Your romantic relationships will typically progress through two distinct phases —
- The “romantic phase”: you have an expectation of need fulfilment and a euphoric feeling of completeness when your partner supplies the lost parts of your self. Cupid shoots a dose of Phenylethylalamine directly into your brain. You feel like the darling child in an ideal family.
2. The “power struggle”: you come to hate what you fell in love with — “You’re so exuberant and alive!” becomes, “Can’t we have a rational conversation without you getting hysterical?!” Your powerful expectations of need fulfilment are inevitably not met. The shift from romance to power struggle tends to begin when you make a firm commitment to the relationship. Your unarticulated expectation is — “now my partner will magically meet all of my needs and love me like my parents never did!” When this doesn’t happen, it seems as if your partner is deliberately withholding gratification, so you may have a natural impulse to retaliate.
A typical power struggle cycle might go like this —
- He is quiet; she experiences this as withdrawal.
- She tries to get a response; he experiences this as nagging.
- He walks away; she experiences this as abandonment.
- She explodes in rage; he experiences this as an attack.
- He fights back… and it all ends in tears and resentment.What usually happens in the absence of vulnerability and empathy is you try to control your partner to get what you want. Have you ever used behaviours like threatening, withholding affection, being sarcastic, cold, criticising, attacking, moping, blaming, or shaming to punish and hurt your partner into loving you right? That can succeed in intimidating your partner into complying with your wishes (although it generally doesn’t work very well), but it’s hardly a loving and compassionate way to be.
- You may be trying to get your partner to understand your pain by inflicting something similar on them. This dramatically increases the amount of pain in your relationship, guaranteeing that you will get the opposite of what you want and need.
- The problem is not the rupture but the failure to reconnect. The conflict is not a fundamental threat to your relationship, the threat is your inability to repair the rupture and get back to intimate connection.