If your relationship has lost its spark but you still love your partner, it’s likely you’re stuck in a relationship pattern called a positive bonding pattern. Learn how these innate relationship patterns work, and how to navigate them so you can get your relationship back on track.
It’s normal for the excitement you might have felt at the beginning of your relationship to diminish over time. And it’s normal for the level of your sexual desire to change with life’s varying experiences. It’s also normal to get drawn into the innate bonding patterns all relationships experience, that are like blueprints for how we give and receive love and for how we express our negative feelings.
BUT if you don’t become aware of when your relationship bonding patterns have hijacked your relationship, at first lulling you into a delicious sense of security, and then slowly stifling you, you’ll end up disheartened and consider leaving your relationship. Or you’ll resign yourself to an unfulfilling relationship. Or the bonding pattern that’s been so ‘positive’ will change into one that’s ‘negative’.
Let me explain:
There are two types of relationship pattern that affect all relationships: the positive bonding pattern and the negative bonding pattern.
If you’re in a positive bonding pattern with your partner, you take good care of each other. You love each other. You are great friends. And you have plenty of understanding and patience for each other. You might even be proud that you rarely, if ever, argue. Or if you do argue, you are both apologetic soon afterwards and things quickly return to the status quo. But you’re not entirely satisfied, and your relationship feels as if it has something missing.
How Positive Bonding Patterns Work
A positive bonding pattern is when both people in a relationship take care of the other’s inner child in some way. The feelings that are generated are positive – in that each person feels secure, cared for, loved.
Isn’t that great? Aren’t we meant to take care of one another and to feel so loved?
Of course we are. It’s natural to do this. It’s just that when we do it automatically, with no consciousness, over time our caring for our partner and their caring for us becomes an unspoken contract with rules we feel we can’t break.
An unconscious relationship pattern forms – the positive bonding pattern – where in order for us to continue feeling cared for by our partner, we suppress the feelings and responses that might rock the boat.
We don’t express any reaction that’s incompatible with the rules of the bonding pattern, and we expect our partner to also honour the rules. We ‘agree’ to care for each other and to not break the pattern.
This is all unsaid. But we each also know on some level that there’ll be consequences if we break the pattern. So we suppress our vulnerability about this and keep the pattern going. We continue to suppress any incompatible thoughts or feelings and we entrust our partner to continue caring for our vulnerability.
When these patterns become the default position in a relationship, they keep you stuck in habitual ways of expressing yourself in your relationship, until over time you lose the ability to access other parts of yourself, and to care for yourself.
They require each person in the relationship to play particular roles and to give up other roles. That limits each person’s capacity for growth and a fuller experience of themselves, both in the relationship and in their life in general.
And when a positive bonding pattern has dominated a relationship for a long time, it inevitably turns into what is called a negative bonding pattern.
Negative Bonding Patterns
When a positive bonding pattern turns sour the relationship pattern turns into a negative one. That’s when you express all the feelings you’ve been suppressing. And because most of us want to avoid a negative bonding pattern – which can range from a fairly benign argument to deciding your relationship is over – we tend to keep our positive bonding patterns going for as long as is possible.
It’s really a no-win situation until you become aware that this process is going on and then take action to navigate these patterns in a more conscious way.
Below are some examples of how positive bonding patterns adversely affect relationships.
4 Negative Consequences of Positive Bonding Patterns
1. You miss out on the experiences, ideas and feelings from the parts of yourself that aren’t involved in the bonding pattern.
(My ebook Which Self Are You? gives you an overview of many of the parts or selves that make up your personality, and how they affect your life experience.)
Here’s an example: Let’s say your bonding pattern involves you taking the Nurturing Mother role in relation to your partner’s Needy Son self (such as when you take care of his emotional needs or cook him dinner). And then when your partner is caring for your inner child, he becomes the Responsible Father to your inner Needy Daughter (such as him making sure the car is serviced and insurance paid for).
