Since it’s February, and not just any week in February, but the week of Valentine’s Day, it feels only appropriate to make the rest of this month about romantic love and relationships. As I previously mentioned in my introductory post, relationships are often complicated, even the good ones. In order to make them better and more satisfying, it’s often necessary to really understand what your relational blueprint looks like. What on earth is a relational blueprint? Before we address that, let’s back up…
Do you have a “type”? Meaning, do you find that you consistently gravitate toward the same kind of romantic partners? I know mine: they are all, for the most part, tall, dark and handsome. Ok…it’s slightly more complicated than that since that would describe the type for at least 50% of the hetero women out there 😉 But you get my point. For some people, it’s only men that are emotionally unavailable. For others, it’s women who put them on a pedestal. There’s a similar dynamic that is a part of most of your relationships despite the fact that there are different people playing the roles. Sound familiar?
Ever stop to think about why that is? Many people will speculate about this and I don’t necessarily think there’s only one right answer. BUT in my opinion and experience, this pull toward a certain kind of person and personality stems from our earliest relationships: the relationships we had with our parents and their relationship with each other (for the record, the “parents” I’m referring to can be Mom/Dad, Mom/Mom, Dad/Dad, Mom/Grandma, etc). These are the first relationships we ever experience which shape our brain and emotions in very powerful, long-lasting ways. These relationships lay the foundation for future relationships and create a template for how we interact with others for years to come: it’s our relational blueprint. Make sense?
Ok, that’s probably not tough to see. Many of us might say that our partner is “just like my Dad/Mom/Grandmother”. But what does this mean for us? Even if we had the best parenting available to us, our early caregivers are only human with their own flaws, quirks and hang-ups. And if we did not have the best parenting available to us because our caregiver was physically ill, mentally ill, addicted to something or someone, etc…then what? Are we destined to wind up with partners who aren’t any good for us simply because that’s the direction our blueprint nudges us in? Not at all…but it takes work and a conscious, deliberate effort to change the blueprint and choose something – and someone – else.
So where do we start? If you’ve ever gotten out of a bad relationship only to wind up in another one that feels almost exactly the same, you understand the dilemma and how difficult this pattern is to break. Instead of looking outward – at all of your partner’s flaws, misgivings and bad behavior – look inward. Look backward. Ask yourself:
1. What were your relationships like with your earliest caregivers? Did you feel loved? Cared for? Heard? Seen? Understood?
2. Did you feel that way most of the time, some of the time or almost none of the time?
3. If it wasn’t an ideal relationship, what was the dynamic/pattern playing out? Were you expected to take care of your parents needs instead of it being the other way around? Were you (or another parent ) a literal or metaphorical punching bag for a stressed out caregiver? Did you feel invisible around your parent/s?
4. How does your current partner (or partners you’ve had in the past) mimic or deviate from these patterns? Perhaps your Mom was really invasive and overwhelming and now you find yourself with women who are only very aloof and distant. Or perhaps you wound up with a very invasive and overwhelming partner all over again.
These are difficult questions to think about, let alone answer, so take your time. But when you’re ready, honestly think about how you would answer these questions. My guess is that it’ll be an interesting and insightful exercise even if it’s potentially painful. Because here’s the thing: only when you are aware of problems do you have any power to actually change them. So this fearless moral inventory, as the 12-steppers might say, is the first step toward shifting your relationships to something healthier, happier and more fulfilling. And isn’t that what we all want?