Issue 96 –
Where Has Love Gone: Part 1
Bonding Patterns in Primary Relationship
Drs Hal & Sidra Stone
What is it that happens to a perfectly beautiful relationship that suddenly causes the end of intimacy and understanding? One moment, one is in love, the beloved is a compassionate, loving human being and the world is harmonious. The very next moment, everything is out of balance and dissonant. The beloved suddenly looks like a childish fool who will never learn appropriate adult behavior, or like an unfeeling, critical, demanding parental type who thinks she/he knows all the answers to life’s questions.
The overwhelming feeling tone in life changes from one of optimism and grace to one of disappointment, despair, and the distrust of all relationships. One simply knows, at a very deep level, that this is yet another proof that relationships cannot work, that they all turn out the same, and that nobody is to be trusted. Obviously, this relationship, too, is doomed to failure; actually it is probably over already, because nothing could survive the current set of dreadful feelings. These catastrophic feelings are the definitive signs that the negative aspects of a bonding pattern have taken hold in the relationship.
Previously the reader was introduced to the idea of bonding patterns in relationship and the concept of vulnerability. We saw how critically important it is to be in touch with the vulnerable aspect of our beings, and how vulnerability is at the core of most of the difficulties in relationship. We moved then to a discussion of falling in love and how this changes our lives.
In these tips we will concentrate more fully on the nature of the bonding patterns themselves. It is the work with these bonding patterns and the eventual understanding of how they operate in our lives that enable us to learn from each of our relationships and to use them to help us move forward.
To help you to understand bonding patterns, we will choose a wide range of examples to present to you. They portray many different kinds of conflict situations that occur and re-occur in relationships. Our discussion attempts to show how , in each case, the primary selves and disowned selves are playing off against each other between the people involved. From our perspective, the awareness of bonding patterns, and the experience of the different selves that we identify with and disown, is the key to the development of more conscious personal relationships. Let us now observe the dance of the selves and learn how they move with each other to create the marvelous music of human relationship.
The Ignition of, and the Fuel for, Bonding Patterns
By definition, a bonding pattern in relationship is the activation of parent/ child interactions between any two people, that is, the bonding of the child selves of one to the parental selves in the other. For example, the mother self of a woman may lock into the son self of a man, or a father self of a man might bond into the daughter self of a woman. These patterns occur in primary relationships, both heterosexual and homosexual, in familial relationships, in friendships, at work-in short, anywhere two or more people are interacting with one another.
This process is much the same as the bonding process that occurs between the infant and its parents. The original, and prototypical, bonding pattern is between the infant and its parents. It is natural, instinctive, and unconscious. It is the way in which we are able to give and receive nurturing . Thus, it represents a most basic unit of human interaction. The bonding patterns that we set up in infancy and early childhood remain with us throughout our lives. They represent our primary way of making contact with others, until awareness enters the picture.
Bonding patterns are perfectly normal processes that come and go constantly in all relationships.
When they are operating in a positive manner, they tend not to be a problem. For example, a woman might live the mother role in her relationship to her friend, who lives the daughter role, and for many years (perhaps even for a lifetime) there might not be any conflict between them. This bonding pattern then represents the form of the relationship.
However, one of the interesting things about maintaining the positive aspect of these roles in a bonded relationship is that the negativity in the relationship is generally disowned and tends to remain unconscious. If something happens to trigger one of the couple, the disowned negativity of many years may erupt, either or both women become very angry, and neither of them knows quite what has happened. It very often feels in this kind of situation like being kicked out of paradise. There is an almost unbearable feeling of betrayal when a positive bonding pattern is broken, because it involves the loss of a nurturing parent.
Thus it is that bonding patterns generally come to our attention when things start to go sour with them, when they begin to break up. The problems inherent in positive bonding may be quite obvious to friends of a couple, but the individuals involved in such a relationship are generally the last ones to know that they are living in such a pattern. The negativity and pain that we experience when things go sour in relationship lets us know that we have been in a bonding pattern of which we were unaware. Working through the negativity can then become a real education for the two people, once they can step out of the rage, judgments, righteousness, and victim status that characterize negative bonding patterns .
We start with the basic premise that bonding patterns are a natural part of all relationships and that in their positive form they generally go unnoticed. As people become more aware in their personal lives, living these bonding patterns full-time becomes less acceptable. More and more people today are not satisfied with this kind of relationship.