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How To Get Close To Your Partner

To Get Close, You Must Undo Dysfunctional Bonding Patterns

What is a bonding pattern? It’s essentially the way that a couple relate to each other. In terms of the well-known and popular theory of transactional analysis (TA), a bonding pattern might be seen in exchanges (“transactions”) between the two members of a couple which look more like the exchanges between a parent and child.

In TA terms this would be regarded as a parent-child transaction. Of course, there are plenty of occasions when it’s appropriate for a couple to relate to each other in ways that are reminiscent of a mother or father relating to a child: we all need comfort and reassurance occasionally. Problems start when two people become locked into a fixed and inappropriate way of relating.

For one thing, the more like a parent your partner behaves, the less you will want to have sex with them. Even on a practical level, apart from a co-dependent masochist, who would wish to have sex with somebody who was bossing them around like a parent treating a wayward child?

And most man will get tired of being a naive woman’s “daddy”, cheering her up and reassuring her, in the face of her anxiety and self-doubt.

And any man who walks through the door at the end of a hard day at work to be greeted by a barrage of instructions that would be more appropriate between a mother and child will rapidly get turned off. These things are not appropriate in any sexual relationship, let alone a long term one.

Equally, a woman who is treated like a child by an overbearing and arrogant partner isn’t going to feel much attraction to him sexually. And so on.

You can probably identify within your own relationship the transactions between you and your partner (this simply means the things you say and the way you act) that can lead to the crossed parent-child transactions, the inappropriate responses, and inevitably the unhelpful emotional reactions. 

But whatever you call these inappropriate transactions, they get in the way of a real relationship as adult equals, and they destroy your sex life. In order to consistently treat each other both physically and psychologically as adults, there needs to be a process of undoing these unhelpful bonding patterns. The best relationships come from a meeting of the clear, clean strong archetypes of a man and a woman, without historical shadows triggering each of them into a place of conflict. (Read about the human shadow here, and why it can destroy relationships. You can hear more in this podcast about the shadow, too.)

If you are interested in shadow work or healing the shadow side of yourself, read this.

Undo Parental Transference

Bonding patterns are all about parental transference. This isn’t psychobabble, it is simply common sense. Of course no adult likes to be treated like a child, and whenever this happens within a relationship trouble starts.

But it’s all too easy for us to fall back into the roles of mother and father to our partners, prompted very often by their behaviour which reminds us of those incredibly powerful and long-lasting roles that we learnt during our family upbringing.

So how, then, do we get ourselves out of the place where we see our wife as our mother and our husband as our father? (By the way, these bonding patterns apply to unmarried couples and couples living together just as much as they do to married couples.)

Well, first of all, you do not have to completely abandon these roles, for there are places within a relationship where they are entirely appropriate. This could include when you are comforting or advising your partner, or when they feel vulnerable or ill, for example.

Nonetheless, mature or and adult men and women must learn to make the transition from parental roles to adult roles, and they must do this with a sense of their own power and emotional maturity.

When a couple are interacting in a way that both of them feel might be more appropriate to the interaction between child and parent, it’s possible for one or both of them to intervene using their adult mature personality.

What this might mean in practice depends on the circumstances. If, for example, a man arrives home after a hard day at work and wants to be comforted by his partner, then, yes of course she can do this. However, she may choose to do it for a limited time using her adult discretion to decide when it would be appropriate to shift the emotional states by saying something like “and now you can hear about my day.”

A great place to start undoing parental transference is with simple physical affection — the sensuous feeling of skin to skin. It’s a constant amazement to me how simple bodily contact, that is to say, naked bodily contact, can get us beyond the emotional blocks and neuroses that affect our interactions in everyday life.

Since naked skin to skin contact is a powerful sexual signal, it can be a powerful way of releasing the inhibitions that afflict our intimate sexual relationships. It’s also very easy to make the transition between nonsexual touch and sexual touch.

All you have to do is to make the touch into a sexual or potentially sexual stimulus: so, for example, that might mean taking your partner into the bedroom and embracing and comforting them, but also taking pleasure in the intimate physical exchange yourself.

