If you’re unsure whether to stay or leave your relationship, don’t leave yet! At least not until you’ve worked out if you are simply stuck in a negative bonding pattern that can be fixed.
If you feel that your relationship is over, it could be that you are stuck in a bonding pattern. So before you take any action you might later regret, find out what bonding patterns are and how they work.
All relationships are based on both negative and positive bonding patterns which are like blueprints for how we give and receive love and affection, and also for how we express negative feelings.
Bonding patterns occur in all relationships yet most people are not aware that they exist.
Negative bonding patterns can range from the mildly irritating type, such as when you are identified with being the more tidy person in your relationship and your partner is the more messy person, to the full-blown world-war-type of pattern where you wish you had never met each other and you can’t imagine what you ever saw in your partner.
In a negative bonding pattern each person’s primary self (the part of yourself that you present to the world and identify with – or your ego) is in a state of judgment about the other person’s primary self. We all have many selves or parts, such as the Perfectionist, the Inner Critic, our Inner Needy Child, our Inner Playful Child, our Pleaser, the Nurturing Mother, the Angry Father, the Responsible Self, the Rebel, and many more. Most of us use only some of our inner selves in our lives and we hide or disown our other selves. (Learn about primary and disowned selves here.)
The Role of Vulnerability
The judgments we feel towards our partner occur because there is some kind of vulnerability in us that we are not attending to.
This vulnerable feeling is uncomfortable to our primary self, who knows no other way of dealing with those feelings but to push them away to where we won’t feel them, so that we can feel powerful and in control again.
The more identified we become with our primary self and its power and ability to protect us, the less we can see things from any other perspective. This is a common defensive reaction.
It is like being glued fast to one end of a see-saw and we can’t move towards the middle, to where we might have access to other viewpoints, including our partner’s.
At our end of the see-saw the world looks a certain way, and, to our primary self, it is the one and only right way.
Our partner experiences the same righteousness but on the opposite end of the see-saw.
We Judge Our Own Disowned Selves in Our Partner
The other cause of negative bonding patterns is that we all have parts of ourselves that we have disowned. When we have disowned an aspect our ourselves, we inevitably are confronted by that aspect in the people we get into relationship with.
So if you judge your partner for being irresponsible, then you probably have disowned your own irresponsibility and are instead identified with responsibility. If you are angry at your partner for being disorganised then you have disowned your own disorganised self and have as a primary self an organised self.
When we accept, and even welcome, the negative bonding patterns that inevitably occur in all relationships (is there anyone who is completely conscious of all aspects of who they are?) then they become rich and fertile sources of growth for us.
How to Deal with a Negative Bonding Pattern
First, if you can’t help but feel you are right and that your partner is to blame, or that your partner started the problem, you’ll only make the situation worse if you start explaining to your partner what you think about the bonding pattern you are both in. The reason is that you will be speaking from a righteous parental voice or a psychologically-minded know-it-all self, and your partner will not respond well to this! You wouldn’t either if they started to explain to you your part in the bonding pattern. If you do try it and your partner becomes even more angry at you, then you have proof you are speaking from such a voice.
Instead, take some time out and do some work on the bonding pattern by yourself. Have the intention of becoming more aware of what might be going on and then deal with your feelings as they arise.
You could write down the thoughts and feelings that come to you when you feel judgment toward your partner. As you write, you will become more aware of the part/s of you involved in the bonding pattern.
You can ask the parts of yourself what they are feeling vulnerable about and write down the answers that come to you. Either let yourself just write it all out if that comes easily, or first try to sense or imagine why it annoys you so much that your partner does whatever it is you are upset about.
All kinds of material might come to you, some from your present situation and some from past relationships and even from your childhood.
Now consider your partner’s point of view. What self are they identified with in this situation? Is this a self you have disowned in yourself? Have you ever had this self available to you?
See if you can bring some of the energy this self has into yourself, or at least begin to see what it might say or feel about you.
Gradually you will gain a more comprehensive picture of what has been going on with the negative pattern dominating your feelings in your relationship.
You will become aware of new facets of yourself, and as you continue to explore these new parts of you, you will be able to integrate them into your psyche.
You will then begin to see your partner in a different light and the nature of your relationship will transform.
If you are able to, you could do some Voice Dialogue with a therapist or friend to help you unhook from the self you are married to in the bonding pattern and integrate the disowned self. There is a link on this page to a list of relationship counselors and therapists who do Voice Dialogue.
Find a Way to Take Care of Your Own Vulnerability
To work through negative bonding patterns you also need to start to take care of the vulnerability that the bonding pattern revealed.
Take action to look after your needs; take care of yourself. To help do that imagine caring for your vulnerability as if you were your own loving parent or very good friend.
This post gives you more informaiton on caring for your vulnerable inner child.
Staying in Your Relationship and Learning from Negative Bonding Patterns Leads to Personal Growth
It only takes one of you to start this process in order to diffuse the situation and shift the negative pattern.
Bonding patterns can take time to work out so as long as you are not being harmed in your relationship (if you are then please seek safety and support), it is well worth the effort.
At the very least you will gain a deeper understanding of yourself and will be able to relate more consciously and fully in the future if your current relationship does not work out. And at best, your relationship will reach ever-deepening levels of love and fulfilment.
So if you have been feeling negative about your partner and your relationship, instead of making a quick decision to leave, take the situation as an opportunity to become aware of your unconscious biases, judgments and identifications, and grow into a more whole expression of yourself.
Then decide whether you should stay or leave the relationship. If you do that, the ‘decision’ won’t even seem like a decision – it will be more like a clearing of the path ahead.
More Relationship Resources
For some practical steps you can take to make an instant impact on your relationship and which will help to diffuse a negative bonding pattern see Three Instant Relationship Fixes.