Counselling in Wokingham – Polarisation

Paul Cockayne – 07791

This blog is intended to give you a flavour of how I work as a counsellor. You can find more information about me by clicking one of the links above

In relationships, we sometimes find ourselves caught in “vicious circles” – patterns of behaviour that are destructive but difficult to change. For example, suppose one of you tends to be stricter with your children than the other. The strict parent may see their partner as “too soft” – and become a little stricter to compensate. The more liberal partner, on the other hand, may well see their partner as being “too hard”, and be inclined to be softer with the kids to make up for it. If this pattern continues, you and your partner can become increasingly polarised, one becoming the “nice parent” and the other the “nasty parent”. You might have started off being a little different to each other, but after a while, you can become complete opposites. This can become difficult to shift because both of you can see the fault as lying with your partner – “I have to be strict because he/she is so soft” – and so this can become an area of conflict between you.

With this example of parenting, there is another dimension, because kids are very adept at playing one parent off against the other. So they will learn that if they want something, they go to the soft parent. And if they’ve done something naughty, and the hard parent is trying to tell them off, they may be able to find a way for the soft parent to rescue them.

This sort of polarisation can happen in every area of a relationship – financially (spender and saver), socially (introvert and extrovert), in communications (talker/listener), sexually (initiator/responder) and so on.

In all these examples, the results can be the same. You might start the relationship being slightly different – one of you may do 60% of the talking, the other 40%, for instance. Over time this can drift to a position where the ratio becomes 90/10 or even 100/0. This is nobody’s fault, or perhaps it is better to say that is the responsibility of both of you – you’ve both unwittingly let that happen. The remedy lies with both of you – with the talker to listen more and the listener to talk more. If only one of you changes you will either find that total silence descends or that you are both talking at once!

Counselling can help with this pattern of polarisation, first of all by helping you to identify that it is happening – it may not be obvious to you, you may be too close to it, but an impartial observer may see it more clearly. Once the pattern is identified, you can acknowledge that it is nobody’s fault, but just an unfortunate result of the interactions between you. And with that comes the ability to change it, by both parties stepping away from their polarised positions to a more central position. You will always be different, of course, but differences can be a source of great strength in a relationship, they don’t have to be a source of conflict.

About Paul Cockayne

Counsellor, musician, iPhone developer, games-player, cheese-lover....
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