The deep structures of a relationship are situated early on. Roles are established, patterns of behavior set and agreements made. Going forward, these elements outline both the context and trajectory of the relationship. Very often when a significant change in these rules is introduced by one of the partners, the relationship destabilizes, sometimes to the point of unraveling.
Relationships are transactional systems—they are defined by give and take. Some of these systems are quite rigid. Others are dynamic and flexible. Most will land somewhere in the middle. Whatever the case, there are established rules that define the profile of the relationship and the manner in which the partners participate in it. When one partner changes the rules of the relationship as a consequence of their personal evolution it can be quite disruptive, even to the point of dissolving the relationship.
The most flagrant example of this can be found within the context of an addictive relationship system. If an addict gets sober, the enabler no longer has a job. Depending on the level of investment that the enabler has in being an enabler and how much that influences his sense of ego integrity, that shift can cause a fair bit of tension.
The level of self-responsibility necessary for an addict to recognize that the consequences of his behavior outweigh the benefits of the behavior itself is monumental, and in some ways the key to beginning true, conscious recovery. Just so, the enabler whose need to enable remains more substantial for him than witnessing and celebrating the positive change in his partner leaves him out of the evolutionary process.
The opposing version of this is found if the enabler decides that s/he is no longer going to participate in the co-dependent dynamic that typically underlies the addictive relationship. Without the presence of the enabler, the addict feels abandoned or rejected—resentment, frustration and anger being the consequence. This is the opposite dynamic of the one above, but with the same profile. The need of one person to stay put leaves him out of the process of evolution to which s/he is connected.
Another situation is where one partner simply physically removes himself from the relationship because s/he can see no other escape. This is often found in a circumstance where one partner is very controlling and manipulative—potentially even narcissistic or abusive, even subtly—and the departing partner is at the sufferance of that behavior. In his shortsightedness, rather than recognizing an opportunity for potential growth for himself and the relationship, the partner left behind makes an effort to redraw the relationship as it was, not as it might be.
Often the most volatile version of this dynamic is found when one of the partners in the relationship tends toward borderline behavior. The often extreme degree of enmeshment and disregard of boundaries makes changes in a relationship that has these elements woven into its fabric virtually untenable. The rejected partner will fight tooth and nail to bring things back to where they were, exercising an almost pathological disregard for the signs that this change is a response to dysfunction, not a dysfunction in itself.
Whatever the profile of change—and ensuing disruption—the toxicity comes from the partner who is being left behind trying to yank the relationship back into its former mold. Objectively, it looks as if someone who had always had a square peg for a square hole is suddenly given a round peg and just can’t get his mind around the idea that the peg will no longer fit. This can come in the form of subtle coercion to full out manipulation, blaming, denying, self-victimization or all manner of other stagnating and destructive histrionics.
The hardest thing for the partner who is separating—or at least stepping away—to do is to hold her ground. There is a reason that the partnership was established in the first place and, even if that reason is no longer viable through time, change or the sometimes inevitable dissolution of something that was never that substantial in the first place, there is a social connection that begs some acknowledgement. This is especially true when considering a family member—your mother is always your mother, even if you don’t like her as a person.
Change in all things is inevitable and this is no less true of relationships than anything else. Self-evolution is not only inevitable, it is an imperative and one that we are beholden to embrace. If the dissonance between self-evolution and the ensuing change that occurs within the context of our relationships is too great to be supported by our relationships, then the dissolution of those relationships itself becomes an unfortunate inevitability.
If we are to truly invest ourselves in the change wrought by our personal evolution, then we must also be willing to accept the changes in the context of our process and the consequences that change may bring.
© 2011 Michael J. Formica, All Rights Reserved