If being “in a relationship” is important to you, then making changes and adapting to your partner or spouse is an important developmental process.
The adage “This is who I am” underscores a defensiveness that speaks more to a frozen part of who we are, unwilling to reflect on ourselves and make changes benefiting the relationship and the person we profess to love.
We all come into relationships with injuries. None of us is exempt. We all have war wounds from our childhoods to greater or lesser degrees. Without healing, these wounds become scars and these scars become grooves. Without balm, healing and flexibility they become deep-seated, often rigid “principles” connoting how we “walk in the world.” But are we truly happy with these inflexible principles — and how do we even know they are inflexible? Our partner or spouse has the opportunity to show us and assist in our growth, if we allow it.
For example: Mary’s father was always working when she was a child. He often didn’t come home until it was time for her to go to bed. Once in a while he would read her a bedtime story, but over time the story sessions became less and less frequent. On the weekends he was too tired to play or spend time with her. Mary slowly came to believe that her father didn’t love her, and worse yet that she was not worth loving.
As a young adult, Mary meets Joe, who is also a hard worker deeply caring of Mary. When Joe is offered a promotion, Mary automatically becomes angry and resentful. Joe is confused; he thought she would be happy for him. Mary is unaware she is harboring deep fears that Joe may become so engrossed in his work that he too will become distant — just like her father. Suddenly, all the fears from Mary’s early childhood neglect are triggered. Irrationally, she threatens to leave Joe, leaving him bewildered and confused and sad.
Mary and Joe decide to go into therapy and work through this rupture in their lives. What is revealed is important and enlightening. Mary is able to access her deeply rooted fears of “not being good enough” by expressing the pain of having a father whose work dominated his life at the expense of her need for an attentive parent.
At first, Mary clings her defenses, expressing defiantly, “This is who I am,” and, “I just can’t stand men who work all the time.” This final sentence was particularly revealing. For it is here that Mary globalized her past experiences to all men and “all work all the time” situations. This unintentional flaw required immediate attention and course correction.
With the guidance and assistance of a trained therapist, Mary was able to see how she was manifesting and re-creating her trauma and fears from the past. If Mary had continued to dig in her heels with her “all or nothing” thinking, processing experiences in her loving relationship via the ghosts of her childhood trauma, disaster likely would have repeated itself. Mary’s principled belief system — developed during life with her father — could have controlled and dominated the relationship with her current partner.
Joe was able to gain understanding and insight surrounding Mary’s past. He acknowledged the pain she experienced. He was able to address his needs and wants with Mary. Reminding her that he is not her father — that he too wants a life with his partner and to spend time with her — he affirms that a promotion does not mean “always working and never being at home.”
Together, Mary and Joe came up with a plan to maintain balance. Rather than throw out the baby with the bathwater, Mary loosened her rigid trauma-based belief that Joe will never be home — and the marriage subsequently will fail — with a more balanced view that includes Joe’s wish to be at home with Mary for dinner most nights.
Also included was his decision to work only once in a while on weekends. Suddenly so many more things became possible.
With a little painful yet productive insight, breaking ties with the old and taking flexible control of their lives together in the present, Mary and Joe were able to change “This is me” to “This is us.”