A Hidden Dynamic in Relationships
One of the things that fascinate me are the unspoken, unconscious rules of engagement in intimate relationship. This fascination isn’t always convenient when it comes to having an intimate relationship myself, admittedly. Too much analysis can be a defence – and a threat. But it’s wholly useful in my counselling work when, for example, I can perhaps point something out objectively that my clients are not seeing, the knowledge of which can shift their perspective enough to offer a modicum of freedom in straitened circumstances.
What I come across pretty regularly in my sleuthings are relationships where partners polarise emotionally: one partner is non-confrontational, contained, unexpressive, while the other is the complete opposite: confrontational, un-contained, expressive.
Now, typically, what happens is that the uncontained/expressive partner is singled out as the immediate problem. After all, they’re making the most noise! It’s only natural that attention would go to them first.
This can then be taken a step further, and accusations levelled: the expressive person is deemed to be “hysterical” or “unhinged” – and, again typically, it is their partner who is one of the first to level this accusation at them.
On the surface, this makes sense; and because most relationships are conducted with awareness restricted to the surface level, what happens is that there is a dynamic that’s established that perpetuates an illusion of inequality: i.e., the poor, hen-pecked partner who stoically deals with the rantings and ravings of their irrational significant other.
In this situation, there’s no way out unless one or both of them realise that there’s more to the dynamic than meets the eye. Something else is going on, and in many cases (not all – but many) it is this:
That supposed “hysterical,” “mental,” overwrought partner has become a mule.
They are carrying their partner’s disowned and unexpressed emotions and they are dealing with them, in the best and only way they know how: by becoming their conduit, and their mouthpiece.
They feel them, and they give them voice. To them, these emotions are all too real. To their partners, their originators, they are their partner’s mood swings and their tantrums.
“Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.” ~ Carl Jung
This dynamic is unconscious, remember. So neither partner knows what’s going on. They have entered into a contract with each other that was signed when their backs were turned.
So when we think we’re committing to what we know when we commit to another in relationship, what is there, and present, alongside is our commitment to what we do NOT know.
If we all knew this and could step up and deal with it, how much less the burden that so many of us have to bear?
And this isn’t just in sexual relationships. This is in familial relationships, work relationships, the relationships between political parties, and governments.
The phrase “Own your shit” is so easily spoken, so valuable to understand, and so hard to enact. The repercussions of our unconsciousness extend way beyond one-to-one intimacy when we can sit down and think about it. It may be that we look at the world sometimes and wonder how the hell it is that we can make any impression whatsoever on what’s going on. Can we have an impact? Does our small contribution do anything at all?
Well, yes, I think we can have an impact – because we do have an impact. And it starts at home, with those closest to us, and it ripples out from there.
So my question, in light of all of this, is this:
Are you carrying your partner’s emotions for them?
Are you finding yourself at the mercy of emotions that come from nowhere while the person standing opposite you seems to be feeling nothing at all?
Or are you the person who is feeling nothing at all and looking at a wholly unreasonable partner who is ‘going off on one’ yet again?
Hand back that baggage. Right now. Give what is not yours back; take back what is.
It has an impact. It really, really does.