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S2 EP149 – Becoming Aware of Your Underlying Relationship System

Episode Summary

Are you aware of your relationship system? Is your system full of love, kindness, and support, or is your system rife with strife or distance? It’s often hard to see your own end of a dysfunctional relationship system, but this is essential if you have a chance of healing it.


Hi everyone. Dr. Margaret Paul here with the Inner Bonding podcast. Today I want to address a topic that can be fairly hidden in relationships – your underlying relationship system.

All relationships have a system. Sometimes the system is a wonderful flowing system where both people are able to operate as loving adults. They are open, kind, loving, taking responsibility for their feelings and for filling themselves up with love, and able to share their love with each other. Unfortunately, this isn’t the most common system.

The most common underlying system isn’t a system between loving adults – it’s a system governed by the controlling wounded self – because most people have never learned to be a loving adult. Most of us grew up in families that role modeled a system based on the protective controlling behavior of their wounded selves.

Here is an example of what I mean by an underlying relationship system governed by the wounded self.

Gerald and Debra consulted with me because they were feeling distant from each other for a long time. They had been married for 26 years and were considering divorce, yet neither wanted to divorce. They had a wonderful lifestyle with many friends and family, and they didn’t want to break up their family.

I worked with each of them individually before seeing them together. Each of them was very aware of what the other person was doing to create the distance, and neither was aware of their own part of the system. Each thought they were just reacting to the other person’s unloving behavior from their wounded self, rather than how they were coming from their own wounded self.

Here is how Debra described their problems:

“Gerald is a kind and caring man some of the time, but he has a really bad temper that comes out about once a month, and he tends to complain a lot about work. Over the years, I’ve learned to walk away when he starts yelling and blaming, but I often walk on eggshells, afraid of triggering his anger. He gets really mean when he’s angry and says awful things to me, just like his father. His father was worse, he was violent, but I guess Gerald learned to get angry from his father. After, he feels badly and apologizes, but that doesn’t help because he keeps doing it.

“Almost every day when he comes home from work, he complains and acts like a victim of his employees, even though he’s the owner of the company. His mother was a complainer, a martyr, and a victim, and he acts just like her when he’s complaining. I can’t stand his complaining but when I say something about it, he either gets really angry or he shuts down, completely shutting me out. So I’ve learned to listen to his complaints, but I’m not attracted to him when he acts like a victim, and then he’s upset that I’m not turned on to him. I feel stuck because if I speak up, I get his anger or withdrawal, and if I don’t I feel I’m being used for him to vent and dump on.

“The other thing I’ve noticed is something that’s very confusing to me.  I recently started a new business that I’ve been wanting to do for a long time. He knows how much this means to me, and on the surface, he’s been very supportive. But whenever I’m in a really great place, feeling like I can really make this happen, he starts complaining and acting at other times like he does when he comes home from work. It feels like he knows that this pulls me down and makes it harder for me to do what I need to do to make this business work. And again, if I say anything, he gets mad and shuts down and I feel like I lose his love and support. I do better with everything when we are connected and he knows this, so I don’t get why he does this, but it feels awful.”

Someone hearing just Debra’s description of Gerald’s side of the system might think that he is the primary problem, but this is never the case. After her individual session, I looked forward to hearing from Gerald, knowing that I would get a more complete picture of their system.

Here is how Gerald described their problems:

“Lots of times we are in a good place and out of nowhere, Debra starts to stress about something. It might be about the kids, or about money, or about her new business, or about her parents. She will scrunch up her mouth and fret just like her mother, and sometimes she cries and gets hysterical. I hate it when she does this, but if I say anything, she denies she is fretting or getting hysterical, or she will get angry and tell me I’m not there for her. I don’t know how to be there for her when she’s like that. I get really frustrated when she does this.”

As I listened to each of them, I started to get a sense of what was going on in this system.

Then, when I saw them together, I got really clear on their system that was creating the distance and disconnection between them. It was obvious to me that they still loved each other, but their underlying system was grinding away at their love.

Like so many of the couples I work with, they were each reacting to the other’s wounded self with their own wounded self, and they each believed that it was the other person’s fault for how they were reacting. Like all of us, they had each absorbed the wounded selves of their parents, and each were afraid to speak up about their feelings for fear of the others’ reaction. They were stuck in a protective, controlling circle and unaware of their own participation in the wounded circle.

While each thought the other started the circle, no one started the circle – the circle had a life of its own.

Debra thought Gerald started the circle with his complaining, but he said that, in speaking with me, he realized that his complaining was really a way he was reacting to Debra’s stressing. Debra then realized that her stressing wasn’t really about the kids or money or other things – it was her response to Gerald’s complaining. Because neither felt safe is speaking up in the moment the other was acting out of their wounded self, their upset came out in their learned wounded behaviors.

