How Is Your Relationship?

by Peter Milhado PHD on August 12, 2015

The Past Does Matter When It Raises Havoc In The Present

When we fall in love, we never think this source of joy will ever come to an end. Why is it then so rare for a couple to grow old together in continuing love, a love that lasts a lifetime ? It seems the worst pain we inflict and is inflicted upon us occurs in the area of love and relationship.

In early childhood we get deeply wounded by two major traumas. Some are traumatized by getting too little (i.e. neglect, abandonment) others by getting too much (i.e. engulfment, emotional suffocation). Being raised in a family environment of either abandonment or engulfment is abusive and leaves a child in a constant state of powerlessness. This article is not about parent bashing, but it is about taking a realistic look at what happened to us and how this affects our relationships. This underlying condition of powerlessness is mostly unconscious deep inside us and has a major impact of how we behave later in life with our partners.

There are many destructive relationship patterns – here are three examples:

1. Some people who felt powerless in childhood develop a personality of being overly pleasing, submissive and passive. To get along they go along. They were the ‘good child’, the responsible one and sometimes mediators of parental conflict. The hope is, ‘If I am helpful and pleasing to others, they will love me and take care of me.’ Here is the dark side, avoiding speaking one’s truth to stay out of harm’s way leads to loss of integrity. They avoid conflict of any sort, because they are sure they will be defeated or humiliated due to their underlying feelings of powerlessness. Insidious dependency brings with it a smoldering resentment and rage against those they are dependent on. This unconscious resentment and anger shows up in passive-aggressiveness and avoidance of honest dialogue, which is death to a soulful marriage.

2. Where power prevails, love is not (Jung). Some who were oppressed feel powerless and make an early unconscious decision. ‘Since I feel powerless, I will devote my life to having power over others.’ At work they appear as obsessively driven and ambitious and in our culture are often rewarded for their productivity with success. However, the driven person never finds peace within for all this productivity is just a defense against keeping fear and anxiety out of consciousness. It’s a setup for a major fall or crisis which usually occurs in mid-life (i.e. divorce, depression, illness etc.). Needless to say, abuse of power destroys relationship and ends up in loneliness. If the marriage ‘survives’ it is by the glue of dependency. Both partners end up lonely. Longevity without emotional intimacy is sad.

3. A child who feels invaded, crowded or emotionally engulfed also feels powerlessness. The response to this family pattern often results in the individual needing emotional distance and this can last a lifetime. They have a very limited threshold for closeness. Once this threshold is crossed, they back up, withdraw and isolate. Sometimes they choose partners who also avoid closeness and both only feel safe when they’re distant. If they choose a partner who seeks reassurance through closeness, they run. This results in an endless dynamic of approach and avoidance. Those who obsessively and consistently ‘need space’ are also prisoners of their past.

What makes a relationship work?

Honest dialogue is the foundation of any partnership. If there are too many taboo subjects in a marriage, success is limited, if not impossible. In therapy both partners need to ask the following question, “What is it about my history, my attitudes, and my behavior that contributes to the mess this relationship is in?”. If only one partner genuinely asks this question, couples-therapy is a waste of time. How can we have a soulful relationship with our mates if we have an unconscious and wounded relationship with ourselves, as we always impose our wounds on the other? Sometimes one partner needs to do individual inner work first before going back into conjoint therapy. Without insight into oneself, no lasting soulful relationship is possible.

Only when we as individuals become conscious of our dark side and our faults can relationship grow. Consciousness is real power! It gives us the choice not to slip back into self-defeating relationship patterns. Through consciousness, we no longer have to live estranged from others or from ourselves, which is even worse. If both partners take an honest and courageous look in the mirror and become aware of the light and the dark inside themselves, the old rigid and destructive relationship patterns can melt away like snow in the sun.

Love to Mother Meera. One for all and all for one.

Peter Milhado © 2015

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Lynne August 23, 2015 at 11:21 pm

Thank you for this article. I have always avoided conflict in my life and feared abandonment. While I’m aware of some of the reasons (I roughly fit into areas 1 and 3), not all of it is clear and I am now 69 years old! I’m also a widow. my husband came from a very abusive and dysfunctional family and had some of the problems of area 2, but could also be tender and kind. Needless to say, it was a very difficult relationship and for many of the 40 years we were together we lived apart–mostly out of necessity. Of course our children suffered; one is now dead. One might say it’s all water under the bridge, but I am still haunted by the past and think that there is much about myself that I still need to discover. My interest in Jung is helpful. Thanks again.

Constantine September 1, 2015 at 9:23 pm

Thank you for this!!!

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