When romance fades and couples find themselves in the second stage of a relationship, the Power Struggle, it may not be obvious you are in an actual "relationship stage" or even what to do about it.
Let's face it - most couples expect to "live happily ever after," and if conflicts arise, the coping may be less than stellar if we did not have great role models. So we try our best, and if we cannot resolve things, the arguments continue.
In stressful times, we may even say some of the following:
"Why won't you see my side?"
"Why won't you talk/listen/do it my way?"
"Why don't you have my back?"
"No matter what I do, it's not enough!"
"It's all about you!"
Do any of the above comments sound familiar? The exact plea or frustration tends to mirror what we felt in childhood. This has to do with an unconscious childhood agenda that guides your mate selection.
You may think you are marrying only all the great qualities in your partner, but you also marry the specific negative qualities. Why? It sounds so crazy! Yet, it's an unavoidable phenomenon and unexpected. This is why I find it so beneficial to educate couples on the importance of this dynamic in relationships to thrive together.
Aspects of an Unconscious Agenda
For example, if as a child you felt any of the following:
Like your needs didn't matter
Like there was no one around who cared
Like you were unwanted or a burden
Those are the same feelings that will crop up in your adult relationships. And not only will you have that same feeling, but you’ll also have a story attached to it to justify WHY you feel this way. Then you will try to resolve the issue and stop the feelings. That is natural and very unconscious.
Examples of Unconscious Agenda
Example #1 - If you had a chaotic childhood and now have a desire for peace and understanding, you may do some of the following:
Unconsciously choose a partner who replicates chaos in some way.
See your partner as causing chaos.
Behave in ways that cause chaos, and then blame your partner - these three tendencies are called "Projective Identification," and it is unavoidable because our brain does this automatically.
Example #2 - Let's say you had an angry and unavailable mother as a child. You may do the following:
Choose an angry and unavailable partner.
View your partner as angry and unavailable.
Behave in ways that cause your partner to be angry and unavailable and then blame him/her.
Why you Have an Unconscious Goal
In these ways, you get to replay childhood to get someone who is just like your parents (or siblings, etc.) to love you and care for you in better ways, so that you will be healed. And, the unconscious wish is that the person who creates your unhappiness will work harder to love you.
Or, that angry unavailable person will become more present and happy(and whatever else you wish for) because they love you. And according to the inner child, these changes and improvements must take place regardless of how you act!
But to complicate things even further, it is happening with your partner too! So at the same time, your partner will be frustrated with you, having negative childhood feelings and stories to back up his/her ongoing frustrations with you!
Since Nature wants us to grow and heal, we all choose a partner that cannot meet our needs in a very particular way. This seeming incompatibility brings us the tension for growth. It keeps us interested, but we also need to know how to work with these differences to stop the arguments. We need to move into having a "Growth Mindset" about relationships versus a "Happily ever after..." mentality. That can be a challenging shift.
How to Shift your Relationship to a Growth Mindset
So what can you do? Generally speaking, we all need to do the opposite of what we’d normally do. Here are three essential tips for shifting into growth to heal your power struggle:
Tip #1 - Get curious and listen to what your partner is asking for specifically. Then stretch to meet those needs. The request is not random or unjustified. It likely matters a lot to your partner.
Tip #2 - Continue to communicate your needs and wants clearly and respectfully. When you stop talking openly and your needs go underground, you cannot feel good and connect fully. Since your partner cannot read minds or perhaps avoids meeting needs, a clear request is crucial in the relationship.
Tip #3 - Express appreciation and gratitude for the efforts you see from your partner. A great mistake is to push away efforts, "Oh, you are just doing that because I asked you to!" like that is a bad thing, which somehow doesn't count. I like to say to couples, "That is the most loving thing of all when your partner puts effort into doing what you asked!"
If you truly want a happy and healthy relationship, look towards each other as partners for growth and expansion. Make it a goal to focus on safe and fulfilling ways to communicate and connect on a deeper level.
Your growth and expansion could be as simple as learning to be more patient and less reactive - creating safety in the relationship.
Your growth and expansion could include learning to admit you made a mistake and apologize - creating more kindness and empathy in the relationship.
Your growth and expansion could be learning to say "yes" when you mean yes, and "no" when you mean no - creating healthy boundaries, differentiation, and being honorable in the relationship.
Any of these involve huge personal relationship benefits when you shift this overtime - bringing the unconscious agenda to the surface to ensure your conscious self is running the show. And hopefully, help your inner child get essential needs met and feel loved once and for all. In that way, you might consciously create a type of "happily ever after..." love story for your relationship.
If you're struggling with developing a growth mindset in your relationship and understanding how unconscious agendas hurt, we're here to help. Check out our Imago Relationship workshops and therapy. We have online therapy and workshops too!
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This blog post was written by Stacy Bremner, MA, RP, Registered Psychotherapist.
Stacy Bremner is in private practice in North Bay, Ontario, Canada. She holds a Specialized Honours B.A. in Psychology and an M.A. in Human Development. She is a Registered Psychotherapist (RP) with the CRPO (the College of Registered Psychotherapists of Ontario), as well as a member in good standing with the OAMHP. Stacy is also a Certified Imago Relationship Therapist with Advanced Clinician status and a Certified Imago Workshop Presenter.
For two decades, she has assisted individuals, couples, and groups. She has taught a variety of workshops on topics such as relationships, communication, sexuality, healing, self-awareness, creativity, and self-help. Stacy has a background in Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT), Meditation and Mindfulness, Psychodramatic Bodywork, Conscious Core Transformation (CCT), The DNMS, Discernment Counselling, and PACT. She also continues to study and teach in the area of Couplehood and sexuality.
Even before she became a Psychotherapist, Stacy was a spiritual seeker and passionate about her own healing journey. Areas of study for Stacy include Kabbalah, Buddhism, and ACIM (A Course in Miracles). Because she is so passionate about her work, she cannot resist the desire to upgrade her skills in an ongoing way through reading, attending workshops, and teaching. Stacy feels that all these efforts contribute to her growth as a well-rounded person, a therapist, and a spiritual being.
Check out Stacy's website: www.ameetingofminds.ca