Have you ever wondered why couples argue repetitively, both people adamant that the other person is causing the arguments? Or why some people attract the same negative relationships time after time?
Human relationships are challenging and confusing for most of us and could be said to be one of the great riddles of human life. But what if there was an answer to the riddle…hidden in our blind-spots? Psychologists suggest that both our conscious and unconscious (that which we are unaware of) create our relationships. People are often mysteriously drawn to each other because one has the psychological ‘lock’ and the other, the ‘key’, then play out together for years the unconscious programs or traumas from their childhoods. By checking the mirror for our blind-spots and taking responsibility, we can liberate ourselves from repetitive arguments and negative relationships and reach for that higher love so many people seek.
Human Interaction – is both conscious and unconscious
A patchwork of conscious and unconscious makes up human relating. This is little understood outside the confines of psychology. Our minds, like computers, are programmed, often by early experience. These programs drive our lives unawares as the ‘inner self’ seeks to repeat these feelings and situations until we see things differently and a healing occurs.
My Story – Resolving Conflict and Past Patterns
I have come to understand how patterns often repeat in our lives, because the same explosive rows occurred with my father, with ex-partners and recently, with a male friend. However this time round, I dealt with the rows differently and consequently, the light has dawned and I have found a profound healing in my relationships.
The first row between my friend Andrew and I flared up in a pub in Brighton on the winter solstice 2012. The whole pub fell silent as we erupted into a dramatic argument.
What Andrew and I worked out together, by talking over the row honestly, was a revelation. He believed that I had become angry with him ‘for no reason’, just like his girlfriends and mother had done in the past. At first he had felt himself to be a ‘victim’ of my rage because he felt he had done nothing. But after discussing it, he realised he had blanked the memory of his moodiness towards me. He recalled feeling fearful around performing on stage in the pub that night, but had thought his fear was ‘internal’. He suddenly made the connection and realized his part in this pattern…he was not a victim of random rage at all, he had triggered my reaction by being moody and aggressive towards me.
It was such a relief, for me, that both he and I could understand what had taken place and that he saw his part in the row; because for years I had gone through this kind of interaction with a past partner, knowing that something unconscious was happening yet unable to get to the bottom of it. My ex-partner had said to me: ‘you blew up over nothing’…and I couldn’t understand why he wasn’t able to recall his moody behaviour before I reacted. Now I see that we are all interacting with each other, with only half the story…the rest is in the darkness…our unconscious or blindspots.
Thich Nhat Hanh, in his book: ‘Fear, Essential Wisdom for Getting Through the Storm’, explains that there is always a misperception in human conflict, we just have to hear each other deeply enough to find it, and a healing occurs.
For my part, I realised for the first time, the effect my ‘explosive reaction’ had on people. For rarely do we realize the effect we have on others….we usually feel only our own sensitivity to others, and forget our own impact. My reaction caused Andrew upset for several days. And although I knew I had not begun the situation, I had still caused harm so I wanted to prevent a re-occurrence.
Where I had been unconscious was i failing to have a choice in how I responded to Andrew’s aggressive behaviour that night. I ‘automatically’ erupted in an old defence mechanism, developed as a teenager with my father. Andrew generously admitted that I had had the right idea to put a stop to the ‘dumping’ by him, but the wrong response.
Yet this dynamic had followed me from childhood, through several former relationships and then to my friendship with Andrew. It was a pattern I just kept repeating. Men would dump their feelings on me, and I would react in rage because I was afraid.
I recently understood my dad’s part in this pattern too. He had been unable to control his emotional aggression towards me and my sister because of triggers from his own childhood….his father’s beatings. My dad admitted ‘he could not help himself’ on his aggression towards his children. In other words his response was automatic, and therefore unconscious. These patterns are imprints in the family psyche and passed down the generations in some form until new consciousness sheds light and the pattern heals.
Most, if not all of us, have unconscious patterns of relating. And what we are unconscious of becomes our fate. We can leave a partner but not the pattern for in some strange way the behaviour we encounter in others is part of us… what psychologist Carl Jung would say a mirror of the inner male inside a woman and the inner female inside a man.
