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Patterns, Maps, and Finding Your Way in Relationships

Photo of red and blue parrots. Raleigh Psychotherap © Katherine Broadway, M.Div, LPC

We become who we are through relationships. Our early relationships shape and mold our internal maps of who we are, what we believe about other people and our expectations. These maps are largely unconscious until they begin to emerge in our important relationships.


These maps and the patterns they contain are acted out dramatically in our romantic relationships, but they also play out in less intense ways in all our relationships: with friends, with co-workers, even with children.

We are taught what love means in these early relationships. Those lessons become our “conditions for loving.” They come from how we were treated, how people talked to us, and how people talked about us in those early years. They are the patterns necessary for us to feel loved.

These conditions will determine who we love and who we choose to be within relationships, both romantic and platonic. Everyone has conditions for loving


In his book The 5 Love Languages, author Gary Chapman illustrates 5 different love languages that express how these maps can look. He teaches how to identify your love language, and that of your partner, so that you can express love in a way your partner can understand it.

Our own personal maps influence our relationships, playing an integral role in a shift from comfort to conflict or stress. When a friendship or a romantic relationship begins to develop conflict that seems impossible to resolve that causes you to feel hurt, angry and confused, this dynamic is probably involved.

These patterns can cause you to get lost in the process of communication. The inability to see and hear the other person can complicate the conflict. Instead of seeing or hearing the person in your life, a multitude of prior experiences muddy the water and get involved.


At this point, it becomes a reaction/reaction conflict. You say something that the other person hears through the lens of their past. They respond in a reactive way, drawing from their past experiences, rather than responding directly and only to you. You then respond out of your experience, and the spiral continues.

We will find ourselves repeating patterns from the past, not because we intend to do it, but because on an unconscious level we are trying to heal old hurts, satisfy unmet needs, and grow into a whole person.


When this happens there is hope! It is a normal part of being human and relating to others. If you understand the process, the conflict can be a great gift to you.

These interactions help you better understand yourself and others. The way you respond to others and how they respond to you can be a great teacher. When we are in a relationship of any kind, we carry with us many characters from our past.


When you get in these situations here are a few questions to help you get untangled from your feelings and be able to see yourself, the other person, and the situation in a clearer light.

1. What am I feeling? Many times we will be having strong feelings and not realize what they are.

Identifying your feelings is the first step toward understanding a situation.

2. What about this interaction, event, situation or person is evoking these feelings? Is it the person, the place, the events or something else?

3. Identify clearly and specifically what is the other person is doing or not doing to evoke these feelings.

4. How are you explaining the situation to yourself? How are you explaining their response to you?

5. How are you responding to them?

6. Is this a pattern in your life or just this relationship?

7. What does this situation remind you of? Does it remind you of an event in your childhood?

With this information, you can begin to get some perspective and clarity of thought so that you can look for your patterns and responsibilities in the situation. The point is not to prove who is right or wrong, but to sort things out so that there can be healing and growth.

Finding you way through old patterns and maps is confusing. Are you having trouble finding your way? I can help you sort through the old and the new so that you can create new maps in your life. Call me at (919)881-2001.


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