Consider the following phrases: “I always meet people who are unavailable; they’re either with someone or from out of town.” “Why do all of my partners last less than a year?” “As soon as I let my guard down, they betray me.” “It was great for a while, but now all we do is argue.” Do any of these themes sound familiar? If so, examining your ongoing patterns could be a step toward healthier relationships.
The first stage of being with someone, according to many psychotherapists, involves infatuation. It’s the “this is the most wonderful person in the world!” stage (the Titanic Early Voyage Stage). The second stage is disillusionment. In short, it’s when the differences and disliked qualities appear (the We Hit an Iceberg stage). This leads to the stage called battling for power and control (the We’re Sinking stage). This may include fighting, withdrawal, criticism, and attempts to change the other person. Harmony and resolution are possible, but it takes work (the Rowing the Lifeboat to Shore stage).
Transitioning from smooth sailing to hitting icebergs is a predictable part of being with someone. It is at this point when there’s a tendency to begin to question your choice. Many couples break up at this point, but understanding that it is normal to go through this adjustment period and taking steps to build a solid foundation may help prevent its demise.
Part of the reason that being with someone have become so difficult is because as we have evolved, the reasons for being in a couple has changed. Until a few hundred years ago, an individual had to live with his or her family or some sort of group to survive. Today, however, we don’t need to be with someone else to survive. Love, companionship, and someone to share our lives with still account for the main reasons. But as we have evolved, being in a couple has come to serve other purposes; to have a companion, personal growth, and to have the opportunity to examine earlier emotional wounds, whether from childhood or previous partners.
The process of becoming wounded occurs shortly after birth. Something known as “mutual regulation” is supposed to occur. The caregiver is supposed to know how to calm the baby down, and in turn the calm baby calms down the caregiver. At some point, this process becomes internalized. However, if your caregivers were nervous or anxious, a “negative feedback loop” can occur and it becomes difficult (at best) to learn how to self-soothe.
In addition, as small children, our dependency on caregivers leads to natural feelings of inferiority. A completely functional family would know how to build self-esteem, confidence, and the means to navigate through adulthood challenges, which include occupation, friendships, and significant others. Generally, however, families aren’t functional in some ways, so the ability to deal with one or more of these adulthood challenges may have never been learned.
As children, in order to deal with these emotions, we develop a belief system: what we believe to be true about ourselves and others. Out of this belief system, we create coping mechanisms. These coping mechanisms are limitless, and examples include becoming a loner or being “the good child.” Though these tools were indeed helpful as a child, these same tools may act as a barrier to being in a healthy couple. Add growing up feeling that you’re different and it can lead to feeling unequipped to navigate intimacy.
In order to attempt to heal these wounds, we may as adults pursue potential lovers who verify our childhood beliefs about others. In essence, you may be attracted to persons who are like your parents or family of origin in some way, unconsciously thinking that if you can change your partner, you will be healed. To find out if this is happening, look for the following: A pattern to the type of partners you have been with, the major feelings you have (rejection and anger for example), a verification of your beliefs about others (for instance, that they are no good or that they leave you), and a lot of drama. Other markers include a history of breaking up and getting back together, feeling like a victim, and being made to feel that you’re never good enough.
If you realize that this is happening, there’s an opportunity to outgrow ingrained patterns. It is possible to learn from experiences regarding the type of person you’re attracted to and how your attraction may relate to your family of origin. And this is where healing earlier emotional wounds can happen.
You also have the opportunity to replace old patterns with new ways of relating, which is where growth takes place. Responsibility for choices and feelings may result, leading to a happier, more satisfying partnership. Since being in a couple has evolved into vehicles which help us grow, work through issues, and be open to feedback, they can provide much growth.