The 3 Primary Relationship Dynamics

The 3 Primary Relationship Dynamics

About this Podcast:

Talking through the 3 primary dynamics (outside of dysfunction) that exist between two humans and how to recognize them and manage them – Parenting/mentoring, Fellow Traveler, Release with Care

Episode Transcript:

[00:00:15.700] Hi, everybody. Welcome to another episode of JS Wonders. Today, it is going to be a little bit psychological, but really more centered around interpersonal dynamics or relationship dynamics. As a marriage and family therapist, or as any therapist, you talk to people a lot about relationships. And when you get into unhealthy relationships, there's things like enmeshment, which is when two people are just way too close and they get their emotions mixed up and their interactions mixed up and they can't figure out who's responsible for what. Triangulation is a family system in which people never say anything directly to the person that they're talking to or relating with. And they'll pull in a third person and say, Well, she does X, Y or Z and blah, blah, blah. And they try to manipulate somebody else into sending the message. Triangulation, codependency, where this one people get confused about what is codependency. Codependency is essentially where its most basic form is really poor boundaries. The other person behaves in a way that creates problems for me, that creates distress for me. But rather than just being honest and saying, Hey, what you do really bothers me, and I don't like it, and I need you to stop, or else we're going to have consequences, we're going to have to figure something out. [00:01:48.050] People take on this carrying or controlling role. They attempt to control the other person, and they tell the other person, Well, I'm doing it for your own good because you do this thing and it's not good, and blah, blah, blah. But there's dishonesty in it because the truth is I'm just trying to take care of myself. I'm trying to get this other person to stop engaging in this behavior that makes me uncomfortable. But I'm being dishonest and I'm pretending that I'm actually doing it to take care of you. I'm actually helping you. I'm showing you that what you're doing is not good, et cetera, et cetera. And then typically the other person will do the same thing. They'll say, Well, actually, you're too sensitive and blah, blah, I don't really need to change. You need to work on, et cetera, et cetera. And so you get codependency. You get people who are dependent, emotionally dependent on the other person, which is normal. We depend on one another. But in this case, the dependency is unhealthy, and also people lie about it. They say, I'm not dependent. This is not about me. I'm just trying to help you. [00:02:51.530] And so in true codependency, people are always bringing their needs and trying to manipulate the other person to serve their own needs while telling the other person, I'm actually doing it for you. And the other person does that in reverse. That's classic codependency. You have toxic relationships where someone who's narcissistic or a sociopath manipulates or uses someone. In which someone is objectified and used for their social value or used sexually or used for whatever purpose. So you have all of these ways in which relationships go wrong. But what I realized over the years as a therapist is that when I would encourage people to recognize, Oh, there's some toxicity or there's some dysfunction in this relationship, people would start saying, Well, I don't really think there is any other kind. Like, all my friends are like this, and my friends' marriages are like this. People are like this. I don't know what you're talking about. Like a healthy relationship. What are you talking about? And that's a valid point, right? In therapy, there's always this risk, psychology. There's always this risk of just hyper focusing on what's wrong and telling everyone, Well, that's wrong. And the way you do it is wrong, and that's not healthy. [00:04:09.820] So okay, great. So what is healthy? How do you do healthy? Show it to me. Show it to me. Show me how to do that. Show me that it works. Show me that it's doable, that it's not some concept in a psychology textbook. And so I've thought about this a lot, and I've expressed it informally a lot. And slowly over the years, I started cooking and realizing that there's an infinite number of relationships. There's a coach to a player, there's whatever. You can run the gamut yourself. But in the dynamics, when there's conflict that needs to be resolved, when we're adults, when it's not like, Well, I'm a child and this is persons of my parent. This naturally is not a balanced relationship. Parents have all the power. Child is in a vulnerable position. That's just the way it works. A boss to an employee. But when we're adults and we're seeking healthy relationships, what I find is that people run into a lot of trouble in two components. Number one, they don't know what the dynamic is. They're not conscious of what the dynamic is, and they have some expectation for what the dynamic is or what they want it to be. [00:05:29.760] And sometimes the person they're dealing with is not even toxic. They just aren't that specific thing that you wanted. And