Relationships, just like Nature itself, have their own “ecosystems”. Different elements work together and support each other, sustaining balance and harmony. But sometimes in relationships those ecosystems can become unhealthy, with different sources of negative energy feeding off of each other to sustain the balance. This is one reason why transformation in relationships can be so difficult – if you change one element you change the whole dynamic of the relationship, and it will try to re-balance itself, often leading to conflict. In this three-part blog series, I explore what is termed by Karpman, 1968, as the Drama Triangle. A social model, Karpman identified three possible roles that we typically take on; Rescuer, Persecutor and Victim. Each blog will explore each role in turn, how they relate to conflict in relationships, and how they often work together to sustain conflict patterns.
Kate*, 32, was at the end of her tether with Steve*. He wasn’t the best communicator and would often shut down in any conflict situation, leaving lots of issues in the relationship unresolved.
The main issue for Kate was that at 35 years old, she felt Steve should be able to look after himself. Instead, she would manage his finances for him, clean up after him, and constantly worry about his emotional wellbeing, paying for him to have personal therapy. On one hand Kate was a very attentive and supportive girlfriend, but on the other it would be at her own expense; she didn’t feel as though she received the same attention or consideration back from Steve.
When Steve shut down, Kate would do everything to try and get him to talk. This would invariably makes things worse as Steve would withdraw further, sometimes even leaving the house for a couple of days at a time. Kate felt she was being treated unfairly and was feeling very resentful towards Steve.
“He’s so selfish! I support him financially, physically and emotionally, and the very least he could do is talk to me about how I feel about it!”
So I asked her the key question, “What keeps you in this place of stuckness?”.
The reason that this question is so important is because in relationships, even when we are being treated unfairly, we have to take responsibility for the role that we take on. What is it in us that enables the pattern to continue?
Have you ever hear the saying “People will treat you exactly the way you allow them to?” There’s some truth in that.
So why was Kate allowing Steve to behave in ways that were unacceptable to her? This wasn’t how Kate pictured her ideal relationship at all.
It was because Kate was a Rescuer.
Kate had always been the sensitive and attentive one in relationships. She had always ended up with partners who “needed” her on some level.
Going back to childhood, Kate was always the one to give away her toys or sweets to other children, and was always trying to help others. She had witnessed her Mother being very attentive to her Father, who had developed depression following his redundancy. Everything had revolved around him. Kate had been very upset by her Father’s emotional withdrawal and learned that the only way to get his attention was to give him a lot of attention.
And she took that belief into her adult relationships with her.
Kate realised that although Steve’s behaviour had been unacceptable, she also acknowledged that her willingness to take on the role of a rescuer had co-created the situation she now felt stuck in. In fact she had unconsciously chosen partners who needed her, which enabled her to play out her rescuer role, in the hope of receiving their attention. But the rescuer role would often lead to conflict as she would end up feeling resentful.
Through Relationship Coaching, Kate had made the unconscious conscious, and now that she was able to recognise her relationship and conflict patterns, she was able to change them.
She was able to stop repeating unresolved issues from the past.
I showed Kate how to communicate more effectively with Steve as a couple, and Kate was able to explain to Steve how and why she felt and acted the way she did, in a way that stopped him from becoming defensive and withdrawing. As a result, Steve was much more understanding of why Kate was so triggered by his behaviour. Steve was also able to express how he felt suffocated in the relationship, whilst taking responsibility for the fact that he had been acting as the “victim” in the relationship – as a person who appeared to be powerless and unable to look after himself – when in fact he was actually quite capable of looking after himself. Both Kate and Steve acknowledged that without the rescuer there would be no victim, and without the victim there would be no rescuer. The only way to break their pattern was to stop engaging with that dynamic.
Steve had his own issues to work through too, as by Kate taking on less of a role as a rescuer, Steve had to adjust to being more independent and responsible, without feeling abandoned by Kate. But they were able to work through these issues together as a team, using conflict as a means of healing past wounds and gaining new understandings about each other.
Do you recognise yourself as a Rescuer in your relationship?
If so, perhaps you could ask yourself – “What keeps me in this place of stuckness?”
Or perhaps you take on the role of Persecutor or Victim?
Look out for the next blog post where I will be exploring the Persecutor role, and how that can play out in conflict.
Recognising and understanding conflict cycles and relationship patterns that lead to stuckness are key components to my brand new course – Compassionate Conflict for Couples. If you would like my expert support to learn the EXACT techniques and steps to resolve conflict effectively without hurt, anger and frustration, you can now sign up! At just £99 it is incredible value for at least 8 hours of coaching, taking place over 4 weeks in the comfort of your own home, through videos, exercises and worksheets. And as an extra special gift for signing up, the first 10 people will receive a bonus 1:1 coaching call with me, absolutely FREE! These places will go fast and are strictly on a first-come, first-served basis so sign up NOW to avoid disappointment.
If you would like any further information about this course, or have anything else that you would like help with, I would be delighted to hear from you. Just email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Take care, and remember – just like a beautiful garden, maintain and tend to your relationship to feel it thrive!
*Client confidentiality is always protected. Case studies are therefore fictional and for illustrative purposes only.