When I work with clients about their relationships, often they say how friends and family comment that their partner does not love them due to the way they are being treated. I’m not sure how much I believe this notion, though I do believe that friends and family would say this with the best intentions. We are all so different and by the time we start having intimate, romantic relationships, we already have well established patterns of how to be and how we've learnt get our needs met – and sometimes these patterns stopped working for us some time ago.
Why would we have patterns of behaviours that don't work?
Transactional Analysis (TA) has a theory of ‘script’. The theory suggests that we develop our very own script (an internal set of instructions that set the scene of who we are in context of the world and relationships, who everyone else is in relation to us and others, and how the world works); our script is developed early in our lives and is reinforced or up-dated in our teens and adulthood. So, whilst we are young, we are dependent on the adults in our lives, we use fantasy based problem solving skills to work out our problems, and may often, come to the wrong conclusions through not having the capacity to communicate what is happening for us.
Let me use an example: if we imagine a 7 year old girl who is about to start a new school; she may be really nervous and her past experience has suggested that people aren't very nice, that teachers shout and children are mean. Her Mum and Dad are currently trying to process a family bereavement and whilst they want the best for their daughter, they’re struggling to connect emotionally; to anyone. This experience could leave the 7 year old girl feeling overwhelmed and isolated, she may internalise her fear and experience somatic symptoms like tummy ache or feeling sick. When she gets sent to school with these symptoms, using fantasy thinking, she may conclude that no-one loves her, that she’s not important and life is hard. As a way to get her needs met through this, she may show destructive behaviours which in turn make her parents worried and they begin trying to communicate with her; and here the pattern starts. The 7 year old girl could conclude (subconsciously) “to get my needs met I must be naughty/ill or take risks”.
When we enter adult relationships, we often seek people whose script fits our own, read here for more information on how. If two people are in a relationship and one or both feel as though they are being mistreated i.e. not considered, not included in plans for the future, feeling like a low priority, this could be history repeating itself.
If we have healthy, negative, avoidant or insecure attachments with our care-givers, our adult relationships stand a chance of being the same. This is why I do not always agree that the person who is not meeting the needs of another, is incapable of loving. When I hear clients speak of their relationships, I can see how their partner may love them but what I see more, is that their partner is not able to love them how they need and want to be loved. One person’s script has a set of criteria of what is needed to be fulfilled; the other person’s script may be filled with criteria of how to avoid intimacy and although they love each other, they may be unable to change these patterns without outside help from a counsellor or therapist.
That’s my view on love; I don’t think it’s black and white but rather a continuum with lots of grey. I wrote this blog in an attempt to share the responsibility of a relationship being given the best chance of surviving.
If you take the time to work out what needs you have in a relationship, how you get them met and whether these are positive or negative strategies, you can then look if your partner has the capacity to meet your needs; can you communicate openly? It might be that one or both of you could benefit from some counselling or therapy with the aim of gaining more self-awareness to equip you in the rest of your adult relationships.