Love Lingers Here: Enduring Intimate Relationships IV: The New Self and Founding Story
Ricardo came to recognize that he hates to argue with Dottie. In fact, until recently he tended to “shut down” when Dottie started to become emotional. Dottie, on the other hand, felt “lonely and rejected” in the early years of their relationship when Ricardo would “shut her out” and be unwilling to talk about his feelings. Dottie’s own father had been distant and critical. Dottie’s first divorce was “messy” partly because of her sense of powerlessness when her first husband refused to communicate with her.
Over the course of Ricardo and Dottie’s relationship, they have learned to accommodate each other’s trigger points. They have learned that their initial reactions to each other’s behavior actually amplify or escalate the problems in their pattern of communication. After considerable discussion and reflection they have changed this pattern. If Dottie begins to withdraw in hurt and confusion, Ricardo becomes eager, sociable and cajoling. When Dottie pushes him to “talk! talk to me!” and Ricardo begins to withdraw, Dottie says she now “gets a grip,” acknowledges her own neediness and makes an effort to restore harmony. They both have come to “recognize the hurt child in each other” and when bad feelings begin to escalate, they can stop the escalation and return to a state of mutual respect, dignity and compatibility. In other words, they can return the ghosts of their past to the closet and get on with their own lives.
At the heart of the matter is what we choose to do about our ghosts and how we choose to define ourselves as individuals and as a couple, given these ghosts in our past lives.
Furthermore, as we continue in our relationship for many years, we must also live with the ghosts that we have created within the relationship itself. We become the product not only of other relationships that strongly influence our life and our conception of an enduring, intimate relationship, but also our early years together as a couple. These latter ghosts are often to be found alive and well in the stories that we continue to tell other people (and ourselves) about our early life together as a couple and, in particular, our coming together initially as a couple (the “founding story”).