It’s a question that lives in the minds of people who really want a relationship to work but haven’t yet found a way. They may have tried a number of approaches, hoping for a different result, only to find themselves in the ashes of their efforts, with hurt feelings and a sense of futility.
Then comes the inevitable question: “What am I doing wrong?” My response: “First, let’s look at what you’re thinking and feeling. Then we can accurately assess what you’re doing.” Interestingly enough, the breakthrough usually comes when the individual starts to see that the feeling state he winds up in is one he has had for as long as he can remember, and there is a pattern to the drama that gets acted out between him and the other person.
What is in the way of healing? The short answer is the pattern itself.
All relationships involve a dynamic between the co-relators. If the relationship is dysfunctional, their interactions will be played like a proverbial broken record. In most cases, these individuals harbor distorted perceptions of themselves and each other, behave accordingly, and then choose to act out their roles in a script they’ve been perfecting for quite a while.
What should they do?
First, one or both of them need to stop acting out and start taking responsibility. Only when they have pried their attention off each other will they be able to challenge the validity of their feeling states and start to examine the distorted perceptions they are (invariably) projecting onto each other and the relationship.
Is it necessary that both of them do this? I look at it this way. If only one person changes his position in the canoe, stops acting out the script or drops his end of the rope and sticks with these changes, then change in the dynamic is now virtually assured.
But can the relationship be healed? Well, if one person changes, healing the relationship suddenly becomes a possibility that was not there before, but there are obviously no guarantees. However, even if only one of them changes, this will improve the toxicity and dysfunction by up to 50%. This is no trivial reward for the effort, if you ask me.
To heal the relationship itself takes both parties facing their inner fiction, owning their emotional reactions and committing to the shared goal of compassion, authenticity and peace. Ironically, it’s usually one person’s courage, willingness to change and be authentic in the relationship that starts the process. Will it be you?