Heading into a relationship, we always bring 2 things along:
Our Deepest Hope
Our Worst Dread
We hope for love and security. For companionship. We hope for erotic satisfaction. For family.
We may dread rejection, dismissal, or abandonment. Or boredom. Or being controlled. One thing is sure: we dread not getting the things we hope to receive from the other.
Hope . . . or Dread? Here’s How It Works . . .
Alexa is the daughter of an alcoholic father who expected perfection from his family. He criticized, shamed and punished them for their mistakes. Alexa, a
skillful painter, longed to delight her father with her art. But try as she did, he only criticized. He couldn’t appreciate her efforts.
In her marriage to Marcus, Alwas late to appointments or dates, frequently got lost and inevitably misplaced or forgot things. Once she left their airline tickets on the kitchen counter! She developed a sheepish, child-like shrug and a helpless “I’m such a bungling idiot” way of handling these frequent occurrences.
Marcus was the son of a depressed mother who was only vaguely connected to Marcus and the family. She ran a chaotic household, put dinner on the table randomly, and let holidays and birthdays pass without acknowledgment. Marcus felt overlooked, marginalized and resentful as he tried with little success to get his mother to engage. As an adult, he embraced the formality and orderliness of military life. After his honorable discharge, he joined the local police force.
Marcus and Alexa began arguing shortly into their marriage. It soon became the norm. Without realizing it, Alexa and Marcus were literally causing the very thing the other dreaded most. No wonder they were arguing.
Alexa hoped to be loved and appreciated by her partner not just for how efficient and near-perfect she was. She longed to be valued for all of who she understood herself to be, including the flawed and deeply human self that made mistakes! Alexa hoped for an all-encompassing love, one that wasn’t based on being perfect. Unconsciously, she ‘made’ mistakes, ‘caused’ screw-ups, and created the impression she was incompetent. She hoped Marcus would love her notwithstanding her ‘imperfections.’
Alexa’s hope drove her to engage in behaviors she thought would give Marcus the perfect opportunity to demonstrate his love for her, in spite of her screw-ups! For Alexa, each forgotten airline ticket, each delay, loss, or mistake included the hope that Marcus would respond with “I know you made a mistake, and I still love you.” For Alexa, this longed-for, all-encompassing response was believed to be the very thing that would heal the injury she suffered at the hands of her punitive father.
But Alexa’s unconscious behavior was causing the very thing Marcus dreaded most. He dreaded finding himself at the mercy of someone who seemed disengaged and incompetent, who didn’t feel reliable, couldn’t remember what was important to him, and who failed to act responsibly. His anger boiled over. Instead of giving Alexa the all-encompassing loving response that she wanted, he yelled at her for making mistakes.
Desperately hoping for a heightened level of engagement from Alexa but convinced she would continue to disappoint him, Marcus tightened his grip on her. He demanded compliance. He controlled her decisions. He withheld praise because she had let him down and he didn’t think she deserved praise.
Marcus raised his voice while Alexa made more and more ‘mistakes.’ They argued, each claiming the other was to blame. Neither understood the central role their own hope and dread played in their arguments. Neither understood just how they each, unknowingly, were actually bringing about the very thing the other dreaded most. . .