Do you feel like you and your partner keep repeating the same behaviors and you just can't shift things? Your relationship doesn't have to be a constant struggle or a complete disconnect. Intimate relationships aren't only about falling in love, they're about how to stay in love long-term. The problem is that when our partner triggers us, our skills generally go right out the window.
Wise Adult versus Adaptive Child
Renowned trauma experts Pia Mellody and Terry Real suggest that we all have wise adult and adaptive child parts. The wise adult is the part of us that is mature, relational, and nuanced. Our adaptive child part is younger and more concerned with protection and self-preservation. When our wise adult goes offline and our younger self takes over, we move from an "Us" perspective, we're in this together so how are we going to solve this issue, to a "you" and "me" adversarial position which sees limited resources and threats.
Same Old Same Old
We automatically repeat and use the familiar knee-jerk responses we first learned as kids when growing up. We either fight, or shut down by either leaving the room or just withdrawing from the conversation, or we may placate our partner and try to make things right between us. When we react the same way over and over again, we get the same disconnected outcomes we have always gotten. It's only when we break that pattern and start choosing to react differently that we can create more loving and connected relationships.
The Relationship Grid
RLT couple's therapist Terry Real developed The Relationship Grid. It's a great tool that shows your automatic, self-sabotaging patterns that come to the fore when you're triggered in your intimate relationship. These behaviors prevent you from experiencing the closeness and deep connection you so long for.
In the center of the grid is relational health. Staying in the circle of health means that we are practicing healthy self-esteem and boundaries. An awareness of where we go when we are anti-relational is a prerequisite to staying in the circle of health. The circle of health is where we can sustain our relational practice; a place to move toward in difficult moments and live in or return to in good moments.
When you cross the axes, you have 4 quadrants each with its own qualities and characteristics.
1. Boundaryless and one down
You're boundaryless, open, porous. What that looks like is, you think others think poorly of you and you think poorly of yourself. You have to control the stimulus coming at you. You have to go after that person and make them feel better about you. These people are often anxious and compulsive pursuers. The energy here is DESPERATION. "Love me love me love me. I'll do anything if you love me".
2. Boundaryless and one up
The core energy here is DEMANDING. People in this quadrant feel entitled." Get off the couch and love me now." Verbal and physical abuse live here. All forms of abuse are boundaryless and contemptuous.
3. Walled off and one down
Here you're walled off and disengaged, and shame-based. The energy here is DEPRESSION. We're born to be relational and attached. Here people feel there's no point in trying. It's useless and they don't deserve connection anyway.
4. Walled off and one up
You're walled off, disengaged, and grandiose. The energy is "you don't deserve to be in connection with me. You're not worthy of me." I'm more important than you are. All forms of SUPERIORITY live here. Elitism, racism, and snobbery are all here.
Where you are on the grid, will tell you where you need to go. Place yourself on the grid and then place your partner on the grid.
Where Do You Go on your Worst Days?
The grid can help you understand where you reside at your most triggered moments with your partner. Once you know where you are on the grid, you're able to start working to change patterns that create rifts and move into relational health at the center.
Take a few minutes to answer the following targeted questions honestly to see where you reside on your worst days. Where you are on the grid, will tell you where you need to go. You can place yourself on the grid as well as your partner. Then check in and see how far off or how accurate you are with each other.
Understanding Your Position on the Grid
You'll know if you tend toward going one up into entitlement and superiority or one down into inferiority, shame, and feeling defective. You'll learn whether you tend to move toward walled-off positions (a self-protective fortress, not open to honest communication and input), OR whether you tend toward boundaryless positions: too open, too porous (you judge yourself-worth according to how others see you.)
Place yourself on the grid today and take the first step in learning how to live a truly relational life. A life of loving connection between you and you, between you and others, and society as a whole.