Issue 12 September 2004

From Default to Choice:
A Re-programming of Your Relationship “Software”

Part II Positive Bonding Patterns
Hal Stone, Ph.D. & Sidra L. Stone, Ph.D.

In our last set of tips we introduced you to the “bonding patterns“ which we see as the “default setting” for relationship. As we said at that time:

“Just as we have narrowed down the possibilities of who we are by developing a group of primary selves and disowning the rest, in relationship we narrow down our possibilities of interacting with others. When just a few selves take over and control the relationship – as they do for everyone from time to time – we have little choice in the way we relate and we behave automatically. We think of this as the “default setting” in relationship.

This default position in relationship is one that is programmed into us at birth. We call this template a “bonding pattern”. It is the normal and natural way that the baby relates to its mother and the mother relates to the baby; it’s the way in which we give and receive nurturance. If the baby didn’t relate by taking nourishment from the mother and the mother didn’t feel good about giving nourishment to the baby – if there is no bonding – there is trouble. Without this parent/child bonding, the baby doesn’t thrive.

But, when we are no longer infants this default position for relationship remains and is no longer so useful. If we look carefully, we find that we are relating to others in the same parent/child fashion. The mother or father in us relates to the child self in another and, conversely, the child self in us relates to the mother or father in the other. This is still natural and normal – but it is no longer rewarding.”

When the selves involved in the bonding pattern are protective, nurturing parents and children who need care or who truly appreciate a caring parent, this can feel comfortable and quite safe. Then we call it a positive bonding pattern.

This doesn’t mean it is good, it just means it feels pretty good. This default position – like the default setting on your computer – works. But it severely limits your choices in life and it just doesn’t give you, or the other person, the chance to be all that you can be! But the worst of all is that this positive bonding pattern almost invariably leads to a negative bonding pattern. Everyone knows what that is like; it feels terrible, and when you try to do to fix it, either nothing changes or you find you have made matters worse. We will talk more about negative bonding patterns next time.

As a matter of fact, the selves you like best in others and want to keep around (like the responsible ones, the caretakers, or the indulgent ones) might actually, just like too many sweets, not be very good for you. These selves can become like parents to you. And, when they do, you are likely to lose the ability to care for yourself. This creates real vulnerability in you and an unstable situation of deep dependence. At the same time, it usually creates a feeling of being responsible for the other person.

How This Works

You are severely limited. There are only parental and child selves available to you in this positive bonding pattern. Think of it as though you have taken your partner’s (or friend’s or co-worker’s) Inner Child into your lap and have promised to care for it. Conversely, your partner (or friend or co-worker) has taken your Inner Child into his;/her lap and is taking care of it. Neither of you has access to your own child, only to the others’. This has a good side and a bad side. The good side is that you protect, love, and care for one another. The bad side is that you forget how to take care of yourself and become totally dependent upon – and, at some level, responsible for – the other person.

There are other difficulties. You cannot risk disrupting the delicate balance, so you don’t do or say anything that might upset the other person. There is less and less to talk about. More and more reactions go underground and begin to become silent judgments.

How Can Your Recognize a Positive Bonding Pattern?

The relationship feels “airless” – not necessarily suffocating – but airless as though you were in a room in which all the windows had been closed for some time.

The relationship becomes less spontaneous. Everything seems predictable.

The sexuality has disappeared, diminished, or lost its passion and become just a part of the daily duties.

You usually feel stronger than your partner, more able to take care of the really important matters, quite competent and – with understanding and affection – you see the more childish qualities and the needs of the other person

There is less and less to talk about and there are more and more topics to avoid.

You find that you are arranging your life to accommodate the other person.

You can’t remember your own preferences; you have trouble remembering what gives you pleasure – what it is you really like to do.

You have forgotten what it is that your partner does – or did – that upsets you.

You don’t share your reactions or feelings – if you do feel them – because you fear that they will hurt the other person, or that they might disrupt a perfectly good relationship.

You don’t feel entitled to want something or feel a feeling if it might disrupt the relationship.

You find yourself being attracted to – or having fantasies of romance with – people outside of your relationship.

How Can You Disengage From a Positive Bonding Pattern?

You can disengage from these bonding patterns and develop a truly intimate relationship that includes more of who you are. This takes time and evolves gradually. The following steps will really help you to move ahead:

Take back the responsibility for yourself, for your own sensitivities, needs, feelings, and boundaries. Learn to take care of yourself.

Ask yourself the following questions to discover where you’ve lost boundaries:
“What am I doing that I don’t want to do?”
“What am I not doing that I do want to do?”

Learn to share your reactions (feelings and thoughts) with the other person.
And learn to set proper boundaries by saying Yes and No appropriately.

For more on bonding patterns check out our videos and audios in The Voice Dialogue Series