RELATIONSHIPS: Dealing with the Source

By Steven T. Padgitt, Ph.D.

When we last left Eric and Heather they were learning to identify destructive and self defeating patterns of behavior that began as early as childhood and were threatening their love. Once the patterns and origins were identified, they began to create new adaptive responses to replace the maladaptive ones. In addition, they began learning to avoid the pitfall of judging one another when a destructive pattern emerged. Rather, they began to look at the newly developed explanations and understandings rather than to trying to fix blame.

Recognizing that criticizing and blaming one another held no promise for enhancing the intimacy in their love, they worked to learn more about one another from a historical standpoint. They examined and discussed particular experiences in childhood and learned how those life events resulted in relationship threatening behavior. This increase in objective analysis facilitated their working together to diminish maladaptive response styles and enhance a sort of partnership in personal and relationship growth.

They also learned to maintain their separateness, rather than the confusion of losing personal boundries. This identification and increase in personal boundaries helped them maintain a more objective view of the other at critical times; specifically during times of acting out in relationship destructive ways. In so doing, both Heather and Eric could truly be friends with one another.

Heather soon became adept at catching early signs of Eric's withdrawal and learned to help him identify the emergence of his maladaptive response pattern. She was also able to gently and supportively help Eric catch and stop the process of sinking into his childhood abandonment based sadness. This helped Eric grasp the emotional distinction between then and now. In addition, they developed a verbal cuing system that both of them agreed would allow them to remain non-defensive and help them be the best friends they could be. When Heather saw the early warning signs of Eric's pattern of withdrawal she, would ask him if he was in the '70s. This question served as the cue to remind him of the origin of his current feelings and behavior. Most important, he was able to hear her question without feeling judgement or criticism.

Without criticism, which was his experience in childhood, and in the presence of caring support from Heather, Eric was able to leave the '70s behind and move back into the present. This did not always go smoothly, particularly at first. However, as they practiced and learned to trust one another to not be judgmental, the transition became more fluid and less stressful.

Eric and Heather took advantage of these and other tools they were able to develop in couples therapy and further enhanced their relationship. While psychotherapy is not an easy process, the benefits are life-enhancing.