“Relationship is a dance between tending to your own pain and inviting the other inside to tend with you.” — Ryan Ginn
It’s very human to want to bypass, avoid and postpone confronting our own inner pain, unaddressed disappointments and grief. When we get into a relationship, it’s easy to project all that pain onto our partner and expect them to ameliorate it. It becomes the ongoing work of any viable relationship for both partners to own their pain, confront it, address it and ask for help clearly and realistically from the other, rather than expecting the other to heal them, to meet their every need, or never hurt them.
What is unresolved pain and how do I know if I have it?
Generally speaking, unless you grew up with two perfect humans as parents, who loved you enough without being over-protective, modeled excellent communication, were consistently flexible and affectionate with each other, created a sense of all-pervading security for you and your siblings, then you probably have some unresolved wounding.
How it shows up in relationships:
We blame our partner.
When a person is not acknowledging or recognizing that they’re fused with a younger, wounded part of themselves, they can’t help but look to their partner to either make it better or blame them for it. This is so natural! We can’t help but do this. Our attachment system looks to our partner to be calmed or regulated (in neurobiology speak) and when they are failing at that, we blame them and feel resentful.
When we over-generalize we’re more or less unable to see or empathize with the other. We see them as a caricature, as children do — bad or good — versus recognizing complexity. When we feel threatened by our partner’s language or tone or the interpretation we make of something they have said, they become the “bad partner” and we respond accordingly: we withdraw, we attack, or we silently judge the shit out of them.
We get triggered.
Building on the above, we go into some mild or extreme form of fight or flight, heart racing, or a little frozen, or we can’t speak very well. Our resources are not available for higher-level functioning but they are available for survival-related tasks like fighting, intimidating, or assessing exit strategies. Everyone has their own go tos in such situations. Personally, I go the silent, judgemental route, or the raised volume attack. It’s important for you to note what happens when you get triggered as we continue to explore.
We lack flexibility.
We tend to be unable to actually collaborate or cooperate very well, because we start to see the other as a threat. Alternatively, we may also see them as the answer, and we lose track of our own ability to take care of ourselves or bring our needs and ideas to the table. We may slip into the caretaker, faux cooperative part of ourselves that will end up creating resentment down the road because we didn’t agree to move forward with our whole self – just the part of us that wants to avoid conflict or being judged as needy or pushy.
What happens if we never take ownership of our pain?
If we never work to confront our own pain, our relationship will never get the chance to operate in reality. Each partner feels like they are being levied with unfair expectations and it gets more and more frustrating for both. The one that’s doing the levying feels disempowered because they are not relating to their younger parts in a developed and functional way, which means they feel constantly dysregulated, unsettled and insecure and it leads to a lot of conflict and a loss of intimacy because neither feels very safe in the other’s presence. They are not able to grow as much as they would like in their lives as a whole because they are not settled in their primary relationship. This bleeds into their professional lives, friendships and spiritual life.
How do we get started trying to fix it?
This is often the dark night of the soul for a person in a relationship. It’s not as simple as just loving ourselves more, neither is it as simple as projecting that our partner is our savior. The key is to find a way to thread the needle between these two things, and start to relate to the other from mature self, rather than younger self and to begin to ask clearly and realistically for what they need in a relationship, then receive it, and to do the same for the other. It may sound straightforward, but it’s arguably the most difficult thing a person does in their life. So where do we begin?
Start with awareness-building.
Get to know your childhood wounding with this journaling exercise.
Spend a little bit of time each day for a while, journaling on these questions.
- Whose love did you not receive?
- Where was criticism coming from?
- Where did you feel really traumatized or even wounded by the circumstances of your childhood?
- What are the recurrent themes or stories that your inner child believes about the other and about him or herself? I’m not good enough? The other doesn’t care about me? Whenever I express my needs they just get dismissed? S/he’s going to leave me anyway.
Once you begin to do this work, look to see how they change your reaction in certain situations, and how you orient towards your partner in general.
If we consistently look to our partner to heal our wounding, they will inevitably be unable to do these sufficiently and this will lead to a deep sense of disappointment that can give rise to rage, despondency, despair, and thoughts of leaving. Mature relating is about intentionally developing the skill to dance between tending to the self and inviting the other into your interiority to tend with you. It feels like a paradox and all deep and real things are.
Feel free to reach out to me with any questions, and if you’re interested in diving deeper into the work, book a free consultation and I’ll see if I can help with what you’re going through.