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Updated on May 24, 2010


For many of us, maybe even most of us, maybe even all of us, the fear of getting into trouble, a remanant from childhood, hangs over our spirits like a cloud. When we take that cloud into our intimate relationships, we almost instantly become a child in the relationship.

To start with, notice that the title is "Relationships Don’t WORK Because." I avoided using the word "broken" or the phrase "needing fixing or repair" because many relationships are "perfectly" good relationships. They do not need fixing or repair. They are not broken. They just don’t work! Pretty simple, uh? And, of course, I use the word "work" because we all know by now, I think, that relationships are WORK.

Take a car, for example. A car doesn’t have to be broken not to work. It could be that there is no gas, no FUEL, in the tank. It could be that you do not have the gear shift in PARK and your foot on the BRAKE as you attempt to start the car. Or perhaps you started the car, but did not pull the gearshift down far enough, and you are still in NEUTRAL. In a sense, you haven’t committed to putting the car into DRIVE yet, so the car revs up beautifully, but doesn’t go anywhere.

Worse, perhaps you lost the KEY, or you can’t seem to find the right hole to insert the key! Some cars have electronic chips and codes that need to match up with a similar code and chip in a "key" which may not even look like a traditional key. You’re looking at this gadget and wondering, "what is this?" not realizing, because you haven’t kept up with CHANGE, that it IS the key! Without the KEY, the car is not going to start, let alone work.

If I think of a relationship as something inanimate, then it is easy to conclude, when the relationship isn’t working, that the relationship is broken or needing repair. It is even easier to come to the conclusion that the relationship just wasn’t meant to be in the first place.

So, then, the parties in the relationship are off the hook. They don’t have to look at what they bring or do NOT bring to the relationship which results in it not working.

However, relationships are very ANIMATE. They are alive and soulful. Perhaps the best image or metaphor for a relationship is the DANCE.

And when it comes to relationships, for whatever reason, most of us regress. And rapidly. Particularly, when there is conflict, and even more particularly, when there is a conflict of needs.

Sometimes, we even hear ourselves saying that we feel like a child in the relationship or our experience of our partner is like having an additional kid in the family! The dogs and cats in the household often seem more "growed-up" and even wiser than the partners! Ruf Ruf and Meow Meow to that, uh?

I would say that most of us, when there is a conflict of needs in the relationship, revert back to somewhere around ages two to four. I mean notice how we act. We pout, we withdraw, we throw tantrums, we use the silent treatment, we run away, we hide, we sneak around, we lie when we’re caught, all forms of emotional blackmail, typical of two to four year olds.

And going back for a moment to the analogy of the car, at two to four years old, I am too small to reach the pedals and too small to see over the steering wheel. Using a booster seat will get me pulled over long before I reach the drive-thru of my favorite fast food restaurant. I’m just not "growed-up" enough to drive the car or to make the car work!

So let’s say, you’ve actually progressed and are developmentally beyond the two to four year old stage and can prove, through instant replay, that you do not use emotional blackmail. Well, then maybe you’re stuck in adolescence. So you’re big and powerful enough not to take crap from anyone anymore. You’ve made a thousand promises to yourself that when you get old enough, you will not let any big people push you around no matter who they are, and you’re just plain hell-bent on proving to the universe that you are capable of living your life without anyone telling you HOW! Ah yes! Wonder-filled adolescence, but hardly the stuff that will make a relationship work!

So for whatever reason, when we decide to engage in an intimate relationship, it’s like the Wizard of Oz. The curtain gets pulled and exposes wherever we might be stuck in our development.

There is a QUICK solution, a KEY that will surely work. Every morning when you wake up and look in the mirror, say to yourself, consider even saying it OUTLOUD, "I am all growed-up and can’t get into trouble anymore." Not only say it, but let it sink in and let it permeate your behavior.

"Getting into trouble" is a pretty consistent theme for us as children. It’s just part and parcel of exploring and learning and sometimes choosing the wrong "door." In video games, you can start over, but in childhood, we do get into trouble! And even sometimes, we get into trouble for "stuff" we did not do. We get blamed for intentions that are not ours.

These experiences of getting into trouble, especially when there was no room for making honest mistakes and suffering the natural consequences alone, become a template for our intimate relationships. Because after all, our first experience of intimate relationships is with, yes, with, MOM AND DAD. By intimate, we simply mean close and close beyond a relationship with your buddy or even your siblings. Our relationship with Mom and Dad is as intimate as it gets. I mean, we even lived inside Mom for nine months. That is intimate!

So, then, ask yourself, now as an adult, how you would describe your current relationship with Mom and Dad? When you go to visit them, do you feel yourself shrinking as you near the front door? When Dad tells you the best way to get to the freeway, do you still go the opposite just to show him? Are there still lots of "things" that you hide from Mom and Dad because you know they will get upset with you? Do you write them from jail telling them that you are on a sabbatical to France? (Check out the movie, Crazy On The Outside.)

So if you’re still feeling like a kid in that relationship, how in the heck can you possibly feel growed-up in your relationship with your partner? If you still feel like a kid with Mom and Dad, in a sense, you haven’t really left home. You are not all growed-up!

it makes it even worse if there is a difference in physical height between partners. So if one partner towers over the other, the smaller partner FEELS small and is always in the position of having to look up to the partner. Before long, the partner becomes a pain in the neck.

For the partner who towers over, he or she never gets the physical experience of working side by side with the partner. They literally are always looking down on the partner which tends to trigger another instinct to rule it over the partner, sometimes in good faith, because after all, anyone can see that the little lady needs taken care of!

