This guy walked to the bar, ordered a drink, turned, and saw me laughing with my friends. My ex-boyfriend and our mutual friends were drinking beer and listening to Friday night Jazz. The guy did not take his eyes off me. My spine tingled, “Here it comes. My boyfriend is going to hug me tight and tells me I am his alone.”
Like a movie I have seen many times, my boyfriend possessively put his hands around my shoulders and hid my face from the stranger on the bar checking me out. He breathed into the hair over my ear, “You’re mine!”
When I looked at my friends, their faces showed concern.
“He isn’t controlling. He just worries about me so much.” I told my friends every time they asked me why I was with someone possessive. I could not see what was right in front of me. So, I denied anything was wrong. In most of my 20s, if a man did not show jealousy he was not that into me. If he told me he didn’t want me to have guy friends, possessively put his arm around me in public places, and acted a little crazy, I felt loved and wanted and protected. If I dated a guy who was not possessive, who considered me having guy friends a non-issue, I interpreted this as a dismaying absence of interest.
My friends and family witnessed this unhealthy behavior for years.
We all — every one of us — exhibit patterns of behavior that are obvious to everyone but that we cannot see. We deny that they exist. These are our “bling spots”. Carl Jung called them our “shadow”.
Blind spots are mental blocks created by the mind which we are unaware of, and over which we have no control. There are things around us we don’t see, negative facts that disappear on the horizon of our conscious minds.
In a relationship, a blind spot can mean any area a person fails to recognize is impacting their relationship either negatively or as a needed growth area.
For example: Have you ever noticed how you are often involved in situations that are similar across different aspects of your life? Have you ever had the same fight with different partners in different relationships? Have you ever said or heard a friend say things like, “why does every person I date end up cheating on me?” or “Why does everyone betray me?” or “why do I always end up in long-distance relationships?”
These are all consequences of our blind spots.
A therapist friend had helped me shine a light on my relationship blind spot. This friend had sat on her comfortable sofa and listed the most common blind spots in relationships. It was gut-clenching to hear my blind spot said to my face. She helped me discover the thoughts (mindsets) and behaviors I’ve adopted over time. I’ve learned to develop an awareness of any unconscious behavior I might exhibit in my relationship. I’m now in a healthy relationship with my partner of four years.
Discovering and understanding what your relationship blind spot maybe can have a lasting impact on the quality of your relationship. With the lessons I learned, I hope you learn to stop missing what’s right in front of you.
“Until you make the unconscious conscious,” said Jung, “it will direct your life, and you will call it fate.”
Sometimes, in a trick of subconscious camouflage, we don’t know how to be aware of unconscious behavior we are exhibiting in a relationship.
In my case, being with a possessive guy was my blind spot. I clutched my blind spot like a lifeboat to be in a relationship. To stay afloat. It wasn’t that I wasn’t attracting a good partner. It was that in a trick of subconscious camouflage; I did not know how to be aware of the unconscious behavior I was exhibiting.
And I wondered for years where all the men who let women pursue their interests, passions, and pursuits were.
As one of my friends is wondering right now…
Last week, one of my friends called all her friends and asked us to help her. She is wondering, why all the men she dates do not want to commit? Where are the good men?
Since we graduated from college, my friend has always been in a vague, ambiguous, indecisive relationship. She wants to play it cool (not appear ‘too needy’, not appear to create drama.) She is unaware of a set of habits that are part of her safety mechanism to defend herself against intimacy. Ever since her first boyfriend in college broke her heart, she has been with guys who only hang out with her on weekends.
People who care about her know she is terrified to commit. She does not know this consciously.
Her actions in her relationships speak louder, though.
She is dragging her feet every time she dates a guy. Her one foot is inside, and the other is outside, not putting time and energy into a relationship.
A 2013 New York Times article, The End of Courtship, portrayed this belief when Alex Williams, the author of the article, made a point about how casual hookups with no relationship definition or really any specific type of relationship just keeps the stakes lower.
Maybe the relationship will go somewhere. Maybe not. Like my friend is telling us all the time, “It is what it is.” This attitude removes responsibility. If you don’t get too invested, exert energy, or get too involved then somehow you are safe from the hurt?
My friend is unaware of her behavior is attracting a partner who does not want to commit. She is sabotaging her own efforts. She is drawn to the same type of people. Men who do not want to commit. We can’t have a close, intimate relationship without investing, exerting energy. We have to be intentional in our relationship. We have to plan our relationships. Have conversations about where it is going, about what we want out of a relationship, and about commitment.
“There’s something much worse than seeing the dark side of reality: not seeing it at all.”
The poet Antonio Machado was right when he said that statement.
You probably have read articles on red flags in relationships. Someone with a tendency to sulk, pout, brood, frown, and scowl. Someone with a life full of secrets. Someone who has no boundaries and has zero respect for your boundaries. Someone possessive. Someone emotionally unavailable.
The list goes on…
We watch out for these red flags in someone else.
But what if we are exhibiting these unhealthy behaviors and we are unaware of them in ourselves?
For years, I got stuck in my self-deception of possessive love like a spider’s prey in her web.