We talked about their parents, and we named their wounded selves after their parents. Debra’s mother’s name is Ruth and her father’s name is Henry. When Debra is stressing or being hysterical, she is being just like Ruth, and when she is angry and in denial, she is being just like Henry.

Gerald’s mother is Isabel, and his deceased father was Joe. When Gerald is complaining, he is being Isabel, and when he’s raging and being mean, he’s being Joe.

Both Debra and Gerald had reached a point where the other person acting like their parents was no longer tolerable, while neither had realized that they were both responding to the other’s wounded self with their own wounded self.

Both Debra and Gerald become open to hearing from their spouse when they were being Ruth and Henry or being Isabel and Joe. We worked on what they could say that wasn’t an accusation, but rather an offering of awareness by expressing their feelings. Debra learned to say, “I love you Gerald, but I don’t like being with you when you are being Isabel or Joe,” and Gerald learned to say something similar. By speaking up for themselves rather stuffing their feelings out of fear of the other’s reaction, each was able to do their part in staying open rather than reverting to their learned reactions. They saw that their negative circle would just continue until they each become more aware of their learned wounded reactions, and they needed each other to speak up in the moment to gain this awareness.

As they each become more aware of their own reactive wounded selves, and they each had the courage to speak up in the moment when the other acted from their wounded self, their relationship gradually improved.

Even Gerald’s mean anger, born out of his frustration with Debra’s stressing and hysteria, gradually diminished.

There was no way that Debra or Gerald could see this system themselves because each had their eyes on the other. They needed a third pair of eyes of educated eyes to understand the underlying system.

The underlying system always has to do with control. Both Debra and Gerald were trying to have control over getting the other’s compassion with their acting-out behavior, rather than taking responsibility for having compassion for their own feelings and learning to speak up for their feelings. As each learned and practiced Inner Bonding and learned to take responsibility for their own feelings, they each stopped trying to get the other to give them what they were not giving to themselves. And as a result, they were each able to develop more compassion, not only for themselves, but also for each other regarding the effect their wounded behavior had on their spouse.

Here is another example of an underlying system governed by the wounded self:

Fred and Katie consulted with me because, like Debra and Gerald, they were contemplating divorce. Married for 35 years with children and grandchildren, they also didn’t want to break up their family, so they decided to seek my help. It didn’t take me long to see their dysfunctional system.

Fred was a typical ‘nice guy’, giving himself up to everyone to prove what a good person he is. But when he didn’t get the approval he wanted from Katie, he would eventually explode at her.

Katie constantly had her eyes on everyone but herself – on Fred, on her kids, and on her friends. She was one of those people who believed she knew what was right for everyone else and would often ask interrogating questions, as one of her forms of control, to get the other person to look at what they were doing wrong. She often had a righteous tone in her voice – another form of control – and she wondered why she kept losing friends. She was also an over-giver as another form of control and was often exhausted, and then blamed Fred for not doing enough. Fred would get very frustrated with this and then either withdraw or get angry, and then Katie would blame him for that. Fred told me that he couldn’t speak up for himself with Katie because she would just defend herself and get even more righteous, so that was why he was giving up and thinking about divorce.

Fortunately, both Katie and Fred were open to learning about their system. Katie gave Fred permission to tell her when she was being righteous and controlling, and Fred agreed to muster the courage to speak up, rather than get angry or withdrawn. It’s truly amazing how quickly a long-term system can begin to heal when both people are open to learning and practice Inner Bonding! As long as there is a shred of love left, which there certainly was with both of these couples, the relationship can heal and become full of the sharing of love.

There are many different kinds of dysfunctional relationship systems, all based on both overt and covert forms of control. Sometimes one person covertly controls with compliance – giving themselves up and being a good girl or boy to have control over getting love and avoiding disapproval. Then, when they don’t get the expected approval, they might get angry, an overt form of control.

Others try to control overtly with demands, anger, threats, and so on. Others try to control by withdrawing their love, shutting down to punish the other person into complying. Some people try to have control over not being controlled with resistance, fearing losing themselves if they open to love.

All these forms of control create different kinds of underlying relationship systems that cause the love to get lost. Sometimes there is a compliance-compliance system, where both people are over-giving caretakers, pulling for approval by giving themselves up. This system might be peaceful, but it lacks the juice for passion, so it’s generally a companionship relationship.

Sometimes the system is when one person is overtly controlling with demands, anger, blame, and threats, and the other person is a caretaker, giving in to the demands, until they realize that there is no love coming back and they are drained from the over-giving. Then they might get angry or leave the relationship.

Sometimes both people are overtly controlling, both getting angry and demanding and blaming, and there is a lot of fighting in this relationship. There might also be passion in this relationship, which is what often keeps it together.

Often, there is a control-resist system, where one person is either overtly or covertly controlling, and the other person controls not being control by going into resistance.

None of these systems lead to the sharing of love, which happens only when each person is intent on loving themselves and taking responsibility for their own feelings, rather than trying to control getting love and avoiding pain. This is the kind of relationship two people can create when they are willing to practice Inner Bonding and develop their spiritually connected loving adult. When they both develop their loving adult, capable of accessing the love and wisdom of their higher guidance, and bringing love into their heart and soul, then they have love to share with their partner, and in my experience, this is the most wonderful experience in life.

Most people think that getting love is what fulfills. Others believe it is the giving of love. Yet the highest experience in life is the sharing of love, which we can’t do unless we are loving ourselves.

When our hearts are open, the love that is God comes into the physical body and fills us with the delicious feelings of joy and peace. Love is always available, as available as the air we breathe. Yet most people do not go through their days filled with love, joy, and peace. Instead, due to their self-abandonment and the resulting dysfunctional relationship systems, they feel empty and alone, and, along with using various addictions to fill the emptiness and aloneness, try to overtly or covertly control their partner to fill the emptiness and aloneness.

Coming from the belief that their partner needs to be their source of love, they try in various ways to gain control over getting love from their partner, which, as you’ve seen, grinds down the love. And trying to feel filled through your partner or others is an exhausting way to live.

Do you try to get filled through the giving of love? The problem here is that unless you are first bringing love into yourself and then sharing your love from a full place within, the giving of love becomes just another manipulation to get love – another form of control. This is caretaking – giving to get. I can tell you from personal experience, since this was my major addiction, that caretaking does not to lead to feeling filled up with love, peace, and joy. Rather, it leads to feeling drained, used, and resentful, since rarely do others give back the love you hope for.

As I said, the highest experience in life with another person is the sharing of love. A circle of love is experienced when two or more people are sharing love from a full place within.

We are full of love within only when we have a spiritually connected loving adult self who is intent on taking loving care of ourselves. When our intent is to take full personal responsibility for ourselves – physically, emotionally, spiritually, financially, organizationally, and relationally – then our inner child feels loved and safe inside. Our intent to support our own highest good opens the door to connection with spirit, and love fills our hearts and souls. This deeply peaceful and joyous feeling can then be shared with your partner and with others whose hearts are also open to loving and learning.

The sharing of love is truly an amazing experience. It can happen in person or over the phone or on Skype or Zoom. It can happen in letters or email. Time and place and space are irrelevant – love is an energy that can be experienced from any distance. Each of us has the opportunity to be messengers of love when we do our inner work and become able to share love with others.

The wounded self in most people does not understand the vast difference between the getting of love and the sharing of love. Because getting a bit of love from someone feels good, the wounded self thinks that the best feelings come from getting love. Until you have the experience of bringing Divine Love into your heart and soul, you do not realize that loving yourself brings far greater joy than getting love. And until you are loving yourself, you cannot experience the even greater joy of sharing love with others. There is no addiction – no drug, no food, no experience – that comes close to the incredible joy of feeling the love-that-is-God within and sharing that love with your partner and with others.

If you have never had the experience of sharing love, you may not realize what you are missing. Sometimes it may seem hard to be motivated to keep doing your inner work if you have never experienced the joy of loving yourself and sharing your love with others. I hope you keep in mind that only by doing your inner work will you ever be able to experience the greatest experience on the planet – the sharing of love!

It’s when you are open to learning about loving yourself that you are able to heal an unloving relationship system. Instead of leaving an unloving relationship – unless there is physical or severe emotional abuse – why not practice Inner Bonding and heal your end of the unloving system? Even if just one of you learns to love yourself instead of trying to control getting love and avoiding pain, the system can heal. Of course, it’s easier to heal a controlling relationship system when both people are on board for healing their wounded self, but I’ve worked with many individuals who were able to completely transform their relationship into a loving relationship by doing their own Inner Bonding work. The system has to change when one person changes their end of the relationship system.

And if the dysfunctional system doesn’t heal and you move on, when you’ve done your inner work, you won’t be taking all the controlling behaviors of your wounded self with you into your next relationship. And, since we attract at our common level of self-love or self-abandonment, you have a far better chance of attracting a loving partner when you are loving yourself.

You can heal your relationships with my very powerful and unique 30-Day online video relationship course: Wildly, Deeply, Joyously in Love.

You can learn so much about loving yourself and creating loving relationships from my recent books:

And we have much to offer you at our website at

I’m sending you my love and my blessings.

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