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The Relationship “Scales of Justice”

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by Steve Wright, LCPC

staff_stevewRelationships sometimes get stuck in patterns that are unhealthy. When those patterns become well established a system of relating develops that everyone dislikes but no one knows how to fix.

Those patterns have a variety of causes. For example, one’s family of origin creates expectations of how relationships ought to be done. When two people raised with differing family styles develop a relationship, each has his or her idea of how things should be. One might come from a family where parents never argued in front of the kids, the other from a family where arguments were vocal and heated. Both original families may have resolved issues well (or not) but the expectation of how to resolve conflict for the one is to do it behind closed doors and the other to resolve conflict in the open. The “behind closed doors” partner may feel frightened or disrespected by being argued with in front of others. The “in the open” partner may feel that the other is avoidant and won’t deal with issues openly.

Other patterns may develop through a series of negative interactions that get out of hand. One partner says something mean or sarcastic, the other reacts. Eventually, things develop into a metaphorical “cutting” war leaving both “bleeding” emotionally.

Once those patterns are deeply ensconced into the fabric of the relationship it is difficult to change. The willingness on the part of one or both individuals in the relationship to stop the negative patterns is key.

However, one of the major roadblocks to this is resentment and bitterness over past hurt. Holding on to those resentments and maintaining a bitter attitude will generally sabotage any attempt to overcome unhealthy relationship patterns.

An appropriate analogy is found in the idea of an old fashioned set of scales, something one might call the scales of justice. The picture is that of a rod balanced on a fulcrum with trays hanging from each end. One can imagine a partner “weighing” the sins and crimes of the other in the balance.

In one tray is piled all the things one is willing to own as “my fault.”
In the other is piled all the offenses and hurt and blame of the partner.

As the tray of the partner fills up, the scale begins to tip further and further down. Of course the person using the scales experiences a sense of being “above” the other with the opportunity to “look down” at the full tray of his or her partner. The effect this has is to remove motivation from making personal changes since, as one can clearly see from the scales of justice, the problem lies with the other partner, not with the individual.

So, what is the answer? Each individual must take his or her own “tray” out of the scale and stop the comparison.

Only then will each be able to begin the process of change. As one looks at and begins to own and deal with personal flaws, negative patterns, resentments and their repercussions in the relationship, and unrealistic expectations, change in the relationship can begin. When both are committed to do so, change can happen more quickly.

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