If your car was stuck in sand, would you continue to press on the gas pedal or would you get out and figure out a new line of action? Most people would do the latter. Yet, when it comes to relationships, people often keep their foot on the gas and dig themselves deeper. A person may continue to provoke their spouse to be “rebellious” by attempting to control them. Some people may drive their partner further away by chasing them when they distance themselves. How do these vicious cycles get started? The answer lies in the mystery of romance.
High levels of attraction actually produce a chemical change in the brain and body. A person’s system becomes flooded with endorphins, nature’s painkiller, and while on this “high” it is easy to be blinded to signs of trouble. This type of attraction is often created because:
- Your partner has characteristics similar to your early caretakers and you unknowingly think this person will fulfill your unmet childhood needs. If you had a controlling parent, you may strive to win freedom from a rigid spouse.
- Your partner has positive qualities you believe you are lacking. Someone who is insecure may be attracted to confidence in another person. A person who is cool and nonchalant can become captivated by another’s warmth.
Often, the signs of trouble begin to appear after the relationship becomes “official” and partners make a commitment. Each person begins to focus on being taken care of and is less inclined to accommodate the other’s needs. As a result, full-fledged conflict may emerge or resentments may slowly build over the years. For example, a spouse may wake up and realize that their efforts to be docile and complacent are never going to win the approval they seek. Or, a partner’s warmth and attentiveness may suddenly seem like a demand for smothering closeness. When unresolved resentments build, the differences that were once a source of attraction become sore spots.
In healthy relationships, differences are interchangeable and a source of learning. Partners can take turns giving and receiving, being spontaneous, and setting limits. The relationship achieves a balance of closeness and freedom so that neither suffocation nor detachment results.
Unfortunately, when both people in the relationship resist fulfilling their potentials, they become stuck playing certain roles and cease growing. A couple may be satisfied acting out this polarization for years, until a crisis occurs. To make the relationship more open and flexible, one person must change and allow the other to be upset. If this is done with firmness and empathy, even rigid “tyrants” can realize their partners can act independently and remain committed to the relationship.