Couples are in the perfect and natural position to be each other’s best healers….
Having a mate is the first chance we humans have to perceive ourselves as being in the same state of vulnerability and need as we were with our parents, while also providing the safety of a potentially stable and predictable structure for getting our needs met. Our intimate partnerships provide us with the circumstances necessary to relive crazy-making feelings over and over again through repeating the same upsetting interactions with each other that have been stored in our brains since childhood. You will read about the resulting “dramas of marriage” in Part I….
Our brains create attraction to exactly the right partner for reliving our crazy-making feelings. This is essentially the same statement with which I started this book. Through mirror neurons, the human brain is capable, though not consciously aware, of recognizing similarity in another brain. One brain becomes powerfully drawn to another brain that has similar crazy-making feelings in its nonconscious storage bin and that will be eager to re-create scenes from childhood with familiar roles being played by each intimate partner.
…What we have learned from current research is that repeating the past with a partner who reminds us of our family of origin has a good physiological purpose. We simply cannot [heal] most of our dangerous emotions from the past without living them in the present first. And intimate partners are absolutely compelled to do this with each other—we can’t not do it.
Rather than being seen as a negative force to be avoided, the new sciences of relationships, along with my own clinical insights, have taught me that reliving the past with our intimate partners is nature’s way of giving us a chance to heal those old crazy-making feelings once and for all. The steps through which you and your partner can learn to use your type of reliving to permanently rid yourselves of the past and become genuinely free to enjoy your lives together are outlined in Part II. For those who want additional practice at applying what you are discovering within these pages, I have provided exercises in Appendix B to use as you complete each chapter.
…The Dramas of Marriage
Many experts who have written about the psychology of relationships have used the words “dramas” or “scripts” to describe the daily interactions that occur between family members. All of us have experienced what it’s like to be caught up in an emotionally charged scene with a person who is important to us. We find ourselves behaving in ways that we usually don’t, we may feel like a child, and we have trouble thinking clearly. We are flooded with emotions and have an overly intense investment in how we want the “drama” to end that is often at odds with what the other person wants.
Couples develop repetitive patterns of relating to each other that simultaneously re-create in both partners the crazy-making feelings of their childhoods. These dramas of marriage are a part of nature that always occurs in intimate relationships. The scenes that comprise these dramas may bear a striking similarity to actual scenes from both partners’ childhoods, or they may be more creatively camouflaged. But the point is that they will cause both partners to relive precisely the emotions that are stored in their nonconscious storage bins….
I want to clarify why I use the word “dramas” to describe this phenomenon in marriages. (The professional literature refers to them as enactments.) I do not intend to be derisive or comical with the use of the word drama, as in characterizing a person’s behavior as “dramatic.” The dramas of marriage are usually quite upsetting and painful to a couple, and they often have serious and even dangerous consequences. Sometimes the repetitive scenes of intimate relationships may not look exaggerated or overly emotional, but they always have characteristics that feel like a drama to the partners caught up in them….
Katherine and John
Katherine and John came for therapy while they were planning their wedding. They were living together and already experiencing their own particular dramas. Stopping the following type of repetitive interaction before it could ruin their new relationship was their goal.
Katherine: “Did you contact the band about booking our wedding?”
John: “No. I have plenty of time to do that.”
Katherine: “But you’re leaving for that assignment overseas, and you won’t be back until
two months before the wedding.”
John: “That’s plenty of time.”
Katherine: “No, it isn’t! I only asked you to do this one thing for the wedding that you agreed
to do, by the way, and you can’t even get that done!” [She begins to cry.]
John: “Why do we always have to do things your way?”
Katherine: “Because if I waited for you to get it done, it would never happen!”
What I want you to know through reading this book:
1. Feeling driven crazy by your intimate partner is normal and unavoidable. It does not mean that you and your partner are incompatible or wrong for each other. On the contrary, it means that you are with exactly the right person for you. (While the person is always right, the timing may not be right if you and your partner can’t be safe together. The issue of safety is fully covered in Part II.)
2. No matter how good you get at learning the right behaviors or communication skills to use in your marriage, your two brains will find a way to relive any troublemaking emotions of the past that are still nonconscious and [unhealed].
3. Feeling bored or distant in your relationship is often the outcome of attempting to avoid being driven crazy. Couples who chronically work at avoiding the crazy-making feelings that they relive together will end up with a dying relationship.
4. Research shows that people who try to avoid these crazy-making feelings by avoiding marriage get more physically ill and die younger.
5. Attempting to heal your crazy-making feelings by working only on yourself might help you know yourself better, but this is only a partial solution. The most crazy-making of your feelings will be accessible only between you and your partner and must be addressed in that relationship in order to rid your brains of their effects.
6. You can learn how to use your and your partner’s crazy-making dramas to know yourself and others better than ever before and to help each other grow up into mature selves who can have a more fulfilling adult life than you previously dreamed was possible.