflict and difference? Do you want to run or argue? What would be a better approach?

  1. Are you being the partner you aspire to be? What do you already know you must do differently to do your bit towards the relationship’s survival?

  2. When things go wrong, what constructive contribution do you make?

  3. What must you do to close the gap between your current contribution and that to which you aspire?

  4. What do you know is distressing to your partner about your current interactions?

  5. What useful conversations could you have with your partner to reinforce how you would like to support each other to listen better to the journeys you want to take with each other?

  6. Which patterns do you recognise as occurring in your partner? How could you be supportive of him/her to more fully become the person s/he aspires to be?

Summary of common belief/emotional packages – called projections

 

Below is a table which summarises some common projections, and the origins of these either in what we are believing about or ignoring in self or the beliefs and perceptions we have about others. There are, of course, variations possible on each of the examples given. Take your time to reflect on the information here. If you are experiencing any of the issues described in the left hand column, you can be sure that one or both of the columns to the right apply to what is going on within you. Highlight any that are active in your life. Write variations relevant to you in the boxes provided at the end.

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