At a deeper level, my friend and I had also worked a little on the archetypal interactions between male and female, albeit within the confines of a boundaried ‘friendship’…easier to work with! There is a new story coming out of an old story here: of women asserting their territory in relationships and how to do that in a balanced and CONSCIOUS way using their male energy. And also of men exploring the realms of their feelings; their female side and of becoming more CONSCIOUS of new ways of doing that.
Feelings – The Hidden Element of Arguments
Two people may think they are arguing about an intellectual standpoint, but often the subtext of a row is really about feelings. For example, whilst taking opposite intellectual stances on alternative ideas, my friend Andrew and I managed to end an argument for good that we had had many times, once we admitted to each other that we were both feeling unheard and dismissed….a familiar feeling for both of us from childhood. Curiously, two people in a conflict are often feeling the same thing, it is as if we are looking at each other through a distorted mirror and cannot see our own reflection. Once the feelings behind the argument are made conscious and communicated without blame, a shift can occur. Liz Greene, top Jungian Psychologist and Psychological Astrologer suggests that relating is an art that we have far from mastered: ‘In the modern world…the art of relating…belongs to the world of feeling and intuition rather than to the concrete, logical world of the body and intellect, and consequently we are quite inept at the subtleties of understanding one another’.
By becoming aware of our feelings and communicating honestly without blame, magic can happen. For example, Rose had fallen for a man and she was self-aware enough to know that it was making her unhappy because of a jealousy issue. Her old pattern, she said, would have been to act jealous and try to reel him back to her so he could make her happy, but she decided to respect both of them, calmly explaining to him that she was not happy and that even though she really liked and wanted him, she was going to let the relationship go rather than feel that she should have to change in a way that bent her out of shape or expect him to. Miraculously he listened and he just changed. ‘It wasn’t a case of he tried and failed and tried again, he just changed’ said Rose. When we communicate from a place of calm, honesty, honouring both our feelings and intellect, where we are prepared to change or release a painful relationship if necessary, and not from a place of desperate need, then things can shift – a healing can occur.
Relationships and a Prison of Past Pain.
Lenon Honor, lecturer on relationships, states that: ‘most relationships are about the trivial sharing of past pain but something greater is possible, once we refine ourselves internally’. But until then we are often at the mercy of unconscious patterns we cannot see. Some patterns we inherit. One woman spent 30 years in one relationship after the other, pulled between wanting to leave the relationships because they were so painful and feeling stuck and unable to leave. When her mother died, she found out, that her mother had felt exactly the same throughout her own marriage. This is a demonstration of the same inner pain or trap being repeated in the life of the next generation.
If one person has the ‘lock’ and the other the ‘key’, a couple can find themselves in a prison. One couple had both had childhoods dominated by a parent of the opposite sex. They then, found each other, and spent 50 years both feeling controlled by the other! Liz Greene, Jungian Psychologist writes that: ‘There is ordinarily so much unconscious projection occurring in most relationships and so little objective perception of the real nature of the individual opposite us…’. In all their years of marriage, they never communicated how they felt. A lot could have changed if they had…
Deep Listening – a Tool for Resolving Rows and Relationship Problems.
What follows is a set of tools for resolving arguments at a deeper level.
- Taking time apart is vital to prevent the re-escalation of the argument, giving time to self-reflect, and to let the emotional storm abate (even a week’s break for serious rows).
- Reviewing the argument in a spirit of compassion and without blame, speaking in loving tones as best you can (both people involved in a conflict are suffering even if one appears to be the perpetrator, otherwise the ‘perpetrator’ wouldn’t have been hurtful – says Thich Nhat Hanh,).
- Deep listening: listen through any blame and injustice in the other person’s speech, without reacting. There is always a misperception in human conflict, writes Thich Nhat Hanh, and this form of listening allows this to be seen.
- Speaking honestly about your feelings, but taking responsibility i.e. using the ‘I felt…’ phrase rather than ‘You made me feel…’ phrase. Words that box people in, or using ‘attacking’ phrases make people react in defence.
- If you find yourself struggling with emotions during the row or in the review – take time out to focus your mind on your breath in the area of your stomach. Eckhart Tolle, author of ‘The Power of Now’ suggests that twenty minutes of belly breathing will see you through a storm-cloud of emotion.
