© Al Turtle 1998
When I don’t have much time with an audience, I often share this brief version of the Map of Relationships. Click Here for the full version.
Phase I ENMESHMENT
Most people begin their marriages, or their intimate relationships, following the tried/true method of falling in love. This sets up an interesting dynamic. Two people, clinging together, stating that “they are one.” Of course this kind of bonding only lasts for a relatively short length of time – months, a few years at the most. Pretty soon trouble begins.
I love the phrase, “In most relationships there is no room for two.” Another version is the idea “We are one. And I’m the one.” or “We are one. And you’re the one.” Relatively stable early marriages are often dependent on one partner staking out the “selfish” position, while the other gives in and takes the “unselfish” position. Many of us are trained to avoid “selfishness” and we fit into such a relationship for a while. “I let her have her way.” “He wears the pants in this family.”
The appearance of “Agreement” is important to both partners and to a great extent they avoid letting on that they don’t agree or they see things differently. I recall being in a verbal fight with my first wife, when some surprise guests arrived. Immediately the “fight” stopped and we seemed wonderful friends. This early period is often called ENMESHMENT. It is a time of “avoiding conflict” by keeping quiet about having different points of view. And for a while peace seems to reign. I have heard so many times some partner saying, “I loved it when you used to put me first.”
You can easily recognize these people by the repeated use of the word “we,” most often by one party, but frequently by both. Watch closely and you can see how vulnerable they are. Ask the question, “Who owns that ‘WE’ position?”
This first stage of a relationship is also characterized by an increasing tendency toward arguing, both verbal and eventually physically. This is the time of Master/Slave with one person trying to own the US section in the chart above. I believe this period is meant to end. It has to. It is based on a kind of emotional fraud. What next?
Phase II INTEGRITY
The next phase of a relationship emerges sometimes wildly, sometimes quietly. The couple split apart. They don’t always get a divorce.
Sometimes they just move out and live in separate houses. Sometimes they occupy separate bedrooms. However they split, a “space” emerges between them.
Why? Because the couples now gain something that was missing. They gain integrity. I believe the move toward wholeness and integrity is an in inborn one. The need to be a self, to be separate, to gain clarity by expressing one’s uniqueness often is delayed by the way we raise children. But this drive is strong. “The Lord built it into us.” It shows repeatedly during childhood. I think it is the drive behind a 2 year-old kid saying “No!”. It sometimes shows strongly among teenagers who say, “N0!” to anything their parents say. At any rate, it seems to emerge in relationship sooner or later. This outburst from the pain of enmeshment, seems to me, inevitable. It’s gonna happen.
This second phase is a time of building walls, of learning Boundaries and Boundary skills. This is a time of hanging on to Integrity.
I often think of integrity when I recall my kids leaving home. When they lived with me, the tools in my toolbox would wander around the house and often disappear. When my kids left, my tools stopped moving. My stuff became clear and reliable. My points of view also became more clear and reliable to me.
Looking back to the first part of my relationships, I realize that Phase I was a period of Dis-Integrity. I don’t want to return to it. I don’t want to disintegrate. I want to keep my integrity.
I think there are better ways, less crude ways of building Integrity in a relationship. Moving out seems a crude technique. I prefer to learn, use, and teach the tool of Mirroring. By practicing Mirroring I learn to label my things, my thoughts as mine, and I learn to label my partner’s things and thoughts as hers. Removing all MasterTalk really helps, because I am simulataneously respecting what my partner thinks AND ensuring room for my thoughts.
Phase II, the step toward Integrity is not the last stage. I think it has a major problem. While gaining Integrity, I have lost my friend. We are split apart. There is no US any more, and I don’t believe we, humans, are designed to live alone. I think there is a powerful temptation for those who used the crude tool of divorce to move from Phase I to Phase II, to go back into a new Enmeshed relationship just to regain an “US”. But I don’t see that as a wise solution.
PHASE III – A Special Kind of Community
The next move is to build a community, a team, a partnership. But it is a very special kind of partnership. It is not Enmeshed. It is not about dis-integrity. It is a community which values the Integrity of each participant. The community has rules, but they are not rules of power, subservience or obedience. They are rules of respect – particularly of respecting the uniqueness, the SELF, the integrity of each member. Gone is MasterTalk, for this is the space of Dialogue, the skills of mutually protecting and encouraging each person’s words, thoughts and beliefs. Gone is pursuaveness and interrupting, for this is the time of peaceful sharing and reflection. This is the world of Friend/Friend. Gone is the habit of threatening people who disagree and of arguing, for this is the time of taking delight in hearing other people’s ways of seeing the world.
A friend once told me that a “REAL MAN” never allows anyone to be disrespected in his presence. I think Phase III is the world of real men and real women. The skills are to maintain connection and integrity. These are the skills of community building.
I think it is easier to learn these skills if you had been brought up in a community that already knows and shows them. However, they seem rare. Most clients I see have come from Master/Slave families, and so the distance to go, the learning to accomplish, can be great. Well, get on with it. It’s your life.
Click Here for the handout in PDF.