Home > abandonment, Outer Child > When We Try To Move Relationships Forward, And It Goes Backwards

When We Try To Move Relationships Forward, And It Goes Backwards

I’ve gotten a lot of messages lately about relationships going out of whack. One minute you’re in sync and the next, one is pulling away, and the other is feeling abandoned.

It makes me appreciate the fact that the most important commodity in a relationship is mutuality. Mutuality is precious. Once someone “wants more” from the other person, it can tip the balance of power.

Sometimes it HELPS rather than HURTS a relationship when someone nudges the other to move forward. The “nudger” becomes the “emotional leader” who possesses the courage, vision, and sense of security to risk taking the first step toward. The other person takes your lead, falls in line.

But things can backfire: When one person “pressures” the other, it can cause push/pull dynamics to set in. The relationship goes on a tailspin. The one who holds back becomes the more powerful. The one who wants more is perceived as “needy” and loses power. It’s just the way it works. And it’s extremely common.

There are so many different scenarios, but here is one example. Let’s says “Sarah” is living with “Bob,” but doesn’t consider him “the one.” He’s good enough to be “exclusive” with, but not quite on par to marry. She thinks there still might be “Mr. Right” out there. So she’s happy for now because Bob is her security blanket and keeps the boogey man (fear of being alone) away, but she isn’t wholeheartedly committed. She’s still shopping.

This arrangement works out fine as long as Bob feels the same way about Sarah. The two can take each other for granted and fantasize abut meeting other people, and in the meantime enjoy the mutuality, safety, and security the relationships affords.

And of course this can go on indefinitely and even wind up with them staying together forever – because they can grow deeply attached and inured toward one another, due to the longevity of the relationship coupled with their own maturity.

But what if earlier on, Bob sees Sarah as “the one” and wants to get married? And what if Sarah feels pressured and guilty and “responsible for Bob’s feelings?” Now the mutuality is threatened. Sarah feels even less “challenged” than before, and Bob feels more insecure than before. The balance of power shifts, tension mounts, everyone’s respective emotional positions get exaggerated.

To restore equanimity in this relationship-gone-askew (assuming he wants to stay), Bob’s best maneuver is to try to turn the tables. This would involve his ability to make an enormous leap: It involves his ability to take complete responsibility for his own emotional wellbeing, and stop placing his needs at Sarah’s feet. We’re talking here about Radical Responsibility.

Radical Responsibility means that Bob must go to the extreme of expressing GRATITUDE toward Sarah for acting as a spur to get him to achieve a new level of emotional self-reliance and self-appreciation. He must thank her for prompting him to take stock of his own personal strengths and reaching his potential.

Radical Responsibility also means that he must empathize with her about how uncomfortable and guilty his “pressure” must have made her feel – how it must have made her feel cheated of the mutual relationship she thought she had. And what’s most radical of all, he must mean it.

This communication takes the pressure off, restores mutuality (each are getting what they need/want) but it involves Bob’s ability to take that leap.

There is nothing wrong with openly expressing your needs and wants within a relationship (i.e. getting married), telling your partner exactly how you feel, what you hope to get, what you would like, etc., but it’s when you lay these needs at the other person’s feet, that the relationship can spin out of control.

Very often one will have stronger feelings than the other, but these feelings can be openly discussed. Very often one is looking for commitment and your partner is commitment phobic, but you can openly discuss these issues, as long as you don’t hold your partner responsible for what you want – as long as you don’t expect him or her to feel differently, change, or gratify your needs.

When you’re in one of these unbalanced relationships, all of the responsibility is on your side of the equation. It’s how you handle your needs and feelings that will make the difference.

And if it tips out of control and you lose power (your partner becomes a source of anxiety and obsession), you can get your power back by taking Radical Responsibility – taking complete care of your own wellbeing and calmly discussing your desires with your partner without aiming your emotional suction cups at him or her. This will make you the emotional leader of the relationship and gain you many points. But “points” can’t be your motivation: Learning emotional self-reliance is its own reward.

The options are obvious. You can either continue the relationship. Or you can go out and find one that more closely resembles what you are looking for.

  1. Helen
    October 9, 2010 at 10:52 pm

    Hi Susan,
    This particular article really resonated with me. I’m reading your book ‘The Journey from Abandonment to Healing’ and have found it to be supremely helpful as I deal with the grief of a relationship ending. Thanks for your insights and for the sharing of your own story. It’s this imbalance in relationships that always causes me to become unstuck so the article was great to read and I’m sure will help me in the future.

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