This week, we’re exploring the Developmental Challenges of Connecting. In the two earlier editions of Getting the Love You Want, Harville and Helen used the term “wounded” to describe how we all come out of childhood. l never liked the term. I certainly didn’t feel wounded and most of the folks who come into my office wouldn’t use that term either. Some would; most wouldn’t. They now refer to “childhood challenges” that we all experienced. I can live with that better, although it means the same thing of course, but I am more comfortable with the term challenges than wounded.
6 Developmental Stages
The authors look at the developmental challenges of connecting about the 6 developmental stages children journey through on their way to adulthood. Those stages are
Coach Vs. Therapist Role
None of us made that journey unscathed. We are all bent out of shape a bit (some more than others obviously.) Here is where I prefer the designation coach rather than therapist or counselor. As a coach, generally, there is nothing wrong with my guys, but sometimes what they are doing isn’t working, or isn’t working as well as they would like. I believe the same is true of relationships.
Renowned Therapists Freud & Adler
Therapy, on the other hand, generally has the connotation that there is something wrong with you. That has a long-standing history going back to Sigmund Freud, the grandfather of modern psychology. He was the doctor, you were the patient; there was something wrong with you. And for sure some folks do need therapy, I know that.
Alfred Adler, a contemporary of Freud, suggested rather, that children, by the time they are 4 or 5, have figured out how to fit into their family of origin: how to get attention, how to get their way, etc. He termed this their lifestyle and compared it to a map, say a map of Windsor, their family of origin. What brings people into my office at 40 or 50 is, metaphorically they are in Toronto but they are still using their Windsor map; it is not working. But rather than concluding that there was something wrong with them, Adler believed that if what they had learned at four or five wasn’t working, surely at 40 or 50 they could learn something different. That is the coach’s job, it seems to me, to help couples see that there is nothing fundamentally wrong with them, but that what they are doing just isn’t working. To me it is just way more optimistic.
Challenges During the First 4 Developmental Stages
Harville and Helen focus on the challenges during the first four developmental stages because obviously the earlier the deficit the more the trauma. Plus, when the agenda of a certain developmental stage isn’t completed satisfactorily, the unfinished business gets brought forward into the next developmental stage. The need doesn’t go away and ultimately it ends up in adult intimate relationships.
In adult relationships, the “frustration and complaints will change because they are encountering the unfinished agenda of the next stage. This happens because in childhood they did not engage the agenda of the next stage due to the challenge of the preceding stage. In adulthood, for instance, when the exploratory-challenged couple resolves their issues and organically moves toward the identity stage, they will encounter the challenges of the unfinished identity stage.”(p.186)
They go into some depth examining these developmental stage-specific challenges and the maximizing or minimizing defense of each stage. I will not go into the details they do but simply mention them here. And remember, the conclusions children draw from their childhood, their lifestyle from an Adlerian perspective, is always their subjective perception of what they experienced as children. But they then carry these mistaken conclusions into adulthood. Though couples tend to be attracted to a partner who was challenged in the same, or adjacent developmental stage, the defenses tend to be the polar opposite. You will see the maximizing/minimizing dance at each developmentally challenged stage.
“The core themes of connecting-challenged partners are related to the fear of being taken over or enmeshed, the fear of being rejected and abandoned, and the longing for or aversion to intimate contact, whether through touch, attention, discussion or nonverbal messages. … In adulthood, we call maximizers clingers … minimizers are called avoiders.”(pp.176-178)
Maximizer & Minimizer
For the exploration-challenged couple, “we call the adult maximizer a pursuer. The maximizer child pursued the caretaker, looking for reassurance and guidance. … The minimizing partner, whom we call the distancer or isolator, has a habit of isolating themselves from their partner to avoid emotional suffocation” (p.178) as they did as children.
The identity-challenged couple “struggle with issues revolving around their identity, or their sense of self, and what or how to express it. The maximizing child with an unclear identity is, in adulthood, a diffuser … overly accommodating, too easily persuaded, and too often confused over who they are and what they want. … As adults, minimizers have a rigid identity and are notorious for their tendency to remain unmoved by what their partner (and sometimes their therapist) has to say.” (pp.180-181)
For the competence-challenged couple, “in adult relationships, we call the maximizing partner the manipulator. The manipulative partner can be described as ‘being competent at being incompetent’. … Like the competitive child, the competence-challenged minimizer adult, whom we named the competitor, usually looks good and often looks far better than their partner (who is likely to be a competence-challenged maximizer).”(p.182)
My Role as a Coach
You can see how this gets pretty complex. I have to admit here is where I rely on my role as a coach. I was always a “basics” kind of guy. If my players could do the basics well, whether in football or hockey, we would win games. For me, no matter how or where a couple is stuck, if they can do the basics well they will figure things out. What are those basics? Safety, no negativity in the Space-Between, and learning to talk to each other about anything in a safe way.
My Main Goal
My main goal is to encourage them to use the Safe Conversation process about whatever they are experiencing. If they can do that basic well, they will figure out what works best for them. The authors state: “The Imago Dialogue process is the intervention of choice and the only one needed for all couples in all developmental stages.”(p.175) In Chapter 9 they do a deep dive into Imago Dialogue – The Process of Connecting which I will start next week. Thanks for your continued interest.