A very real concern that we have once the honeymoon phase begins to fade, or we abruptly come face to face with real life and normality where we discover that the our partner isn’t ‘perfect’ or that we have to learn how to communicate, be vulnerable and deal with life’s inevitables (conflict, criticism, disappointment and receiving no), is worry about whether this person will be able to do things how we need, want, and expect. We might also fear that they might expect us to do things ‘their way’.

We might wonder, What if I have to be vulnerable by being open to allowing this person to get to know me (and me them) and, in essence, showing up in this relationship?

This all feels a bit too risky.

It feels like unknown territory and, on some level, we fear if we don’t ‘manage’ things we will open ourselves up to being someone or doing something that reminds us of a painful part of our past that we don’t want to go back to. If we are very reliant on being in control, even if it’s pseudo control, we will enter into what boils down to a power struggle where it becomes about one of us conceding to the other.

We know that not only do we not want to go ‘back there’ but that we’re afraid of stepping outside of our comfort zone by engaging with the person from a place of vulnerability and building a relationship. Compromise? Pah! What if I compromise and they’re screwing me over or they screw me over at another point?

The funny thing is that we try to act all cool in the honeymoon period. Once things start getting real, though, which we might interpret through feeling afraid of normality or things developing, we start to clamp down and dig our heels in. I know I’ve been all nice and non-confrontational. You do know, though, that you need to do things how I expect (even though I might not directly express it) because this is how I feel safe and validated, right?

What if ‘their way’, i.e. outside of our comfort zone, rules and predictions, hurts us?

We need to acknowledge when we get into a fight for supremacy that that’s not a relationship; it’s all ego. We’re fighting for that person to have our needs met while at the same time being resistant to doing things ‘their way’. If we are entirely honest with ourselves, we see ‘their way’, whether accurate or not, as a reflection of the behaviour of someone from our past. Often, it’s a parent/caregiver, or a sibling, bully, or someone else who did not meet our needs. Our perception of ‘their way’ might be based on conscious or subconscious recognition that we are engaging with our ‘type’ and/or that we are recreating a pattern of a situation in attempt to be right this time.

We want to right the wrongs of the past.

If we can ‘make’ this person do what we want, we think that we can correct the past. We imagine doing so will close the void of those unmet needs and all of that critical narrative we’ve bludgeoned ourselves with. The more they passive aggressively or aggressively push for ‘their way’ and the more that we go in our own mode of people pleasing, passive aggression or even aggression to swing things ‘our way’, the more afraid we feel.

Their actions as well as our feelings, thoughts and actions, are familiar to us. The familiarity reinforces the idea that we’re going back to a painful place, a place, incidentally, we’ve vowed we were not going to with the promise that we would never do things ‘their way’ again. Yet here we are. The old feelings are back.

Depending on what our typical mode is and, on Baggage Reclaim, we tend to opt for the, Let me please you in one million and one ways in an attempt to influence or even control your feelings and behaviour so that I can feel better about continuing with you mode, we hope that by accepting less than what we deserve that we’ll activate their conscience. We hope they’ll feel guilty and, yes, even obliged to reciprocate and ‘pay us back’. We keep battling with our pleasing, erupting periodically, then back to pleasing. And then we wonder when we’ll finally be rewarded for our ‘nice’ and ‘good’ deeds.

Here’s the extra big kicker about power struggles though:

We make the mistake of thinking that we are the ‘loser’ and that they are the ‘winner’. In a power struggle, though, both parties lose.

It’s a relationship, not Armageddon. Unless two people are going to work together as team and accept each other in their humanness, it’s a power struggle that guarantees pain and stunts vulnerability and growth. Team Relationship finds healthy compromises. Team Power Struggle tries to clobber each other, takes what they each want at the other party’s expense, and treats each other as a means to an end (give me self-worth, meet my needs, do as I want or else),

Ironically, each person trying to ‘get’ what they want and feeling that if they don’t, that they’ll go ‘back there’ again (somewhere they were hurt, out of control, powerless, or under threat, etc) results in saddling each party with negative associations.

If we do what they want, we become less attractive to us, no doubt berating us with our usual narrative. However, we also become less attractive to them in some sort of twisted self-fulfilling prophecy. It’s like, Oh…. I see… you’re doing exactly what I’ve passive aggressively or aggressively clobbered you into. You’ve done what I wanted/demanded. Hmmm… yeah… I’ve lost respect for you…

They mistakenly think they can do things on their terms and that it’ll all be hunky dory. Instead, they’re left with ambivalence and in the worst of cases, contempt, so they lose the relationship too.

It’s a vicious cycle.

They feel angry about our no longer being as attractive and grapple with unpleasant feelings that they push down and possibly project on to us. For instance, If only they’d [done as I wanted or lived up to the dream], I wouldn’t be feeling this way]. At the same time, they neglect to remember that part of why we’ve become unattractive stems from their direct actions toward us. Ack!

And then, just to add another dimension to the mess, they (obviously only if capable of doing so), feel guilty for creating that situation and try to engage to relieve some of these feelings and at the same time, we try to use our pleasing ways to regain our composure and position, to make things right and get validated, which only creates more pain and frustration for us and induces guilt (in them), which brings up feelings of obligation, which reminds them about not going ‘back there’, which sets off the whole acting out and no doubt backtracking on any promises and professed intentions, and round and round we go.

We also lose faith and build even bigger walls to protect us from the pain. We feel unworthy and wonder why we can never ‘make’ people and situations that remind of us ‘back then’ go our way. What’s wrong with me? Why did they replace me? Why is this happening again?

We worry that it’s always going to be this way and insist we’re ‘not good enough’. Then we use the experience to reconfirm our underlying beliefs and our self-fulfilling prophecy.

We cannot build our relationships on inferiority and superiority. Our relationships can’t be about ‘getting’.

In a power struggle, who is really winning?

We have to decide if we want do battle or enjoy being in a relationship. It can’t be about obliging or forcing each other into doing what we want.

Whoever we’re in a relationship with (or battling with), they don’t have the sole purpose of meeting our needs (or us theirs). They’re not going to fix or heal us. They’re also not going to fill the role of a parent/caregiver who didn’t meet our needs, and nor should we be tasking ourselves with doing this for them. It puts the kibosh on a mutually fulfilling loving relationship.

We have to decide if we want to do battle or whether we want to enjoy being in a relationship. These attitudes and choices ar mutually exclusive. If we want to be open to compromise but they don’t, then we know that copiloting and growth isn’t possible. We know they’re entrenched in getting ‘their way’ and not open to sharing love. Instead of our continuing to do the same thing and expecting different results in a lose:lose situation, we learn to take care of ourselves. We exit the battle.

Your thoughts?

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