Maybe you’re exhibiting patterns of behavior you’re unaware of. Maybe you are the one who bickers, fights, and becomes nasty to your partner. And you have been this way with your previous relationships as well. Maybe you are the one who keeps something from your partner. And you have kept things from your ex-boyfriends as well. Maybe you are the one who sucks all emotions in. Maybe you are the one who marches through life stoically, your heart neatly sealed, safe from the joys and sorrows of life. And you have remained in emotional solitary confinement in your previous relationships as well.
If someone points these things you’re unaware of to you, you may not believe them. You may even get angry and deny them.
Areas in your relationship in which you continually do not see yourself or your situation realistically create big problems:
. These areas you do not see stop you from exhibiting healthy behavior in a relationship.
. Your judgment and awareness become skewed. As a result, you make poor decisions.
. You end up in the same dysfunctional relationship over and over or you’re in one relationship having the same arguments and frustrations repeatedly.
. You repeat the same mistakes by convincing yourself things will turn out differently than they had in the past.
Being aware of your blind spots is important. You have to be willing to develop an awareness of your own patterns.
Watch out for the most common blind spots in relationships:
This was my blind spot. I had lots of evidence a possessive relationship was unhealthy, but I ignored it no matter how clear the proof was. Like my friend denies, she is terrified of opening her heart and committing to a relationship.
Watch out for this. When acknowledging something is going to bleed your heart, your brain will do everything in its power to avoid that hurt. It puts blinders up to soften the blow of disappointment. When something has a huge negative impact emotionally, denial swoops in and blocks certain things from your mind so you can avoid painful feelings.
When you redirect strong feelings into something that’s considered positive or safe. For example, I used to run every time my ex-boyfriends and I argued. I used running as a mechanism to avoid confronting the issue at hand.
Maybe you redirect strong feelings to something else. Maybe you cook or hang out with friends or clean the entire house when strong feelings hit your beating, blood-red heart of yours. When you are doing these things to avoid talking with your partner, you’re sublimating. If you never address what the initial issue is that got you to redirect your feelings, you’re avoiding creating a connection with your partner.
A few years ago, I witnessed how intellectualization caused a person to become someone who does not feel. A co-worker’s mother had died. And this guy never grieved. He never asked our boss to take a few days to grieve. He came to work right away after the funeral. For weeks and months, this guy never talked about his late mother. One day, he erupted at us, his colleagues, and no one understood where all the rage had come from.
Watch out for this blind spot in your relationship. Do you remove all emotions from a situation and focus on “the facts” and the evidence? If you do, remember you have to feel feelings too. You have to stay open, to feel those terrifying emotions, to admit to the fear, sadness, and pain we all feel.
You defend your patterns of behavior against everything that questions them. Even if a dear friend points out unhealthy behavior in your relationship, you try to logically justify bad or unacceptable behavior with your own set of facts.
You do this because when you rationalize; you feel better.
These are not the only relationship blind spots. But they’re the most common ones. With a new awareness of your blind spots, you can do something about them:
. Look in the mirror: you may be the problem
Turn the lens on yourself — not with judgment, but with an eye toward noticing any habits you might have that are contributing to issues.
. Be curious about yourself
The first thing that helped me to shine a light on my blind spot was talking to a therapist friend I trusted. She asked me to be curious about myself. I started realizing that I held this unhealthy belief that love was supposed to be possessive.
Be willing to look at yourself. Get to know yourself. What defense mechanisms do you use? Ask a trusted friend. Understand that problems in your relationship isn’t just about your partner’s faults. It takes two people to have a healthy and strong relationship.
. Be accountable
You should not expect your partner to swoop in and shine a light on your relationship blind spots. Be accountable. Do what is necessary to develop an awareness of any unconscious behavior you might exhibit in your relationship. Follow through. You have to be the one who saves you.
. Ask your partner to let you know when they see the behavior
We need the help of another person to point our blind spots out to us, preferably while it is happening. I have asked my boyfriend of 4 years to let me know any unconscious behavior I exhibit. For example: If I run every time we have arguments, he tells me what I am doing. I may not realize some behaviors I am exhibiting, but when he points them out, the fog clears.
Talk openly with your partner about your blind spots, and theirs. Once you become aware, that will set in motion the impetus for change.
. Take an inventory of the challenging issues
Seeing in your handwriting what you are unconsciously exhibiting is liberating. Make a list of what you notice. Write these things down. Be as detailed as possible.
Example: Your boyfriend has a habit of hiding his emotions and you make an assumption about him being a man and men are not supposed to show emotions. Or everybody you know points out your unconscious patterns of behavior and you keep denying them.
Making a list is important because you have to shine a light on your blind spots repeatedly, not just once or twice.
We all have blind spots. To some degree, we’re all fish who don’t know we are wet, and this results in lots of unhealthy unconscious strategies in our relationships. The big problem is that as long as you keep missing what is right in front of you, you will keep having the same problems over and over again. You’ll wonder why you seem to have been signaled out to be unhappy in relationships.
So, have the courage to open your eyes and shine a light on your blind spots.