Let's talk about relationship patterns and when I talk about relationship patterns I have to talk about Shelly (name changed to protect the awesome).
Shelly came to me because she wanted more than anything to change her relationship with her mom. She dreamed of being able to have a conversation without getting into an argument.
They were good when there was a task at hand to be done, but when it came to talking it always seemed to end in conflict.
She told me about their conversations. What struck me was that there was a definite pattern that she couldn't see (because when we're so close, it's hard to see the big picture).
Her cycle went something like this: either her or her mother would say something and the other would take it personally or as an insult and then they would both get mad and walk away. Then, they would come back together after 'sweeping it under the rug' and never mention it again - well until they got into another argument and someone would bring up the past arguments.
Their pattern was an anger pattern. They never discussed or cleared any arguments which left them vulnerable to future arguments.
What happens when we don't communicate after we argue is that we have all these stories about the other person building up. Because they are close to us, we think we're being kind by pretending it never happened or putting it in the past. While it might feel like you are being kind, you're doing a disservice to the relationship because the bad feelings all build up so we get more and more suspicious that everything is going to be a personal jab. So guess what? We start seeing how everything can be a personal jab and repeat the cycle… after we were so kind to sweep things under the rug last time.
This is a relationship pattern.
We have to look at the patterns if we want to shift our relationships… not the words or actions or assumptions.
Then we have to be willing to change the pattern.
Shelly shifted the way she related to her mom. The short story is that she learned how to put a shield up when she visited her mom. When they did argue or one of them took something personally, she did not raise her voice or show anger. She shifted to concern and authenticity. She chose to soften into vulnerability and speak from her heart. She explained what she saw in their relationship and also what she wanted instead.
I'd love to tell you that her mom magically understood and every conversation was the stunning Gilmore Girls relationship we wish we all could have… but it has shifted. It's been a while since one of them had to leave the room because they were so angry or hurt.
What Shelly has noticed is that she can now own what is hers and what is not. She also feels power in her ability to be vulnerable and share what she actually feeling so that her mom can hear her perspective and the impact of their conversations. It's also opened her mom to sharing and thinking about how she responds before something callous comes out.
Shelly has a ton more clarity about how she really wants to show up for her mom and what her boundaries are… and especially how to speak them out loud.
Her mom wasn't seeking help for their relationship. Her mom didn't get coaching or consciously choose to change. Her mom responded to the changes that Shelly made in the relationship -- the boundaries, the open communication, the vulnerability.
While not all relationships can be changed with one person. I think you would be surprised to find out how many between people who love and care for each other can.
How to step out of the pattern:
#1 Step back and see the pattern.
#2 Own what you can in the situation.
Where is your participation in this pattern? What do you need to do differently? Your patterns could be completely different like not walking away when you are mad to have a clear conversation when you are less volatile.
#3 Figure out where you can break the pattern - or step out of it.
From what you own in the situation, how do you have the power of ensuring it doesn't continue.
#4 Step out of the pattern.
Don’t get mad if it takes a few times to step in. Noticing it in the moment is a challenge.
#5 Add in communication and boundaries.
This includes boundaries that are loving, are meant to protect the relationship, not punish the other person.
#6 Notice what changes.
They will have to respond differently if you do. Yes, they may try dragging you back into the pattern so you'll have to be reverent about enforcing boundaries and staying out of past patterns.
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