people are not even aware, they're not even conscious of what the dynamic is. And so the process of therapy is to slowly become aware of like, Well, you have a specific dynamic with this person. It's not inherently bad. It just doesn't seem like that that's what you wanted. If you ever talked to them and said, Hey, I would like our relationship to look more like this. So that's the one thing is that people seem really unaware of what the actual dynamic is, and they have no ownership of it. They're not able to accept it because they don't even know what it is. The second problem is people fear setting boundaries, and the reason people fear setting boundaries and having standards and being aware of what the dynamic is and actually having expectations of the dynamic and managing your own dynamic, your own part in the dynamic, is because when you do this, this sets you up to actually have to let go of people. And for some reason, this terrifies all of us. We're so afraid of going, Oh, there can be many reasons. [00:06:46.810] If you're married with some children, people don't want to end that because they're like, Well, what about the kids and what divorce does to kids? If they're close family members, it's like, What would that if I told my parents or my sibling, Hey, I can't do a relationship with you. It just seems really unhealthy or it's really unhealthy for me, and I don't want to do that. But in addition to logistical challenges, just as human animals, we get really uncomfortable at the idea that the most loving, caring thing that I can do is to acknowledge that this is not healthy for me, and I don't choose it. I choose my way out of this. I think it's better for us both not to have a relationship. My caring for you is in walking away from this relationship so that I can continue to think of you with respect and to respect myself because what was happening was unhealthy and neither one of us knew how to navigate it. With that as context, I'm looking down because I wrote notes to remind myself of the way this looks. When it comes down to these dynamics, there are three basic relationship types, or not relationship types because there are many different, but dynamics in relationships. [00:08:09.490] The first one is, let's say you have someone who is younger or they don't have to be younger. Let's say they're just quite inexperienced in certain ways. Or, for example, I once had a friend who had immigrated from another country, and it's very difficult to immigrate. The US can be really nice in some ways. In other ways, it's really complex. And there's lots of things to navigate. How do you interact with the police? Et cetera, et cetera. And so there's one dynamic that's not inherently toxic, which is a parenting or mentoring dynamic with someone in need. And this is a beautiful thing. It's an honorable thing. But many times people are setting you up for that or attempting to elicit a parenting dynamic from you or a mentoring dynamic from you, but you don't know and you don't know how to inhabit that and you didn't consciously accept it. I'll share one story with you that I'm ashamed of in my own behavior. I was a little bit older when I went to college and I was an English major and was naturally talented with writing papers and generating content that is easy for me. [00:09:28.990] And so there were lots of younger people from other countries who really struggled to write their papers or just struggled to navigate the country. They were here alone on their own. Their parents sent them. They didn't know anyone. And so I often became friends with these people. And there was one young man from India, just a really lovely, lovely human being, and we became friends. But the truth is he needed a mentor. I was a little bit older. He needed someone who could guide him and maybe take him shopping. He didn't have a car and help him write papers, et cetera, et cetera. I was in a position in life where I was struggling with the depression and I was very, very overwhelmed and was way over stimulated. I was really starting to struggle with the demands of friends that I made like this. And I'd set myself up. I had my part in it. I'd set myself up as this guy who would help you with your paper, et cetera, et cetera. And sometimes it's overwhelming. I would have like five, six, seven people at once asking for help. Essentially at one point, this young man became angry and yelled at me because he had needed someone to help him go get groceries and I'd bailed. [00:10:51.330] I just couldn't take being of support anymore and it hurt his feelings and made him feel abandoned and unsupported. He yelled at me and called me selfish and I got really angry because I was feeling overwhelmed and I actually shoved him at one point and we stopped being friends. I apologize later, but I ruined the friendship. Now, what he needed, there was nothing wrong with. He was a good person and he had needs. He was alone in a country and he had become friends with me and I had played this role. Me needing boundaries and being overwhelmed and being in a position where it's like, I just can't keep doing this. I'm overwhelmed in maintaining myself. I'm also a young person in college. There's nothing wrong with that. What was wrong is I was unaware that