The last part of Chapter 6 The Imago; the Search for Original Connecting deals with what happens between partners when they are locked in the power struggle. Our brain has a negativity bias. This makes sense if you think of our history as humans. For thousands of years, our primal brain was on the lookout for danger.
“The first response of the brain to a new signal is: ‘Is this dangerous or safe?’ Until proven safe, it is dangerous! (that is the negativity bias) When a signal is read as dangerous, whether it is or not, the brain selects from three major options of the autonomic nervous system:
- flee, or
- freeze (shut down).”p. 141-142)
Maximizer & Minimizer in The Power Struggle
The maximizer’s favorite choice is to fight: shouting, swearing, breaking things, etc. If these don’t work, then the second option is to flee: leave the scene, slam the door, etc. The minimizer, in response to the maximizer’s attack, tends to flee inward: silence, withdrawal, stonewalling, etc. When those two options don’t work for either, the third option is to shut down, go numb, and freeze. These are the responses of our primal brain to danger. Believe me, I am not knocking my old brain. It has kept me alive all these years, but at the same time, I don’t want it running my marriage.
The Irony of The Power Struggle
The irony of the power struggle is that our partners really can’t give us what we are demanding. “Even if they wanted to (which they probably do), because they don’t have it to give. Nor do we.” (p.143) Remember, the Imago point of view. We tend to be attracted to a person who has both the positive but also the negative traits of our original caretakers. That is because that is what is familiar to us.
For example, if from the subjective perception of the child he or she was dismissed as a kid, they shouldn’t be surprised if their partner triggers that same feeling. They would tend to respond in a way similar to the way they did as a child; either fight, flee, or freeze.
6 Stages of Grief in The Power Struggle
The authors borrowed from the grief model of Elizabeth Kubler-Ross. Here are 6 stages of grief that couples experience going through the power struggle.
- Despair and finally
In the acceptance phase, partners “come to the inevitable conclusion that in this relationship anyway, they are not going to get the love they want. At this point, they have three options: they can leave the relationship, remain in the relationship, or get some help.”(p.144)
I’ll look at the first two options today and explore the getting some help option next week as we take a look at Chapter 7 Conscious Partnership – Sustaining Connecting.
The first option is to leave the relationship completely by divorce or separation, which in Canada is roughly 40% of marriages. The second option, remaining in the relationship, applies to many of the other 60% of couples who choose to stay together. Some are in hot marriages where there is a lot of fighting. Others in a cold relationship where the passion is gone.
“To be fair, hot relationships have a bit of the proverbial silver lining: these couples put a lot of energy into their relationship. The caveat, however, is that the high level of energy they invest in their relationship is predominately negative, coming in the form of criticism, invalidation, and other types of negativity that are often worse than the childhood drama that is being replayed.”(p.145)
2 Categories of Cold Relationships
Cold relationships generally exhibit less energy and tend to fall into two categories:
- The parallel marriage
- The Invisible divorce
The Parallel marriage
“Think of a set of railroad tracks that has two parallel pieces running alongside one another, but no horizontal pieces connecting the tracks together. That is a good analogy for a parallel marriage: physically, the partners are still together, dwelling under the same roof and even having conversations. Although they may exchange information, they aren’t sharing what’s important to them, what they’re experiencing in their day-to-day lives, or what is going on inside their heads.”(p.145)
The Invisible Divorce
“Imago’s term for relationships characterized by infidelity and other serious types of relationship exists – behavior patterns that dissipate the energy needed to keep a couple’s relationship alive – is the ‘invisible divorce’. They remain in their relationship and continue inflicting tremendous pain on each other in the process.”(p.146)
“The primary reason couples adapt to their relationship with such negative interaction is the prime driver of the power struggle itself: the hope for need satisfaction paired with the fear of intimacy.” (p.146)
“It seems, therefore, that it is better for some couples to complain about the absence of intimacy and to be sure that they do not experience it again than to get it back and lose it again.”(p.147)
The authors end this chapter with 18 features of an unconscious relationship.
Each partner in an unconscious relationship assumes their ‘world’ is ‘the world’ and is objectively true.
In an unconscious relationship, each person is at the center and the other is at the periphery.
Unconscious partners see their relationship as a resource for themselves rather than as an entity in itself that needs their care.” (p.147)
In chapter 7 the authors will move on to what they call a conscious partnership. They will go through its features, how they are acquired, and the contrast between unconscious and conscious couples. I’ll start there next week.