If over time you both were to remain in those roles, you’d find it difficult to care for yourself in the way your partner has been; you’d no longer have available to you those parts of yourself that can do those things your partner has been doing.
In short, you become less of yourself. You lose contact with the parts of yourself that you have suppressed in order to keep the bonding pattern working.
2. You suppress your feelings, which causes all sorts of problems such as anxiety, passive-aggressive behaviour, physical tension, and even ill health.
The positive bonding pattern keeps you tied to an unwritten contract in which you are only allowed particular kinds of responses.
If, however, you reacted honestly to your partner then you might have to react negatively at times. (For example, not being happy with how the car was serviced or with the way your partner washes dishes, or with your partner forgetting something important to you.) But that would break the ‘contract’ of the positive bonding pattern.
Your underlying vulnerability that maybe if you did respond honestly to your partner they might not accept your feelings as valid, stops you from doing so, and consequently you let things go and keep those feelings suppressed.
3. The passion and sexuality in your relationship will diminish.
There is little passion between Nurturing Mothers and their Sons and Pleasing Daughters and their Fathers. In fact, one of the major problems people have in long-term relationships is the loss of sexuality in the relationship – the positive bonding pattern is the main reason this happens.
A fulfilling adult-to-adult love life requires that you both have access to other energies, much like you probably had when you first met and there were no strong bonding patterns formed yet.
4. The stronger the positive bonding pattern, the stronger the negative bonding pattern which might (and usually does, eventually) follow.
In other words, the more identified you and your partner are with your roles in the positive bonding pattern, the more ‘other stuff’ you will have buried over time. And this buried stuff, when it finally erupts, becomes the ammunition and fuel for a world war 10 type negative bonding pattern. (See my post on negative bonding patterns.)
How to Tell When You’re in a Positive Bonding Pattern
Generally, if you feel taken care of by your partner in some way and you take care of your partner in some way, and this is an ongoing situation, and it always feels really good and solid, yet you feel or know there is something missing or there is something you are suppressing, you’re in one!
Another way of telling is when you hold back reactions to ‘keep the peace’.
What to Do if You’re in a Positive Bonding Pattern:
- First, accept that they are inevitable and enjoy the good feelings they bring. But when you first become aware you are in one, try to identify which parts of you have become dominant in your relationship and then work on reclaiming the opposite or disowned parts. (My ebook The Greatest Relationship Secret explains how we have both primary and disowned selves, and gives examples of couples in bonding patterns which you will likely relate to.)
- Learn to recognise and take care of your own vulnerability – what do you feel vulnerable about in your relationship and in your life in general? Develop a conscious relationship with those feelings and do something about caring for them yourself.
- If you have a reaction to your partner, honour it. Express it or at least recognise it in yourself and validate it. Accept that it’s okay to not always have good feelings towards your partner or about something they have done, chosen, bought, given you, said. You each have many parts to your personality, or ‘inner selves’, each with its own feelings and ideas, and not all of your selves will like everything about your partner. (For example, your inner child might like that your partner takes care of her in some way but your capable, self-sufficient self will feel stifled by that same behaviour.)
- Talk to each other about your feelings. Let each other know if you’re not happy about something or would like to try a different way of doing things.
- Try to love and care for your partner with conscious intention – with awareness about what you are doing and also with awareness about your other, maybe contradictory, feelings. Don’t push those other feelings away but validate them. Try to be aware of when it feels right to be caring and loving and also when you feel you need time on your own, or space to do something for yourself.
Read this post for a detailed explanation of how bonding patterns form and for examples of how they affect relationships.
Get my guide to the 10 essential steps for a fulfilling and passionate relationship that lasts, in my book The Perfect Relationship (endorsed by relationship counsellors and psychologists worldwide).
For three practical steps you can take immediately to make an instant impact on your relationship – and rekindle the passion in your relationship – see The Simplest Relationship Remedy.