Stop The Insanity
In 1998, my wife made a pact with herself after the breakup with her last boyfriend that she will never date the “same man” again. She joked after we were together for some time that she dated the same man with a different face since high school until she met me. This is no compliment to me, but it speaks to a nagging fact for many of us: Relationship insanity (repeating the same relationship over and over, and getting the same results) occurs for many of us to some degree or another.
Do you have the tendency to date or get involved with people who stay with you for a while only to abandon you? Do you date people who cause you to feel “not good enough,” who withhold affection, who you can’t trust? When they are hurtful to you and you bring this to their attention, do they turn it around on you, blame you, or engage in “crazy making?”
These are just some of the signs of relationship insanity. Part of the problem with relationship insanity is that the sufferer seems to ask the question, “Is it me or them? How do I know for sure that it is me or them?”
Here’s your answer: It’s both.
Whether YOU are the one who makes the crazy, or you’re the one who puts up with the crazy, you both contribute to relationship insanity.
This fact offers you the first clue as to how to end the insanity. Take responsibility and own your part. Stop being the victim.
Don’t get me wrong, if you are in a physically abusive relationship you need to get out, now. If you are in a mentally, emotionally, or verbally abusive relationship there’s hope, but you cannot spend your time trying to get your partner to change. You have to change.
What does this mean? How do you change?
Recognize The Insanity
Recognizing your part in the insanity is your first step. Taking responsibility gives you insights into your part of the reciprocity (the give and take of the relationship). You affect your partner and your partner affects you (physically, psychologically, and emotionally).
The second part is understanding where you learned your part. Schema is highly dysfunctional unconscious (out of awareness) beliefs that operate your thoughts (the way you interpret), your emotions, and your behavior. Understanding your dysfunctional beliefs is the second step to taking responsibility and ending the insanity. Dr. Jeffrey Young has identified 18 Early Maladaptive Schema. **It is not enough to simply know your schema. You must seek out the help of a professional in order to truly understand the myriad of ways that the schema run your life, without you wanting them to.
The third part in understanding the insanity is how you cope. Schema is built in fear and the way you cope with fear is through three responses: Fight, Flight, Freeze.
Jack and Jill have been together for some time and have developed insanity around their sex life. Jack has a strong emotional needs for affection, however, whenever Jill is “not in the mood” he gets angry and takes it personally. Jill’s response makes him feel rejected and unloved. He can’t stand feeling this way and he copes with these feelings by getting angry (Fight). He blames Jill, makes accusations about her not loving him, belittles her and makes her feel bad for not meeting his needs. Jill’s response is anxiety and fear. She feels guilty that she is not “pleasing” Jack. She is coping with her feelings using avoidance, shutting herself off further from Jack because her anxiety causes her to avoid. This cycle continues and causes the couple to drift further apart, Jack wanting Jill to meet his needs of affection, and Jill wanting Jack to meet her needs of safety. Because the couple blames each other for not meeting the others’ needs, they are in a tug of war, or stalemate.
To break the insanity, Jack needs to work on his underlying feelings of defectiveness and shame. When working on his schema, he may see that his feelings are tied back to his relationships with someone from his childhood who made him feel unloved and rejected. He didn’t know how to cope with it then, and he doesn’t know how to cope with it now. Until he learns to challenge the belief system, and learn better ways of coping with feelings, other than Fight, he is doomed to repeat it.
Jill’s insanity has to do with coping more effectively with her Flight and Freeze response. If she were to look at her own schema, she may find ones related to people pleasing (subjugation, self-sacrifice). If she were to look deeply she may see her schema connected to previous relationships of conditional love. She had to perform “correctly” in order to be loved or to make sure people were not mad at her. She likely started to avoid these people from her childhood / early years because they were not “safe” people. Only until she understands how to offer herself love and that it is not her “job” to please people will she get out of this belief system.
Relationship insanity has everything to do with each individual feeding off of one another and creating a self-fulfilling prophecy. Jack’s prophecy is that he is unlovable. He creates this by showing his anger and pushing people away from him, which will further the idea that he is unlovable.
Jill’s schema is people pleasing through the subjugation of emotions and needs. She detaches herself from her needs and emotions and acts them out in passive aggressive ways (withholding affection). This is reinforced through her desire for safety and unconditional love, but she reacts to her husband by shutting down, rather than standing up to him and communicating her needs, without the fear of his anger.
Jack and Jill are just a small example of how relationship insanity works. Obviously, this can get much more destructive and intense, but, over time, relationship insanity erodes the positive and leaves the relationship in ruins.
Lastly, once both people take full responsibility for their schema and their fearful coping reactions, the couple needs to learn new ways to communicate effectively, how to talk “through” their schema and get to the fear beneath it. They have to unlearn and relearn new, healthy patterns in their lives in order to turn the relationship around.
I cannot stress enough that you need the help of a therapist if you find yourself in relationship insanity. You and your partner have developed too many bad habits (mind reading, coercion, blame, defensiveness, poor listening) to fix this on your own. You need the guidance of someone well trained, who understands the impact of a schema.
I highly recommend Dr. Jeffrey Young’s book Reinventing Your Life
Dr. Scott Symes is a psychologist at Rejuvenate Mind-Body Wellness Center in Lee’s Summit. He is certified in cognitive therapy and also practices schema therapy. Dr. Symes is also certified in the PREP model of communication from the authors of Fighting For Your Marriage. If you are struggling with relationship insanity or need to understand how the patterns of your schema influence your relationships call for an appointment with Dr. Symes at Rejuvenate. 816-761-3944.