I tended to create these dynamics where I would play the role of a parenting or mentoring, but I had no boundaries. I had no ability to go, I need help. I need mentoring. I can't just give this just because you need it. And so I ruined the relationship. But there was nothing wrong with him, and there was nothing wrong with me other than my inability and maybe his inability to see that we had established this dynamic that was falling apart, and rather than negotiate the dynamic, falling apart and acknowledge it and acknowledge that we liked each other and cared about one another, we had a fight. [00:12:17.730] He insulted me. I insult at him. But that's a legitimate relationship. You need to be really aware. If you find someone, let's say someone had a horrible childhood and they really struggle with emotional responses and difficulty with relationships or whatever, and you're a stable presence and they establish a connection to you, that's a beautiful thing. That's a beautiful thing. They're really honoring you, but you need to know and consciously choose that and to know that there's no end date. You're not volunteering to be their therapist who's going to transition them after two years of work and they're paying you. You're establishing an honored relationship and you don't know how long it's going to go. There's a little bit of an element of raising someone or you're going to develop a vulnerable, profound relationship to that person. That person is going to develop need and become attached to you. If you choose that, if you're like, No, I'm happy. I love this. This is very meaningful to me, and I know how to manage my boundaries so that I don't become overwhelmed. And if this person is still in my life in 10 years and 15 years, great. [00:13:31.590] And if I'm still answering questions or helping them navigate things, I love it. I love it. That's wonderful. I feel honored. Beautiful. That's a really beautiful thing. If you're not aware and you don't choose that consciously, you're going to hurt yourself and overwhelm yourself and become quietly resentful of that person and become more brittle and more limited until you hurt them and make them go away. Or they're going to become very disappointed and they're going to dishonor the trust. They're going to yell at you or insult you, and you're going to feel confused because you've sacrificed yourself and given everything, and it's going to go sideways unless you know how to renegotiate it. But the first dynamic, general dynamic is taking on a parenting or a mentoring, a coaching position, which is a very honor. But you need to know that that's what it is. And when someone starts setting you up for that, you had better know, because a lot of people do it unconsciously. They don't even want to acknowledge it. Severe personality disorders will rely heavily on you emotionally, but feel really offended if they see their dependency, and they'll even counterattack and pick fights with you to punish you for the fact that they depend on you and you don't have to do anything. [00:14:49.530] That's the level of a personality disorder. You need to know that you're choosing that. So there's that first dynamic, the parenting and mentoring. That is not a reciprocal relationship. The relationship in the middle is reciprocal, and I call it being a fellow traveler. And many, many, if not most, people who come into therapy who struggle with relationships and dynamics are yearning for a reciprocal relationship. They feel honored that someone would need them or ask their advice. We all want to feel wise and want to feel that we're strong and stable and we have perspective. But at the same time, they also want to know that the other person can be there for them and that the other person has wisdom and insight. And when they are struggling and falling down and feeling overwhelmed that they can go to their friend and say, I'm not okay right now. I'm really not okay right now. And their friend will say, Hey, man, come over. Let's hang. You need to talk. Let's talk. You don't need to talk. Let's not. You want to watch a stupid movie and laugh. Come on, I got your back. Reciprocal. We want to know that there isn't going to be this strong trend of either I'm inferior to you and you always know everything, or You're inferior to me and you always need me and you wear me out. [00:16:16.290] Most of us want reciprocal relationships, and in fact, the larger portion of our relationship should be reciprocal. If they're not, we get worn out. There are some special people who do a lot of parenting and mentoring and teaching, and they have a very special calling, but they have to be very aware of that, and they get very good at caring for themselves and making sure that they set boundaries before they get worn out. But we all want reciprocal relationships. Those I call being the fellow traveler. I'm not smarter than you. I'm not better than you. I'm not less than you. We're both traveling this existential therapy perspective, fellow traveler. We're both traveling a difficult life that's full of anxiety and fears and fear of death and striving for things and sometimes failing and sometimes succeeding, wanting to have somebody who will celebrate with me, wanting to have somebody who will stand with