Albert Einstein once famously defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Working with both couples and individuals, I often see clients who are clearly sane but they unknowingly seek the same type of dysfunctional relationships over and over again, hoping that they will finally secure a different outcome.
Love or Lifetrap?
These clients are drawn to a person because of a strong chemistry that feels so right, but the relationship blows up because one or both of them are reenacting a behavioral pattern, or “lifetrap.” In his excellent book Getting the Love You Want: A Guide for Couples, Harville Hendrix explains that we are always seeking someone who has the predominant characteristics of the people who raised us in childhood.
When we are very young, neural pathways that influence how we perceive the world and others are laid down. For instance, you may see the world as a safe place and believe that your needs will be met or you may see it as an unsafe place and feel that your needs will not be met. These subconscious attachments or dysfunctions lead us to seek intimate partners or friends who recreate a pattern similar to that of our primary relationships in early childhood. Sorry to point a finger at Mom and Dad, but they did the best they could and they were probably reenacting familiar patterns from their childhood.
Few of us grew up in emotionally nurturing homes; turned out to be smart, popular, and athletic in high school; and had nothing bad happen to us. Most people have some emotional baggage from their family or from life events that have caused a painful loss or harm. Although our defenses keep us functioning well through many years, eventually we hit a wall or, in some cases, rock bottom. The good news is that hitting bottom could be the turning point you need to propel a change for the better.
Is Your Relationship Growing?
If your relationship is not growing, it is dying and you need to analyze why. Socrates was on to something when he said “An unexamined life is not worth living.” Change for the better can be unleashed when you take the time to unravel the unconscious patterns of thought that are so deeply ingrained you aren’t even aware of them. You may discover that you have a partner who isn’t able to be intimate, who has anger problems, who can’t trust other people, or who keeps putting you down. You may also discover that you have your own negative patterns.
In couples’ counseling, we look at which lifetraps each partner brings to the relationship. These lifetraps or subconscious patterns are sometimes referred to as schema and can be identified using the approach described in the outstanding book Reinventing Your Life: The Breakthrough Program to End Negative Behavior and Feel Great Again by Jeffrey Young and Janet Klosko. One partner may have mistrust issues and the other may have emotional deprivation issues. When they interact, each one triggers the other. Their lifetraps keep clashing, and they need to discover why they keep having the same fight over and over again.
A relationship based on strong chemistry (say, a 9 on a scale of 1 to 10) represents your subconscious attraction to a partner who triggers your childhood lifetrap. You have a primitive need to heal old childhood wounds by recreating a similar dynamic, with the hope that it will turn out differently this time. Once we identify these patterns, you will learn to develop new behaviors and new choices that may initially feel counterintuitive but will allow you to reinvent your life. Chemistry is a powerful force; it can blow up or it can build up a relationship. With counseling and increased awareness and insight, you can harness the chemistry and use it to unleash a positive change. Don’t be trapped in the past. You can live your best life now.