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  • Writer's pictureAnnelisa MacBean

Relationship Bias

We come into adulthood with a pre-existing relationship template consisting of our expectations, fears of getting closer or being too far away, questions about how vulnerable we can be, what is safe and what isn't. Can I really allow the other to matter? Can I matter? We eventually come up against the realization that intimate relationships will likely illuminate pretty much everything that remains unresolved within us. An element of our early template is a preference, tendency, or specialization in carrying either the separateness aspect of the relationships, or the connecting aspect. Bias toward one way of relating or the other is natural, based on what was happening in the relational field while our little hearts and nervous systems were developing. The bias is not problematic per se, but disowning or avoiding the other pole, or the acting out of the other pole in less than conscious ways can create challenges. A healthy, secure, flexible, nourishing relationship seems to require our ability to be both separate and connected, alone and together, alone while together, together while alone. If we deny our separateness, we end up in a state of fusion or merging with the other that can lead to all sorts of sticky, gooey, enmeshed dynamics where we lose touch with our own integrity, needs, boundaries, and individuation. Conversely, if we deny our connectedness, we become lonely, lose contact with our shared vulnerability, and fall out of touch with just how interconnected we all are, and the great power and preciousness of that. The result of the fusion state is a circumstance, which in the extreme, is referred to as "pathological accommodation." From this orientation we'll do just about anything to meet the needs of the other, privilege their needs far above our own, and compromise our own integrity for the security of staying close. We attend to the unlived lives of our partners, not out of true compassion, but as an enactment of earlier environments where we were forced to care for the unmet, denied and unconscious pain of our caretakers as the only way to maintain the attachment bond. All the while longing for our own integrity, wholeness, authenticity, and autonomy. Conversely, the result of the avoidant state is a self-situation referred to as "compulsive self-reliance." From this orientation we cannot allow ourselves to depend on another, for the other to matter too much, or to share too much of ourselves, for all of this is just way too unsafe, uncertain, and likely to result in just more empathic failure. No thank you, I'll just do it myself. I'm good. All the while longing for connection, to be met, to be seen, to be held. It is no surprise that we tend to attract and are attracted to others who embody those qualities we've disowned or lost contact with in ourselves. Finding that balance between prioritizing and balancing our own needs and the needs of our partner and friends is of course a dance that takes a lot of practice. We must be willing and brave to develop the capacity to tolerate a fair amount of anxiety, as we will repeatedly be invited back into that pole which we've disowned.

It's intelligent and kind to ask our partners to help us as we navigate some intentional movement between poles, knowing that at times they will be able to support us and at other times they will not, for whatever reason.

May we be kind to our partners, lovers, and friends . . . and ourselves . . . as we traverse this territory together which can and will ask so much of us, and yet has so much to offer.

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