me when I struggle will encourage me. A fellow traveler. Most of us yearn for this. Many people who come into therapy and struggle with relationships are, in fact, yearning for a reciprocal relationship, yearning for having lots of people who are fellow travelers. [00:17:35.500] Unfortunately, with tons of trauma and dysfunction out there, many people are either trying to position themselves as superior to you. I'm going to advise you. I'm going to tell you what to do. And they're doing that to stroke their own ego. Or people are trying to position themselves as a victim, as someone to whom you should play the parenting role, and they're not conscious of it. And so all of us feel starved for the fellow traveler, somebody that I really care for, who also cares for me, that we can just be there for one another and never be in a position where we're trying to position ourselves as superior or inferior. Unless you consciously feel called to be a mentor or a parent to others, most of your relationship should be reciprocal. And yet most people I see in therapy or outside of have very few reciprocal relationships, and they yearn for it, and they feel lonely, and they feel alone. And they're like, Well, I have all my employees, or I am employed. I have my colleagues, and well, they're the other parents at my kid's school. Why am I lonely? You're lonely because you haven't created reciprocal relationships or those people are not available to you. [00:18:55.150] You're yearning for equality. You're yearning for someone to be present to you and for someone to whom you can be present. That's the fellow traveler. The third option, which I already referred to at the head of the podcast, excuse me, is almost spiritual. It is the release. It is caring and loving for someone, having basic human respect by acknowledging that I am not capable of remaining respectful and caring of you in a dynamic in which we interact with one another regularly. This is the one that everyone is afraid of. This is the one that people come into therapy and agonize over, and I myself have done the same. Where we have a dynamic that wears us down and wears us down and wears us down and we can never pin it down. What is this dynamic? Sometimes this person seems giant and they're beating up on me. Sometimes this person seems like so helpless and vulnerable, they elicit this tremendous feeling of sadness and caregiving. I want to take care of them, but it never quite works. And when I reach out to them and I need support, every once in a while there, you seem to be in a position of grace, but mostly I get kicked in the teeth or whatever it is. [00:20:20.630] It just doesn't work. And people come in a therapy and they're constantly analyzing it. They want to know, What is this thing? What is this thing? And the healthiest thing that a therapist can do after a little bit of analysis is say true respect for self, but also respect for others is sometimes stop analyzing it. Stop trying to figure out what it is and fix what it is and let it be what it is, something that doesn't work. You don't need to know why. It just doesn't work. You don't need to know why. Why are you trying to force it to work? Those are those people, and all of us have some element of this that I was referring to, of this codependency where we insist that something that doesn't work must work, or I'm a bad person if I exit, or we'll try to sabotage it and make the other person behave badly so they can behave badly enough that I can go, Man, you are a jerk. And my therapist told me that you're no good. And you know what? You can just whatever. We need some huge blow-up to let someone go and to reject them and go, Well, it's your fault. [00:21:36.610] But there's this huge component missing. You don't need it to be anyone's fault. It just doesn't work. It doesn't need to be someone's fault. You can maintain a basic love and care and respect for yourself as a human being and that other person as a human being. Whatever their journey is, whatever's going on, the dynamic that gets created between them and you just doesn't work. You don't need it to go to nuclear war so that you can prove it was not your fault. I see that in couples sometimes who are done with one another. They had a loving relationship. Maybe it was five years, maybe it was 20 years, maybe it was 30 years. Maybe it's a 30 year marriage, maybe it's a 50, whatever it is. And at some point it stopped working, and then they suffered with toxicity for 15 years and they're exhausted and they're done. And they'll come in to couples work. And I'll realize after three, six months, after you explore and explore and try things that what's really coming down is they're both done, but they don't want it to be their fault. And they're trying to position the other person as the person who's wrong, and they're trying to get the therapist to align and to tell them, You're right. [00:22:51.060] You did everything you could. The other person is the one who's messed up. You have a right to leave. And they're both trying to elicit that from the therapist. When in fact, you don't need that. You don't need alignment from a therapist. You don't need someone to say it was their fault. If you're struggling with guilt, that's your codependency. You're