How relationships work
Almost everyone wants a happy relationship. Few people know how to achieve them. Most individuals come to a relationship with old baggage of hurts, disappointments and anger that eventually color their current situation. Today’s research is studying happy couples to determine how they manage to live in harmony with each other given the number of stressors of daily life. System theory helps explain how some people learn to get along with each other in intimate relationship.
Why is learning about systems important? Because systems theory accurately describes how things work in relationships. A system is two or more people who interact with each other. Two friends, a family, a classroom, a school, a block, a city, a country and even our planet are examples of systems because there is mutual interaction. Your family is a system. How one person in the system acts effects the behavior of the next and so on. Members of a system are like the moving pieces of a mobile. The behavior of one person in the system effects the others just as touching one object of a mobile sets the whole system moving. One family member’s mood and behavior influence the others. System thinking goes beyond blaming others to seeing how things are for the whole group.
All systems have characteristics of being open systems or closed ones. Systems can be placed on a continuum from open to closed. Most family systems fall somewhere in the middle between open and closed. Systems vary from time to time in their ability to be open and closed. When more stressors come down on the system, they become more closed and rigid. The quality of life in your family, job or spiritual group system is generally based on the overall mental health of the most dominant member.
Certain behaviors and attitudes in system members make a system open. People are treated with love, respect and caring in open systems. Their needs are acknowledged. Learning to share feelings helps open up a system. Talk, trust and feel are the rules in an open system. The needs of the entire group and ways to break into reciprocal negative patterns are explored. Family members then share responsibility to make changes in their unhealthy behavior.
Closed systems are fear based. They function with techniques of control, manipulation and faulty finding. There is generally a hierarchy with the dominant member on top who dictates to others. Each person has a designated role which they are not allowed to deviate from. Closed systems function to keep the status quo by insisting that new information and change be limited. Dysfunctional behavior and addictions may be present. Abusive relationships are always closed. Tightly closed systems are authoritarian in nature where personal freedom and new information are suppressed such as Hitler’s Germany, prisons and cults.
Safe Systems vs Systems Where People Feel Hurt
(Based on Love) vs (Based on Fear)
Open to new learning and information vs. Closed to new ideas
Communication vs. Withdrawal/Hiding who you are
Freedom to express individuality vs. Control over others
Open/Flexible vs. Rigid, blaming the partner
Speaking feelings vs. Ridicule/Discounting of feelings
Trust/Acceptance vs. Suspicion/mistrust
Problem solving/Learning from mistakes vs. Fault finding/Criticism/Punishment
Feeling good about yourself vs. Feeling hurt, angry and ashamed
Individuals encouraged to learn and grow vs. Keeping the status quo.
Being allowed to question authority vs. Keeping people caught in the
rigid rules of the system
Healthy addictions (gardening, walking etc.) vs. Misusing alcohol, drugs and other addictions.
When we were children we were not able to choose our family system. As adults, we get the systems we are willing to put up with. With all the personal growth options available, individuals can take the opportunity to learn about their behaviors which keep them caught in unhappy situations. When we learn more healthy behaviors, out systems change to reflect the level of our healthiness.