Nicolai and Maja have been together for 8 years. They were on a date, where they had just finished a walk together on their favourite beach and were now heading to their local juice bar. As they sat down Nicolai raised the topic of which school their daughter should go to next year. This was a hot topic for this couple as Nicolai strongly believed she should go to a private Catholic school like he did, whereas Maja believed in the public system and wanted their daughter to mix with children offering greater diversity of backgrounds, just as she had.
These conversations haven’t been going well between them and often ended in conflict. Maja becomes rather strident in her views and reiterates her view of the matter over and over. Nicolai lowers his voice and grits his teeth, holding his jaw in a tight lock. This is experienced by Maja as aggressive. Sometimes she tells him to stop making that face, but mostly she feels she just needs to get away from him.
If they’re at home, she quickly goes to another room or leaves the house. In the past, she’s left Nicolai in restaurants, where he’s sat not knowing if she’s returning or not. Now they’re in the juice bar and Nicolai’s voice is lowering and his jaw is setting into the tight position. Within a micro-second she’s up off her seat and walking briskly to their car. She’s relieved she’s the one with the car keys.
What is going on for this couple?
Our history shows itself in the stories we create
Our past relationships with parents, siblings, and past partners play a huge role in shaping our minds and determining how we view couple relationships. This has been through direct experiences with them and how they’ve treated us, and also through them teaching or guiding us with narratives about couple relationships.
These experiences shape how we feel a partner should behave and what is expected of them in our relationship. Our mind holds this information as relationship boundaries and rules, with plenty of statements of shoulds and shouldn’ts. Some of this information is conscious and known to us, like these rules. Some of it is held unconsciously, without our awareness. We can’t recall this information.
The way our mind has been shaped regarding relationships will also shape our ego-based stories we tell ourselves and others about relationships. We create stories about our experiences in the world from the minute we wake up until we go to sleep. We create stories about ourselves, others, and situations. We especially love to create stories about our partner and our relationship.
The type of story our ego creates is often based on our earlier experiences. The problem is that we often treat the stories as facts. Our ego can be loving, kind and compassionate. It can also be a dictator or a tyrant. We may behave as if we have the moral high ground over our partner, that we know more about relationships than they do, or judge them for not communicating or relating to us in a way that we appreciate.
Our ego can be fearful and quite fragile, and it’s always on the lookout for safety or internal or external changes where we may feel less safe. This becomes problematic in couple relationships as partners are the ones most likely to provoke each other’s fragile ego. Partners then create stories about themselves, each other and the relationship based on how their minds have been shaped.
What does Nicolai’s mind construct when he’s sitting alone after being walked out on by Maja? How does his history shape the story he tells himself? These are just a few possibilities:
- If Nicolai’s parents had a peaceful relationship, he may create a story of how Maja’s childhood was difficult, and they’ll work it out when he gets home.
- If Nicolai’s parents had a lot of conflict, he may create anxious stories, even dread, and hopelessness about his relationship with Maja.
- If Nicolai’s parents separated, he may construct stories about Maja being “just like” Mum or Dad in some unattractive way, and how he might want to leave her. Or he could construct stories about Maja wanting to leave him.
- If Nicolai felt alone or lonely in his family growing up, he may create stories of sadness and loneliness with Maja and how she doesn’t really understand him.
Can you see how the historical lens shapes the different stories Nicolai tells himself? Of course, there could be many other stories told.
So, let’s look at possibilities for Maja’s historical lens for the stories she creates as she flees the juice bar. What stories does Maja’s mind construct as she drives home alone?
- If Maja grew up with a parent who had angry outbursts, she may anxiously tell herself that Nicolai’s lowered voice and clenched jaw is so aggressive, and she can’t tolerate it anymore.
- If Maja had a parent who was emotionally dysregulated and frightening, she may create stories of Nicolai’s lowered voice and clenched jaw being frightening.
- If Maja’s parents separated, she may tell herself that he’s not good enough for her, and/or even that she needs to end the relationship.
- If Maja’s parents didn’t listen to each other, she may tell herself that Nicolai is disrespectful and selfish.
We all need to understand our own historical lens and how it influences the stories our ego constructs. If we don’t, we treat the stories as a fact, and that can spell danger for our relationships.
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