trying to avoid feeling guilty. Well, you should talk to your therapist about that or talk to somebody or work on it. You have a guilt problem that holds you in untenable situations and forces you to continue hurting yourself and hurting the other person because you can't handle the guilt of actually asserting yourself and going, This doesn't work. It's not good for me. I don't think it's good for you, but that's not my business. It's just not good for me. I don't need a reason. I don't need to blame you. I don't need to blame me. It's just not good. It hurts me. I don't like the person I am in our dynamic. And I'm not saying that's your fault. I don't know what it is. I don't need to work it out. [00:23:53.350] Life is short. So that third dynamic, and I'm calling it a dynamic because it is a way of relating to that other person that's much more valuable than staying in a toxic relationship and beating up on somebody and clinging to them and wearing them out and wearing yourself out, is to express your love and respect for them. Their fundamental human respect for them as a Sentient being by saying, When I'm in active dynamic with you, I don't know what's wrong with it, but it feels bad to me, and I don't like who I am, and I don't like how I treat you, and I don't like how you treat me. And I've tried a couple of things and it hasn't worked. And I want to walk around the world thinking of you with basic human respect. I respect you. And I can't do that if I sit here and build up years of resentment and toxicity to the point that I hate you, and I need to drive you into cheating on me, or I need to do something cruel to make you go away, and then we both have this horrible aftertaste and think badly of one another. [00:25:08.830] Let's not do that. I'm going to care for you and have respect for you by leaving the dynamic. I'm not leaving the human race. You are still a human being. We still share the human condition. But I'm acknowledging that I don't know how to navigate my human condition alongside your human condition and whatever chemistry gets created with that. So I'm going to walk away. That one, I think, is a hundred times harder than learning to consciously acknowledge that I am choosing a mentoring position, which has some honor, and there's a lot of gratitude that tends to come out of that. Walking away the other person often hates your guts for it, or tries to guilt you into codependency. Why are you giving up? It would have been if you really cared, if you really love, they're going to try to entice you back into this toxic dynamic. Love and respect for yourself and for the other person means leave. Let them go. Let yourself go before you build real anger and hatred. And before you walk around with your brain generating negative thoughts and negative energy about them that you are holding in your own body, your own system. [00:26:37.470] - Speaker 1 Out of all the dynamics, I respect that one the most. It's the hardest. It's the most frightening, and it seems counter-intuitive, in my opinion, it's the most loving. It is being willing to let go of codependency and toxicity. The dynamic and not blame the other person and go, Well, you were the codependency. You were... No, forget about it. It was a chemistry, and it just didn't work. And I'm going to care for you, and I'm going to love you. I'm going to respect you as a fundamental sentient being by not engaging and co-creating this chemistry. Whoever's at fault or both of you are like, Who cares? Life is short. Let's move on and be happy and be healthy. That's my thought for the day. Those are the three: the mentoring slash parenting dynamic, the fellow journey or reciprocal, which we all yearn for, and the one in which we care for and respect the fellow Sentient being by letting them go, when we're not helping them by remaining actively in a dynamic with them. Those are the three. And for those to happen, here's the cheat code for those to happen, it requires that you be conscious of the quality, the nature of your dynamic, not the other person. [00:28:11.050] You're not judging the other person. You're not judging you. Just the dynamic, the dynamic itself between the two of you, the chemistry between the two of you. You must be self aware. You must be aware of that in order to make conscious decisions about I choose this mentoring role. I surround myself. I elicit and surround myself with reciprocal relationships with fellow travelers, fellow journeyers. Or I consciously choose through my own pain and fear of abandonment and through maybe guilt messages from the other person, I choose to let this person go so that I can think of them kindly and warmly at some point in the future and put good things out in the universe for them. So that's my message for today, a little bit on relational dynamics. It can all get pretty complicated, but if you break it down to those three things and you remain really, really conscious, it does get way easier, maybe way simpler. It's never easy, but maybe it just gets way simpler. All right, guys, it was great talking to you. And I will see you next episode. Take care and have a good day. [00:29:20.350] This for today. Everything's okay. Everything's okay.

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