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People seek close relationships for many reasons: the need to be loved, the desire to start a family, the desire for a life partner to grow old with, for mutual uplifting, for fun and pleasure, for pragmatic purposes, for financial benefits, and soon. We may be completely oblivious to the reasons, or they may hover on the edge of consciousness.
A straitjacket designed for two
The co-authors and I have written extensively on “irrelation,” a relationship model in which the unrecognized fear of intimacy causes couples to behave as if they are both doing their best to make the relationship works – that effort itself is a distraction to hide the fact that they are in fact avoiding proximity.1
Dysfunctional relationships are often rooted in unhealthy addiction needs and underdeveloped self-awareness. We often choose partners who cannot meet these needs. Even with those who could, unresolved personal issues can take their toll. If we are not ready to do the required work, even with a good game, we are swimming against the tide.
Identify “personal development relationships”
At the same time, there is a pattern that I have observed over many years of clinical work and studying psychology and relationships that I consider to be a “personal development relationship”. The main driver of the relationship is to meet unmet developmental needs, usually for one more than the other.
Rarely do we make romantic choices that are fully aware of what we want from them psychologically: for example, dating someone seemingly more mature and emotionally gathered in the hopes that it will somehow rub off or uplift us.
The most egregious personal development relationships I have seen are accidental but resembling fate, based on powerful chemistry fueled by developmental irresolution, not true compatibility.
Desiring and being desired blinds us to our own motives and those of others. Simple coincidences, like sharing a favorite book or song or a similar life experience, create a mirage of fate. At least for a little while …
The road of good intentions is paved with hell
In personal development relationships, there is an element of selflessness right off the bat in helping the other person to be the best version of themselves. At first, it may be welcome, even endlessly appealing. In particular, if our primary caregivers, traditionally our parents, did not take on the task of helping us become the best in ourselves, we will approach adult relationships in an ill-prepared manner.
This void, the meaning of which escapes consciousness, creates a dark attractor. It is the void that forms when primary caregivers are unable to view the child as the center of the world as required by his or her development, which retards the growth of healthy narcissism and a stable sense of self. and well integrated.
Ultimately, the dynamic of personal development undermines intimacy, as the unbalanced loop of helping and being helped replaces the opportunities for genuine connection. When one comes to see itself as more evolved and the other as a repair project, it spells the death of romance.
Unless there is an equal exchange, with mutual growth, the relationship shifts from an intimate relationship to an informal coaching relationship. What was initially an oasis becomes a prison.
When insistence becomes coercion
Personal development relationships can be subtle, leading to a lukewarm ending, yet often with significant grief. They can also be destructive, ending in abusive control-oriented dynamics and terrible cataclysm. This is especially the case when there is an underlying developmental trauma organized around pairings of pathological addiction and toxic narcissism.
“I’m just trying to help you!” Becomes a thinly veiled cycle of coercion, with one person’s non-acceptance of their own shortcomings resonating with the other’s conscious self-doubt. This alleviates the need to face their own personal issues, as each becomes the other’s supposedly beloved enemy. A spotlight is on every flaw and normal weaknesses are amplified, eclipsing the many positives.
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One partner feels justified in holding the other to account even if they no longer want help, even if they are obviously hurting them. The aggressor claims to be the victim, and the victim oscillates between accepting and rejecting his gaseous reality.
Healthy endings for personal development relationships
Ultimately, the biggest growth step is, ironically, ending the relationship. This last step in assertiveness can sometimes be deep learning, but sometimes it just resets the cycle.
With the prototype parent-child relationship, the ending is analogous to growing up and leaving home. If the parent-child relationship has been good enough, leaving home is an experience of joy, loss, acceptance, and healthy transition.
Of course, the perfect ending to a fairy tale is rare. Sometimes launch failure and empty nest syndromes become unresolved arcs in unmet adult developmental needs and unrelation. In the most serious cases, adult children may find that the only way to escape a destructive parent is through a romantic relationship, but the reprieve is almost always temporary as the choice of mate remains shaped by an underlying psychological distortion. .
The therapeutic ideal
Formal therapeutic relationships are designed to focus on a person’s personal development, without dual and competing roles. While they don’t always go as planned, the idea is to start a relationship with the intention of working together to help a person. The needs of the therapist should be met through healthy professional endeavors and not through unresolved personal problems. There are good reasons why appropriate therapy is based on clear and rational boundaries.
The idealized ending of therapeutic relationships is planned with elements of spontaneity, facilitating the final stages of personal growth by working through separation, the complex feelings and meanings that come with it, accepting a transition to resolve loss issues. and change. This type of outcome puts the finishing touches on the capacity for healthy relationships with others worked on in the earlier phases of therapeutic work.
Personal development relationships are an example of healthy efforts made in the wrong way or overdone in the right way. Relationships are ideally a healthy and balanced growth experience for both partners. If helping the other is a key element in relationships, in romantic relationships it is balanced, and the role of caregiver does not eclipse the role of partner.
The important thing at the start of a relationship is to slow down and respond more directly to your own developmental needs. Being able to care for oneself directly while giving and receiving help from others to a good extent is in itself a key developmental achievement that paves the way for self-fulfillment.
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