Can you imagine what it must have been like to be in a committed relationship 100 years ago?
First of all, unless you were really brave or duplicitous, your options were limited to marriage with the opposite sex. The word “boundaries” was not yet a household term; women’s feelings were also know as “hysteria,” and it was taboo to have an open conversation about sex (well, that one can still be pretty difficult for some).
Phew. Sure glad we don’t live in that time. Clearly, that relationship model stopped working a few decades before the feminist revolution gleefully upended it.
Like most institutions going through revolutionary change, marriage — or at least the committed relationship — has catapulted in the opposite direction. Due to the popularity of personal growth prophets and relationship gurus such as Oprah, John Grey, Sue Johnson and the Gottmans, people in relationships no longer need to be shackled by gender roles, shame and silence; they are instead encouraged to pursue the love they want and deserve. Those who are invested in deep and authentic love relationships can openly discuss boundaries, feelings, triggers, and all sorts of issues, and in the absence of traditional role models and societal expectations, many choose to base their relationships on personal or spiritual growth.
In 1979, psychologist Alice Miller published her seminal book The Drama of the Gifted Child, about sensitive children who were narcissistically wounded by parents who neglected them emotionally, treated them with contempt or co-opted their dreams. Miller prescribes therapy as the way out of the stark loneliness and depression of the now-adult child, in order to help him recover his true self from the false persona he developed to meet the needs of his parents.
Because relationships bring up so much stuff from childhood, many growth-oriented people have consciously or unconsciously selected their primary relationship as the arena for this deep healing. I call this the Personal Growth Model of relationship, or alternately, The Drama of the Gifted Relationship.
The ‘Gifted Relationship’ or Personal Growth Model
The Personal Growth (or Spiritual Growth, depending on what mindset / language you embrace) Model of relationship honors the reality that becoming intimate with another person naturally brings up deep fears and wounds from the past. Intimates can “work through” these fears and wounds together, ideally helping each other grow and experience more of the love and acceptance they have always craved but have been blocked from. There is an emphasis on becoming aware of and expressing feelings as they come up, so that the healing can happen and the relationship does not recreate an emotionally repressed environment from the past. Each partner can then experience being authentic and authentically loved.
The Benefits of ‘Gifted Relationships’
The Personal Growth model for relationships necessitates a lot of safety and emotional intimacy. You get to reveal many sides of yourself and frequently experience your partner in deep states of vulnerability, which ideally strengthens the bond between you. It can provide an experience of a deep love that one didn’t have as a child, which can be very restorative. There is a lot of intensity and aliveness as new levels of self are revealed and deep feelings are expressed.
The Drama of the Gifted Relationship
Here’s what I’m noticing. We may be outgrowing a Personal Growth Model of relationships. Click To Tweet Here’s why:
1. It Takes a Certain Type — The Personal Growth Model of relationship doesn’t appeal to everyone, especially those whose prefer to nurse their wounds in private (this is true for a lot of men in particular)
2. Transformation is Not Guaranteed — Although emotional processing and psychological insights may help partners feel compassion for themselves and each other, they do not necessarily create behavioral shifts. This results in frustration.
3. Exhilarating / Exhausting — When wounds are triggered repeatedly and couples are scrambling to work though the emotional debris, couples suffer from burn out. Some problems from the past cannot be healed by your partner. Confusion about this can lead to frustration, despair, and talking about the relationship and its issues all the time.
4. It’s Regressive — The Personal Growth Model of relationship, with its emphasis on the acceptance and understanding of feelings, puts you in touch with your inner child. Nearly any relationship (even with your friends, or your boss) will at times call up younger parts of yourself, but if you have no self-care around it and are constantly interacting with others from a young wounded place, you unconsciously invite others to play the role of parent, which your partner will inevitably fail at. Besides, the role of parent and the dynamics it creates in romantic relationships is ultimately not great for chemistry.
5. It’s Counterproductive — There are times when all the effort towards “trying to clear the air” and “trying to work your stuff out” detracts from the very intimacy both are seeking.
You know what I mean if you have once thought or now relate to any of the sentiments below:
If I have to listen to his /her feelings about this part of my personality one more time . . .
If we made love for as many times as we fought about whose turn it is to [fill in the blank], we would be the happiest couple on the block
The day got off to such a good start, what happened???? How the hell did we end up here . . . again??!!!
Some people who have been enduring the Drama of the Gifted Relationship have simply tired of it. They want their relationships to be based on and about something else. Something like pleasure, or creativity, or both.
We need new models of relationship. The models need to pull from psychology and spirituality, as we learn to understand ourselves and our partners and the dance between us, but also provide something different.
I propose using basic business and leadership skills to take the drama out of relationships and grow with your partner towards something that you build together. When you co-create with your partner a vision for the relationship — like raising a family with integrity, celebrating creativity, or supporting the fulfillment of professional potential — and you both hold each other accountable for moving towards that vision, you create new guidelines to help you establish what’s really important, when you are going off the rails and how to use your leadership to bring yourselves back on track.
Additionally, each partner needs to cultivate a discipline of self-leadership and learn, as one might in a professional setting, to manage their own emotional responses and sort through them before introducing them into the dynamic.
Do you resonate? How do you lead in relationship? Leadership skills can help reduce drama and increase fun, creativity and satisfaction in our relationships. Want to learn how to stand in your authority in intimacy? Check out my partnership services for couples and singles looking for love.