I am trained and certified as a Transactional Analysis psychotherapist and also teach and supervise Transactional Analysis psychotherapy. At home, I live with my husband, my 91-year old father in law and my teenage daughter. Hence working with relationships and relationship dynamics, forms the fulcrum of what I do and my life itself! Over the years, my work has taught me that even in the best of relationships, there is an ongoing titration that is needed for sustenance and joy, requiring a fine balance of give and take.
Humans are social animals and we extend ourselves in relationships. One of the key challenges that are presented in individual, couple, family or group counselling and psychotherapy is relationship issues. They manifest in some way or the other with most individuals; at home, at work and in different ways.
This article on relationship dynamics provides a platform for individuals to explore with ‘What’s happening within me’ and ‘What’s happening with the other/s with reference to me’. Although many do not acknowledge how important people in their lives are, they experience loneliness in the absence of adequate connection or contact with others.
There are many aspects that hold relationships together. In this article, I explore with three aspects in a relationship; Chemistry, sustained Connection and ongoing Contact, held at its core by trust.
1.Relationship Dynamics – Chemistry is what happens at the gut
When Mala and her husband Deepak first met, they had a great time and shared a special chemistry. Something about each other kept them meeting repeatedly. Sustained chemistry paved the way for connection. Early in their relationship they could intuitively work out what the other needed.
Chemistry is a ‘knowing’; that, there are some energies that are working between one person and another. It takes two to tango; and for both to feel the chemistry. I recall that when I was dating, it was important for me to ‘click’ and feel the chemistry, without which I would not meet someone again. However, just chemistry is not enough.
2.Relationship Dynamics – Connection, the invisible handshake between two people
With chemistry in place, connection can be the ‘invisible handshake’, that forms the bridge between two people. Often it’s about ‘extending that hand’ in a relationship.
It might be a call that is picked up by a friend; or you visiting me when I’m sick; acknowledging someone who helps or a reportee volunteering to stay on and work late, when the pressure is high. Connections go beyond routine emails, Whatsapp forwards and Facebook posts.
Relationships are about having the experience of connecting with someone in an ongoing manner. This can happen when the relationship is going smooth; and is especially important when there’s a storm brewing.
Connections can dead-end and fail to blossom into relationships for a number of reasons. When two people fight, if both parties refuse to budge, the connection can snap. Restoring the relationship later can become a huge task.
When I notice that my daughter is upset with her close friend, even if I’m busy, I can establish connection by telling her that I notice she’s upset. I can then decide with her as to when we can discuss it. If I fail to notice her, I have lost the opportunity to connect with her.
The good news is that connections can be re-established even when a relationship goes sour. It requires courage and willingness by one of the parties in any relationship, to be vulnerable and take that step forward.
3.Relationship Dynamics – Contact, with self and the other
Contact is possible when a person is fully present to his or her own inner processes and external behaviours; and is observant and aware of what is going on with the other person.
When my friend Ragini approached me to write this article, I initially refused, saying “I’m busy” etc. I was in contact with being overwhelmed with the work I had committed myself to. Yet, I also got in contact with a part of me, that was sensitive to the commitment that I had made to her. When I re-looked at how I could rearrange my work, I felt the surge of energy to recommit to her, to complete this article;… And here it is!
Here, we have the notion of internal contact (with self) and external contact (with the other). Contact refers to the quality of the interactions between two people. Often, the lack of contact happens when we get into a series of patterned, locked interactions with another. At times, people say what they do, without considering how it lands on the other. It often comes from reacting to a stressful situation.
Relationships are sustained by all the three aspects
I recall that I had a deep level of relationship with a particular friend. One morning, something that I said to her set her off on a tirade and in front of our common friends, she expressed some harsh words to me. Over the next three days, I decided that she does not deserve my friendship; and that whenever I’d meet her, I would avoid her gaze; and even if I did, I was aware of the angry look that I would give her!
Contact internally is the awareness of internal sensations, feelings, thoughts and needs. Contact externally involves the rapid shift to full awareness of external realities, registered by our sensory organs.
Once the anger that I felt, simmered down, I sat for a while and accessed my feelings. I checked in and became aware of my body sensations and realised that I had a knot in my stomach of losing this friend forever! That was it. I had contacted fear beneath the injury of insult and anger that I felt. I also felt warm feelings of love for her, beneath the fear. I decided to take that step forward to heal our relationship.
Next day, I mustered strength and courage to approach her and asked her if she would care to have a chat? She immediately agreed! I shared how I did not like what she had done; and that I know the essence of who she was and that mattered more than anything else. We both realised in our conversation that we had said some things to each other and misunderstood some other things. We had both sat high on our chairs of respective egos, refusing to come down and listen to what the other was communicating, thus creating a mess on that day. At the end of our conversation over hot idlis and coffee, the relationship and trust were restored.
In retrospect, I had contacted my internal self, acknowledged the anger and hurt of how she had lashed out, as well as the fear of losing our relationship and the love and chemistry that I felt for her. I then established contact with the external events in the past. Then in the present, with her, using my senses to access her body language, I once again made connection with her.
A guiding principle of relationships is mutual respect and trust in the other’s integrity.
We learn to build on the chemistry which keeps us drawn towards one another. Through ongoing connection and sustained contact, we build this relationship, which provides affirmation of such integrity; and ultimately deep trust.
This kind of trust allows us to falter at times and yet recover, thus “meeting others half-way” in relationships.
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