As your embrace moves from the nonsexual to the sexual parts of the body, you will both gradually slip into a place of sensuality which reflects the adult-adult relationship between you. (A meeting of adult King and adult Queen, in archetypal terms. The whole concept of shadow and archetypes is explained here. You can read about these archetypes here. Read more about the shadow here.)

The point I’m getting at here is that by starting with nonsexual touch and transitioning into sexual touch, you can unscramble the roles of mother/father and lover/lover.

A good way to increase the distance between parent-child transactions and a lover-lover relationship is to consciously start in a position that could be adopted between parent and child: for example, a woman can start by cradling her partner’s head on her breasts and gradually turn this into a lover/lover relationship.

As the lovers allow themselves to become fully aware of the potentially sexual nature of the embrace, they can follow wherever it may take them.

We discussed earlier the phenomenon of turning yourself off: so it’s important that as you do this you do not turn yourself off or revert to a parent-child transaction.

Instead allow yourself to be turned on, to move from the embrace of parent and child to the sexual embrace of two lovers. If you are a woman doing this to your partner, you might like to slip your hand gently under his shirt and start caressing his chess.

From there, it’s only a short step downwards to undoing his trousers and caressing his stomach. And from there it’s an even shorter step down to caressing his penis. Do you begin to see how this sort of exercise can take you from a parental place to an adult lover’s place? You’re not denying any aspect of your relationship with each other, whether this is parent-child or adult-adult.

We are so programmed to slip easily into a critical, judgemental place, and it is this, perhaps, which turns people off each other faster than anything.

I would suggest one of the major causes of erectile dysfunction is hostility to a partner: you can read more about this here. Rather, you’re delineating the boundary between the parental aspect of your relationship and the adult sexual aspect of your relationship.

It is helpful at times to identify anything within your relationship that might be adding to the parent-child dynamic. There’s a certain charm for some women in the boyish irresponsibility that they see in their partner; however, that boyish charm can quickly become irritating if he’s incapable of finding his socks or doing his own washing.

Needless to say of course, men who fall into this category will often have good reason to criticise their female partners for acting like a housewife and mommy, telling them where to put their shoes or how to clean up or how to do jobs.

 It’s amazing how women can emasculate men, and equally startling how men can infantilise women without even really trying.

This can be particularly true of the people who are married: marriage itself, as we discussed earlier, can infantilise people by putting them back in the relationships they occupied in their own families as children.

If you feel that your relationship is claustrophobic, and that the only time when you have the freedom to behave as an adult is when you get out of the house, then you definitely need to look at issues of parental transference between the two of you. Monogamy will not be likely to survive healthily when the two individuals are in a co-dependent relationship.

Affairs Don’t “Just Happen”!

Affairs don’t “just happen”!

The reality is that many of us have affairs. Estimates vary, but probably up to 60% of men and 45% of women women within established couples have sex with someone outside the relationship, maybe just once, maybe more often than that.

 A high proportion of these people will say, when asked why they did it, “It just happened, I couldn’t help myself.”

But this is dishonest on many levels. There is always a point at which everyone in a committed relationship decides whether or not they would stay faithful if the opportunity to have sex with another person arose.

That’s a decision you’ve probably already made, even if you don’t know it yet. Ask yourself, if a situation arose that offered you the “right” partner in the “right” circumstances (often meaning you were dismayed and unhappy with the way your relationship was going), would you or wouldn’t you have sex with them?

Yes or No? So now you know – you can actually decide to stay faithful or not. It’s good to make that choice, because when the temptation arises you will know what you’re going to do. Idealistic?

Possibly, but it avoids the dishonesty of pretending that an affair “just happened” on the spur of the moment. They never do, even when a person’s under the influence of drink or drugs. Here’s the truth.

The reason affairs happen is because somebody sees in another person’s some quality or opportunity that they believe they lack in their own long term relationship. It may be emotional intimacy, or it may be sexual experience, or it may even just be the chance to express lustful desire.

 But the irony is that all of these qualities can be expressed within a permanent, committed, monogamous relationship if you try hard enough. And there’s the rub!

It isn’t that these things are impossible – it’s just that we don’t know how to do them. We don’t know how to achieve the degree of intimacy that seems attractive with a new partner. We do not know how to maintain the intimacy of the lovers within us, which is ironic since we really want nothing more than intimacy and connection with another person. (This desire is in our nature. It is the essence of the archetypal energy within us which we call the Lover.)

