How Did I Get Here?
When we find ourselves in a difficult relationship one of the questions we tend to ask is; “how did I get here?”
Nobody starts a relationship with the expectation that, somewhere down the road, we’re going to end up feeling isolated, unloved and alone. So if that was not our intention how did it happen? Let me give you a few of the detours we take that lead down the road to an unfulfilling relationship.
It all centers around the fact we are reproducing the only kind of relationship we know.
I tell my clients that we will only deal with the past when the past gets in the way of our future. Unfortunately this is almost always the case. We learn our relationship skills from those who modeled relationships to us. How our parents resolved conflict, created a safe and secure environment and met our emotional, physical and spiritual needs will become the model we think of as “normal”.
I can hear some of you saying; “Wait a minute! I hated the way I grew up and I am doing everything I can to do it differently”. I acknowledge your efforts and support your intentions but changing the dysfunctional relational patterns of the past requires more than just recognizing what did not work; it requires the ability to put new healthy patterns in place. In order for true change to happen we must implement lifestyle changes that will feel awkward, totally unnatural and difficult to consistently apply. Here are some of the areas that we often struggle in:
How was conflict managed in your home?
Were criticism, contempt, defensiveness or stonewalling used when disagreements arose? Was there a “win at all cost” mentality? Or were you like many of us never privy to the arguments that happened behind closed doors. Few of us learned how to express anger or our complaints in a healthy way so naturally we find it difficult to do it in our relationships.
How was love and comfort expressed?
Did you feel loved and cherished in your home or did you feel like you were on the outside looking in? Conversely, were you smothered and used as an emotional support system for one or both of your parents. Not experiencing healthy love and comfort in our home leaves us with a deficit that is extremely hard to fill, especially by an unaware spouse.
How was communication handled?
Was information communicated directly or did it come through channels. If someone was angry or upset did you hear it from them or did it come at you via third parties. If we or our partner is unused to direct communication then we may feel threatened or frightened by their frankness and it may be difficult for us feel connected.
What were the expectations for each family member?
What was expected of each member in your home? These expectation are often transferred to your new relationships without even a conscious thought that your spouse may have a different set of expectations.
If you and your spouse are not in agreement in these areas then you are bound to feel misunderstood and alone. We create such strong and deeply held beliefs that when our partner shares a contrary view we can’t accept it, much less understand it. If we are ever going to have healthy, satisfying relationships we need to understand what those relationships look like.
After all, a sure way to become utterly lost is to redouble your effort after you have lost sight of your goal. And that is what a lot of us do when we’re in unhappy relationships. We try desperately to make changes in ways that are just as dysfunctional as what we are trying to change. The real change needs to happen in us before we can hope to see a significant change in our relationship.
I have often had clients recount to me a litany of failed and dysfunctional relationships as if there was some grand conspiracy to make sure that they would never find happiness. I always listen patiently. (Okay, sometimes I get a wee bit impatient) But I do understand that there is deep pain and sadness when we feel disconnected, alone and hopeless. Eventually we get around to the inevitable question. What do all these relationships have in common? At this point my client has a very hard time answering that question but eventually (with some prodding) the light comes on and they say – it’s me. Yes, I say in my wisest and most compassionate tone, it is you. So what do you want to do about that?
We are at the center of our lives for good or for bad so if we’re ever going to experience something different we’re going to need to see what we are doing in order to create something new. And that my friends is why we look at the past and ask the above questions.
If you are having difficulty with knowing what healthy relationships look like I have a suggestion. Read the Beatitudes (Matthew 5: 3-10 and 1 Corinthians 13) and especially study the life of Jesus Christ. For in his example we find the highest, truest, and most worthy example of how we are to interact with one another. Or as the Apostle Paul said so well: