Have you ever wondered why some relationships just click and others drive us nuts?
Does your partner ever get under your skin for reasons you can’t quite understand? Do your friends tick you off without meaning to? Do certain people’s comments leave you feeling hurt (even though you’re sure they didn’t mean it)? You chalk it up to just the way it is or the way different relationship dynamics play out, but in truth, there’s probably more going on under the surface than you realize.
When you find yourself really bothered by something someone says or does, it’s a great opportunity to explore the deeper reasons why. As it turns out, your partner pissing you off by being on the phone, failing to replace the toilet paper roll, or making a joke at your expense isn’t about them being a “jerk.” It’s about the whole history of interactions that came long before they were even in the picture.
This realization may feel scary at first. We all want to believe we’re always in control of our feelings and emotions, no matter the situation, but we’re fooling ourselves. The reality is, a big portion of our personality—our likes, dislikes, beliefs, feelings, and reactions—are set long before we’re even aware of it. Much of this makeup, or what we call our “matrix” is formed when we’re very young.
So how does our matrix affect our relationship dynamics? How does it play into our romantic relationships and friendships? Does it really all come back to our relationship with our parents? Most importantly, can we change relationship dynamics?
Our past experience has a direct and complex effect on our present relationships. When we’re babies, our interactions with our parents shape and “wire” our brains. We depend on our parents for our very survival and to an infant, the mother is their entire world. This shapes us in many profound ways. The foundation of our matrix is laid down early on. This includes our beliefs about ourselves and our place within the world.
If we don’t decide to examine, explore, and change these beliefs, they will dictate our lives and behavior, including our relationship dynamics. If you’ve ever noticed your partners’ behavior ticks you off because it reminds you of your mother or father, this is an example of your matrix influencing your perception.
So, why can’t we just shut this off? None of us likes to believe that our feelings and beliefs might be beyond our control, right? Well, sometimes the memories and pieces of our makeup are unconscious. They’re so deeply buried in our core, we don’t even realize they happen.
Has someone ever just bothered you for seemingly no reason? Maybe you look back at the moment later and think, “what was that all about?” or “I don’t know why, but she just really bugs me.”
Interactions with others may trigger a series of feelings and emotions for reasons we can’t even understand. We may get hurt, angry, or sad because of the behavior of our partner or friends, but not completely understand why these feelings come up. Why do they piss us off so much? This is especially puzzling when little actions of others bother us but don’t seem to bother anyone else.
You may find yourself inexplicably drawn to the “bad boy” or “good girl-next-door” for reasons that aren’t so clear. Or you may find yourself in an echo-chamber of friends with similar beliefs, backgrounds and tastes. Once in a while you meet a stranger that you just hit it off with—you click with certain people for reasons you can’t even explain.
These are all examples of how your matrix plays a part in how you interact with others, how close you allow them to get, how comfortable you are expressing your feelings, and even how you feel about intimacy.
So, does this mean we’re all doomed to feel irritated with our partners for unconscious reasons? Or we’re only going to get along with people who remind us (or don’t remind us) of our parent? No! Of course not.
We can’t do anything to change our past, but we certainly have control over the here and now. Not a single person had a perfect childhood (and if you think you did, you’re fooling yourself!). But how exciting is it that as adults, we can continue to fill in those gaps, grow, and evolve into our fullest potential? By identifying these lessons from our past, we can use it to form better, more dynamic relationships and deeper connections.
If our matrix began forming before we were even aware, how do we change it? How can we even know what it is?
Part of picking up where our childhood development left off is gaining an understanding of implicit memory.
To identify and examine the root of our feelings, in this case, our frustration or anger, we must look closer to figure out what’s triggered our reaction. Our partner may have done something insensitive or just plain crummy. Our feelings are validly hurt by their actions, but it’s important to recognize the hurt is often stemming from several places (not one insensitive misstep).
We all know we want certain qualities in a relationship, but we may not understand why we want our partner or friends to act a certain way (and why it frustrates us so much when they don’t). For example, many of us feel frustrated when we can’t seem to get our partner’s attention, when they “phub” us in favor of their smart phones. Now, granted, there’s a lot to be said for putting down your phone and truly engaging, but do you ever ponder why it bothers you so much when someone brings out their phone at the dinner table?
When our partner instead opts for their phone screen, our yearning isn’t being met. Consequently, we feel hurt. Now, it’s not up to them to meet all our yearnings. We are responsible for our own emotions and feelings. But we can certainly explore where our frustration and hurt is coming from so we can speak up and say, “Hey, I feel ignored and it’s hurting me. Put the phone down!”
As infants, we have a powerful desire to see and be seen. From those early moments, our very survival depended on getting attention (in this case from our mothers). When we didn’t get attention, we were triggered to cry and make our presence known. After all, we relied on our mother for food, safety, and our very existence.
Studies show that babies read emotion by looking at their mothers’ faces. When a mother is non-reactive, the baby cries even if the mother is there. We want acknowledgment, not simply a presence on the other side of the dinner table. We want to be seen! We want our existence known! We want our partner to look up from the screen and look into our eyes!
No wonder it gets under our skin when our partner scrolls through social media instead of engaging with us over the dinner table. By examining how these feelings started, we can better express our likes and dislikes. We can express our frustrations and ask that our partner acknowledge us and tell us they’re seeing us. We can ask that they listen to us and meet our yearning to be seen and heard. Often, a simple realization and request is all it takes.
When we examine the origin of our feelings, beliefs, and makeup—our matrix—we start to understand ourselves more completely. We can engage with others more clearly and improve our relationship dynamics with all those we interact with.
For more on improving your relationship dynamics, visit the Wright Foundation website. Join us for an upcoming Foundations weekend, where we’ll explore these topics in-depth and help you build connections with others who are seeking to strengthen their relationships and maximize their potential. We also want to announce the availability of many of our courses for download. Don’t miss out on the special introductory price for many of our courses and lectures.
Dr. Bob Wright is an internationally recognized visionary, educator, program developer, leadership and sales executive, best-selling author and speaker. He is a co-founder of Wright and the Wright Graduate University.
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The Wright Foundation for the Realization of Human Potential is a leadership institute located in Chicago, Illinois. Wright Living performative learning programs are integrated into the curriculum at Wright Graduate University.