Video – the Lover archetype

We can’t imagine how to try the sexual experimentation that we so long for when sex and communication seems to have died out in our own relationship. So, rather than turning to a new partner, why not try the program for an exciting sexual life that’s described on this website?

If you try it and you still find that your relationship is going nowhere, you have other choices. I have heard of men (and women) who have said that having an affair has kept their relationship together; and I have heard from men (and women) who have said that having an affair has ended their relationship.

It’s worthwhile pointing out that if somebody ends a relationship and moves to live with their new partner from the affair, more often than not they find themselves back at square one in no time at all — except that there is the additional burden of a broken family, damaged children, disrupted lifestyle, financial distress and who knows what else to cope with.

Even the way in which an affair is conducted can say a lot about your original relationship: for example, even having an affair can be an aggressive act for a man who can’t express his anger against his partner. (In archetypal terms this might mean he has a deficient Warrior Archetype.)

A woman who wants romance, excitement and the thrill of passion may turn to the heightened sensations of an affair with a man who seems to provide these qualities. Somebody who’s guilty or scared about having sex with their spouse may end up having impersonal sex outside the house, perhaps with a sex worker, or in an affair. And so on.

One thing’s for sure: there is always a reason why affairs happen. It’s exciting to be obsessed with another person, to be consumed by sexual desire and lust.

To enjoy a passionate, possibly illicit, liaison in a hotel or even in the marital bed can be tremendously exciting. But these affairs tend to mix fantasy and reality in a damaging way; the fantasy is often an idealistic fantasy of how things could be or should be or might be, not how they actually turn out to be.

Bear in mind too that having an affair is a definite step away from your relationship. An affair may not end your relationship, but it certainly will change it in some way. After all, relationships – or most of them – have some implicit commitment to sexual faithfulness over the long term.

This is particularly true if you happen to be a person who believes that sex should always be conducted within a committed relationship. No matter how you justify an affair to yourself, if you end up switching relationships, you may well find that nothing much has changed when you’re in the new relationship.

An affair always raises the question of why you got into a relationship with a particular person to start with: whatever those reasons were, are they no longer important to you?

 I don’t want to deny the possibility that circumstances change so much that a new relationship is sometimes appropriate; it just seems to me that it’s more honest to end one relationship before you start the next. And to do that, you really need to have come to the final conclusion that your existing relationship cannot be sustained over the long term, even if you have tried everything that seems reasonable to preserve it.

Many people end up in affairs saying something like: “It just seemed natural to move from a friendship to a sexual relationship.” But you need to ask yourself what is driving the force that led you to think the affair would be so much more rewarding than your existing relationship?

As I said above, fantasy often turns out to be nowhere as good as reality. And if you’re thinking of accommodating an affair outside your relationship while still maintaining that original relationship, keep in mind that this will put a tremendous strain on you: it’s not a natural situation, and few people find it easy to sustain the deception.

 If you cast your mind back to the discussion on how we turn ourselves off, which is what we seem to do during sex with our regular, committed monogamous partner, you may see how easy it can be (if you want to do so) to turn yourself off to the fantasy of sex with your affair or potential affair. (This is a way of staying faithful: you think negatively about your affair.)

For example, imagine the distress of your children when you leave them, instead of the happiness of the sex with your affair. Imagine the financial consequences instead of peaceful, serene dinners together followed by romantic sex.

Imagine having five more children under the age of eight while supporting your original family on maintenance with visiting rights once a month. No doubt there are many other ways you could turn yourself off to the thought of an affair, but in the end it’s a matter of choice. (Oh, and possibly, your mental health.)

It’s also clear to me that a lot of people who spend enormous amounts of time and energy working at an affair, hiding it from their partner, sustaining the interest of the new sexual partner, and so on, could expend that energy on their own existing relationship.

Likewise, the thrills and excitement you may feel with your lover can be put into your existing relationship if you really want to; the passionate sex can be a part of your current relationship; the energy and pride you feel can be transmuted into security, trust and love within your existing relationship.

All that energy is available to you. You and your partner can both benefit from the energy that you would otherwise be putting somewhere else. The real issue is finding out why you want to divert the energy you could be putting into your relationship into an affair.