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.
John*, a 40 year old Lawyer, was upset and angry. His wife Donna*, 39, was on the verge of leaving him. When I asked John what he thought the problem was, he said:-
“I don’t know why she’s so upset with me. She never pays me any attention these days. She spends all this extra time at work, creates lots of problems with her boss, and then comes home and complains about it. I get so annoyed with her. She’s the one with the problem.”
Donna was deeply frustrated on hearing this, and had a completely different experience of the relationship.
“No matter what I do lately, John criticises me and blames me for everything”.
Donna was experiencing a particularly difficult time at work. Her relationship with her boss had broken down and she was under a very tight deadline with a work project. But rather than support her or offer advice, John would often tell her that she was handling everything “wrong”, and that none of this would have happened if she was a “stronger person”. They would have blazing rows about it and John would refuse to take responsibility for the fact that his unhelpful and critical comments were upsetting to Donna.
I sensed that John was very angry with Donna for some reason. In an effort to understand why, I asked them about their relationship history.
It turned out that early on in their marriage, Donna had had a brief affair. John was devastated at the time but thought that he had forgiven Donna. Relationship Coaching lead to the realisation that he hadn’t forgiven her or fully moved on.
John felt like he was the victim in the relationship, having been “wronged”. In fact he had moved from being the “victim” to becoming the Persecutor – unable to contain his anger, he was punishing Donna with his constant criticism as a way of discharging his own difficult, unresolved feelings.
The communication had broken down between them so much that they both completely lacked empathy for each other.
I started by teaching them effective and compassionate communication skills, to enable them to get everything out on the table – a kind of relationship “amnesty”. I helped them to create a safe space to enable them to bring up issues that hadn’t been talked about in years, if ever. All of John’s bottled-up sadness and disappointment came out, but rather than directing it angrily at Donna, he was able to say it in a respectful way. Donna was shocked at how much emotion John still carried over the affair. She immediately felt more empathy for John, and could finally understand why he had been so critical of her.
Having got everything out in the open, after a few weeks John was able to forgive Donna. He stopped feeling like the victim, so was able to stop being the Persecutor.
The result? They repaired their old, unhealed relationship wounds and their marriage became stronger than ever.
Sometimes in relationships, all that’s needed is for both partners to really talk honestly about how they feel. This can dis-spell any assumptions and clear up any mis-understandings. It”s natural that some couples avoid this for fear of conflict escalating into a huge argument, particularly if the emotions are very strong.
But what if you felt confident in your communication, and sure that you were able to resolve conflict in a healthy, compassionate way? This is what I have helped hundreds of couples with, and continue to help couples with, every single day. Effective communication is not always easy. But I can show you that it is possible.
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.
Look out for the next blog post where I will be exploring the Victim role, and how that can play out in conflict.
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.