When one partner does tower over the other, it is often helpful to experiment with the "chair exercise." So the smaller partner stands on a chair, places his or her hands on the shoulders of the taller partner, and experiences what it is like, in real time, to be standing on your own two feet and looking your partner in the eye or perhaps even "looking down" a little bit on your partner. For the partner who is naturally taller, this "little" experiment can be everything from intimidating, fearful, and enlightening. But for the shorter partner, all you have to do is notice the energy in their face. It feels awesome to be on an equal plane with someone you so dearly love.

When I do this experiment in the office with certain ethnic groups (and it is usually the guy who is taller, if only psychologically), he often waits for me in the parking lot later that night to warn me to never do that exercise again with him and his spouse! That’s not true. Just made it up. But sometimes cultural norms about power in a marital relationship are so "in bedded" (Wow, that’s an interesting phrase) that it’s a little risky to topple them with one simple chair exercise! And I’m always surprised when the guy isn’t waiting for me!

So, to begin wrapping up here, what keeps most relationships from working is the gap in each partner between chronological age and developmental age which leads then to the rock bottom issue, that relationships don’t work because partners do not know how to share power.

They do not know how to share power because Mom and Dad did not know how to go down that road of sharing power with their children when they were "old" enough, mature enough, wise enough to share power with Mom and Dad. Obviously, you do not share power with a two or three year old. But preteen and teenagers, YES. AND it is SHARING power, not giving it away or giving it up. SHARING. And sharing power does not eliminate the fact that the buck stops at the feet of the executives. Yes, of course, Mom and Dad are the executives!

There is an interesting passage in Scripture when Jesus invites us to be as perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect. In the original Greek, the translation is "be as grown-up as our heavenly Father is grown-up." Isn’t that interesting?

Sharing power with your children is another blog. But suffice to say, if we did not learn how to share power growing up, then as an adult, I live in fear of getting into trouble with my partner. I'm basically stuck an earlier stage of childhood. In the relationship, I am a child. And children cannot make intimate relationships work. They can mimic an intimate relationship, they can even play house, but they can’t do the dance.

Thanks for reading, and if you want more, check out my website, The book, From The Frying Pan To The Jacuzzi can be purchased here at the office or on Amazon or Barnes & Noble.  The link below will take you directly to Amazon

Hey, and leave a comment or two about how grown-up or NOT you experience yourself in your intimate relationship. Your comments will be helpful to me and to others.


From The Frying Pan To The Jacuzzi: Gourmet Recipes For A Gourmet Relationship
From The Frying Pan To The Jacuzzi: Gourmet Recipes For A Gourmet Relationship

This will be the best dollars you ever spent. Lot less than an hour with me and cheaper than a lawyer, but priceless all the same



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    • BennyTheWriter profile image

      BennyTheWriter 7 years ago from Northeastern U.S.A.

      Hey vrbmft, great hub. I smiled to myself as I read it. One of the things that's fascinating about the human psyche is that we're really the same people as adults that we were as kids. I used to think everyone got mature by a certain age, but this reminds me that we're forever "growing up," whether we're 8 or 88 years old, or somewhere in between.

    • vrbmft profile image

      Vernon Bradley 7 years ago from Yucaipa, California

      Hey, kim,David,and Therese.

      Thanks so much for reading and commenting. KIm, dealing with those parent figures in the work place can be a little less daunting than in your sweetie pie relationship. I struggled with that for years. I learned never to sit down when talking to a parent boss or supervisor. I memorized little phrases to say to keep me from shrinking! Like "Really?" "Wow, no kidding?" Perhaps a blog here?!

      Hey David, here's the kicker. Does your sweetie pie perceive the two of you as the same heighth?! I think you may have watched the chair exercise at the Virginia Satir conference we attended back in 1986. I need to give her credit, but I've taken ownership of the exercise, so to speak, and use it ALL the time. And Therese, just remember, YOU CANNOT GET INTO TROUBLE ANYMORE!! Honest to God or Buddah or Ala or whoever!! Start turning left for the heck of it. Make U turns in the middle of the street. Make the traffic stop! Just make sure old Wally isn't around hiding in the bushes! Take care evryone and again thanks for reading and commenting

    • profile image

      Therese Nichols 7 years ago

      Enjoyed reading this hub----I also went the way Grandpa said---it was to avoid all left turns. I was always in trouble---accused of things I didn't do so what can I say?!!!!!

    • David R Bradley profile image

      David R Bradley 7 years ago from The Active Side of Infinity

      "When Dad tells you the best way to get to the freeway, do you still go the opposite just to show him?"

      I have no idea what you're talking about! We always went EXACTLY the way Grandpa used to tell us!

      All kidding aside, I'm glad I married someone my own height! This Hub has some serious insight that might be difficult for some people to admit it applies to them, which makes it challenging reading.

      Thanks for this Hub!

    • kimh039 profile image

      Kim Harris 7 years ago

      Nice Vern. Your writing is very conversational. I have a work relationship with someone who assumes a parental role, and I am so careful not to respond as a child, but as an adult. She does have more power than I have, so I'm mindful not to provoke her by being "too assertive!" I don't like high maintenance relationships. Work, yes; high maintenance, no. I like your analogy about the "broken" car that really isn't broken, but is just not working. Thanks for the food for thought today. I was hungry.

    • vrbmft profile image

      Vernon Bradley 7 years ago from Yucaipa, California

      Thanks Terri for being a faithful reader. Run Down Battery, thanks for reading a commenting. I just checked out your profile and you have some interesting posts which I will read in the near future. I'm particularly interested in your poem about the feather.

    • Run Down Battery profile image

      Run Down Battery 7 years ago from UK

      very thought provoking

    • profile image

      Terri huerta 7 years ago

      I am going to save reading this tonight after I shower. i worked all day outside and this will give me something to look forward to. Is it tonight yet? lol