‘Should I stay or leave my relationship?’ is a question we all ask at some stage. Especially after a big argument, or a series of smaller disagreements over time, or if you find yourself feeling negative about your relationship or partner. But before taking action you might later regret, first work out if you’re stuck in a negative bonding pattern that can be fixed.
All relationships fall into both negative and positive bonding patterns. Bonding patterns 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 – including with friends, colleagues and children – yet most people aren’t aware they exist.
Negative bonding patterns can range from the mildly irritating type, such as when you are the 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. And then there are the extreme bonding patterns that lead to domestic violence.
To understand how these relationship dynamics work it helps to understand how your personality is structured.
In a nutshell, there are many parts or selves that make up your personality.
You may have a Responsible Parent self, a Perfectionist, an Inner Critic, an Inner Needy Child, an Inner Playful Child, a Pleaser and an Inner Goddess. Your partner also has a number of inner selves but differently configured to yours.
We all express only some of our selves in our lives and we hide or disown our other selves.
And that’s the main reason bonding patterns form.
In a negative bonding pattern each person’s primary self (the main part of yourself you present to the world and identify as) feels judgment about the other person’s primary self (and that primary self’s behaviours).
We Judge Our Own Disowned Selves in Our Partner
The cause of negative bonding patterns is that there are parts of yourself that you’ve disowned. And when you’ve disowned a part of yourself, you inevitably are confronted by that part in the people you 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.
There’s also a trigger for negative bonding patterns.
Disowned or Unconscious Vulnerability
The trigger for a negative bonding pattern is that each person has vulnerability they aren’t attending to.
This vulnerable feeling is uncomfortable to your primary self, who knows no other way of dealing with such feelings but to push them away to where you won’t feel them.
The more identified you become with your primary self and its ability to protect you, the more you bury vulnerable feelings. This is a common defensive reaction.
It’s like being glued to one end of a see-saw where you can’t move toward the middle, to where you might have access to other viewpoints and feelings, including your partner’s.
At your end of the see-saw the world looks a certain way, and, to your primary self, it’s the one and only right way.
Your partner experiences the same righteousness but on the opposite end of the see-saw.
The other aspect to this disowned vulnerability is that when your relationship involves good feelings, it means your partner is taking care of your Vulnerable Inner Child. That’s called a positive bonding pattern. And it’s positive bonding patterns, particularly when they are around in a relationship over time, that also lead to negative bonding patterns.
How to Deal with Negative Bonding Patterns
Firstly, when you realise that we all have primary and disowned selves, and that the process of becoming aware of and integrating our disowned material is a lifelong endeavour, then you can approach negative bonding patterns as a source of growth, both personally and in your relationship.
If you’re currently experiencing a negative bonding pattern, that is, if you have negative feelings about your partner, here’s what to do:
If you can’t help but feel you are right and that your partner is to blame, or that your partner started the problem, that means you’re actively in the negative bonding pattern.
You’ll only make the situation worse if you start explaining to your partner what you think about the bonding pattern you’re both in.
The reason is that you’ll be speaking from a righteous parental voice or a psychologically-minded know-it-all self. And your partner won’t respond well.
If you do try it (it’s tempting to do so when you feel so self-righteous) and your partner becomes even more annoyed at you, then you have proof you’re speaking from such a place.
Instead, take some time out and do work on the bonding pattern by yourself.
Have the intention of becoming 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 up for you when you feel judgment toward your partner. As you write, you’ll 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’re 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 it 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’ll gain a more comprehensive picture of what has been going on with the negative pattern dominating your feelings in your relationship.
You’ll become aware of new and buried facets of yourself. And as you continue to explore those parts of yourself, you’ll be able to integrate them.
You’ll then begin to see your partner in a different light and the nature of your relationship will change.
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 identified with in the bonding pattern and integrate the disowned self. There’s 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’re 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’ll gain a deeper understanding of yourself and will be able to relate more consciously and fully in the future if your current relationship doesn’t work out.
And at best, if both you and your partner are willing to become more conscious of the unconscious patterns running your relationship, you’ll experience ever-deepening levels of love and fulfilment.
To Sum Up
So if you’ve 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 judgments, identifications and disowned selves, 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 The Simplest Relationship Remedy.