A relationship doesn’t end when you stop spending time with the other person. A relationship ends when you stop relating to the other person, or fundamentally change the way you relate to them.
All relationships happen inside of you. You have a relationship with the internalized version of the other person. I have witnessed people persist in relationship with others many years after the external, physical relationship has ended.
Often, with dysfunctional relationships, there is a victim-perpetrator-savior dynamic. The partners often take turns inhabiting these roles, and often draw in others, such as friends and family members, to inhabit the third role. One day I’m the victim and you’re the perpetrator, while my friend is the savior. The next day, you are the victim, I am the perpetrator, and your friend is the savior. Some days one of us is the victim of someone outside the relationship, and the other one of us is the savior. On other days, one of us in the perpetrator against someone outside the relationship, and the other one of us in the savior of that person. These are the dynamics that play out in a dysfunctional relationship between two low-self-esteem, disempowered people.
Don’t get me wrong, I think that we’re all low-self-esteem, and disempowered, to some degree. I think that at times we all play one of the three roles. Thankfully, many of us spend enough time not inhabiting these roles that we’re able to live reasonably functional lives. Roads get paved, traffic lights work, and there is gas in the tank of your car (hopefully).
Cindy and I often work with couples, and we work with people who are going through relational difficulties and break-ups. We often notice this pattern of the dysfunctional relationship being continued. One person leaves a relationship because they were being abused, because they were primarily a victim, and they continue to play that victim role. They play and replay all the ways that they were wronged in the relationship, all the ways that they were misunderstood, or their needs were not met. As far as we can tell, these people have not left the relationship at all.
This persisting in relationship, in spite of it having ended, is really a strategy to avoid going deeper and becoming whole, integrated, and healed. Unless that happens, before long, we enter into another physical, outer relationship, and then map all of the same dysfunction and disempowerment onto those circumstances.
So when a relationship ends externally, it’s an opportunity to catch ourselves blaming, bad-mouthing, and “talking shit” about the other person. All of that energy can be challenged into self-witnessing and self-knowing, into becoming empowered, and taking responsibility for ourselves and our actions. We can adaptively work on healing the relationship between those parts within ourselves, and we can do it without the scab being picked off by external battles and harsh words, and also by refraining from picking the scabs off internally, by bitching, even to ourselves, about how hard-done-by we were.
This is a form of meditation. We have to catch ourselves bitching, and bring our awareness back to ourselves, to our needs, to our goals, to what we really want, to our own power, and to the possibility of living with a whole and integrated internal self. The degree to which we can do this is the degree to which we can attract and maintain an adaptive, fulfilling, and enjoyable external relationship.
If you’re struggling with this, it can help to surround yourself with supportive friends and/or get a good coach or therapist. By this I mean people who support you in taking responsibility for your life, for your happiness, for your choices. Not saviors. I don’t mean people that you can complain and bitch to, people who will help you to rev-up and pick the scabs off your own internal dysfunctional relationship.
Please join me on this journey to wholeness, integration, inner peace, 100% responsibility, and perfect contentment. Please join me on the Almost Dr. Duncan Lifestyle Challenge.