- ‘Business’ Meetings – One couple hold a ‘business meeting’ once a week where they talk about any problems they have as a couple, plus a check-in morning and night. It is done just as a business meeting would be; calm discussion, negotiation; ‘It works!’ say the couple.
Although this kind of talking can be incredibly enlightening, actually breaking ingrained patterns often requires taking action and setting boundaries.
Taking Action for Change and Setting Boundaries
Although talking through the rows with Andrew taught us both a huge amount, it did not prevent the rows from re-occurring. I tried to set boundaries but he kept moving the boundaries. So, unable to control his behaviour, I realised I could only work on my side of things – my feelings and reactions. So I dedicated an evening to work on my fear/rage trigger that I had when in conflict with a man. I did a ‘rage’ painting, dressed in red and went for a fast run feeling it in my body, then I devised a basic ritual empowering myself to let go of my fear/rage trigger. This was powerful inner work as within a few days a major shift occurred: Andrew and I got into a situation where an explosive row was imminent. No matter how unreasonable he seemed to be, and how unnerved I felt, I did not explode. I told him that I loved him as a friend but that I didn’t want to see him alone for a while and I walked away.
The change in my reaction finally broke the pattern of rows that had begun with my dad and repeated with partners and finally ended with Andrew…it was a huge shift for me, and it was only possible because both of us were able to self-reflect, and communicate honestly. Since resolving this issue, my ‘impossible’ father and I are experiencing each other in such a new way that it feels like we are seeing each other for the first time, after 40 years of being unable to connect!
Also Andrew and I managed to utilise these rows to heal our pasts and establish a stronger friendship based on a deeper understanding of ourselves and each other. I couldn’t have resolved this issue with my ex-partner because both partners need to be emotionally intelligent, honest, courageous and willing to change….and he wasn’t able to at that time. That is when it is important to consider honouring yourself and letting go. If your partner is nice 90% of the time but toxic 10%, it is still toxic. Psychologist and author, Katherine Woodward Thomas states that cutting toxic people out of your life frees space to draw healthier relationships to you.
Taking responsibility for our feelings and our happiness is crucial to this process. We cannot control others. Honestly communicating our feelings, working on them, and setting boundaries can have a powerful effect on our lives and liberate ourselves and others from painful inner and outer prisons.
Conclusion – A New Paradigm in Relationships
All human relating contains blind-spots, which are behind much of the unhappiness, arguments and misunderstandings between people. But a new paradigm in relationships is emerging out of the awareness that the inner and outer worlds are connected. We are very much the author of our own experience and the old way of relating; manipulating others to get our needs met, is no longer viable. Trying to change others or feeling like a victim of others is never going to be a solution…each one of us holds the true power to improve our relationships once we become subtle enough to see our part in a situation. When we shed light on our relationship issues we realize that there is always something we are not seeing.
Taking action is also vital: by setting boundaries that honour our feelings, self-reflecting, doing ritual and inner work to heal ourselves and our reactions, and practicing deep listening and honest communication with those with whom we are in conflict…painful, negative patterns can dissolve – patterns that in some strange way follow us until we see them differently. A new dawn is arriving, and as we evolve ourselves inwardly, we synchronously attract the sought after holy-grail – positive relationships! This is a process of ‘internal gravity’ says Lenon Honor, as our inner world changes the outer reflection is drawn to us. And what is possible, I believe, is the type of relationship we could only dream of: true marriages of consciousness, which build love in alignment with the universal principles of masculine and feminine, not as opposites as we are led to believe, but unified complements of each other in a dance of love.
- An excellent work-book for inner change is Katherine Woodward Thomas’ book: ‘Calling In The One – 7 weeks to attract the love of your life’.
- ‘Relate’ provide counselling for singles as well as couples.
- Any kind of counselling or self-development work can help.
- Keeping a diary,
- Working towards your goals and dreams
- Working to overcome your insecurities and personal fears and blocks. Within them lie our strengths.
- CODA – ‘Co-dependency Anonymous’ is a 12 step group sharing program that helps you identify your role and in any negative relationships and a program of self-development.