In a coffee shop in Leeds the other day, a couple sat down next to me and I couldn’t help but over hear the interaction between them. A couple in their 50’s, and there was such an interesting dynamic between them. The wife was complaining about the coffee and she told her husband to change it a couple of times. He was dutifully going backwards and forwards, and there was a definite childlike quality to the way he was trying to make his wife happy. She then proceeded to disagree with all the suggestions about what he was to do about something at work. I’m not going to lie – I felt embarrassed for him. Finally, she spent about 5 minutes adjusting his tie and picking lint from his lapel. That was the moment I felt a wave of embarrassment and had to avoid all eye contact!
I don’t want this to sound as if this is a criticism of their relationship. Far from it, I just saw living and breathing a dynamic between two people that didn’t seem appropriate for two grown adults. It was a great example of the ‘drama triangle’ in action. If you haven’t come across this, please let me know and I’ll send you the link to an earlier post.
The wife in this was quite controlling and the husband was going along, complying and seemingly happy to be controlled. What the drama triangle however shows us is that this is far from a healthy pattern to fall into. At some point he will be frustrated at her ‘mothering’ and will try to take control himself, which will probably push her into victim (“I was only trying to help!” She’d be saying!!)
When we take the role that the wife did, which is a one up position, it’s a perspective where we subconsciously transmit that we know better, and the other person is somehow in capable. Even with positive intent, it encourages the other into a more helpless position and one where the other thinks, feels and acts in quite a childlike way i.e we comply or rebel!
So if you’ve ever said to yourself ‘why do they act like children?’, maybe just maybe part of the answer is that we are acting in a more parental way. The psychologists would say that healthy relationships are based on adult to adult interactions, where we communicate with the other in ways that invite discussion, dialogue and a sharing of responsibility.
Do you recognise any of this is any of your own relationships, be that work or personal?
The good news is, if we make a change in our approach, we invite the other person to do the same. Here’s some quick and simple tips on how to do that;
PAUSE – notice when it’s happening, being self-aware and spotting those moments when we want to take over control or molly coddle are key. Over time you might spot your own patterns emerging, so you can notice your triggers in advance
ASK – invite discussion, using open questions to encourage a dialogue around the issue
STICK WITH IT – it might take quite a bit of effort, but work to keep the dialogue going. Don’t be tempted to drop back to telling, no matter how frustrating!
Please let me know if this helps in any of your relationships. If you would like to work with me more intensively, to address an aspect of your own relationships, please drop me a message.