Most people are familiar with the phenomenon of opposites attracting — the introvert marries the extrovert; the saver chooses the spender; the debutante ends up with the guy from “the wrong side of the tracks”. When the opposite characteristics of partners are consciously enjoyed as a form of balance in their relationship, they are not problematic.
On the other hand, when couples have opposite characteristics that foster ongoing conflict, these construct the scripts of the particular type of recycling drama that Neurodynamic Couples Therapy calls a drama of opposites. In this type of drama each partner viscerally experiences the behavioral and belief patterns of the other partner as wrong. For example, one person may take the role of expressing all of the angry feelings, while the other one is nonconsciously assigned to express all of the fear. Both have been reduced to a one-sided approach to life by the behaviors, thoughts and feelings that were devalued in their families of origin.
In dramas of opposites, both partners have disowned all of the feelings that they have been taught in their families are the wrong way to feel and chosen a mate who expresses all of their disowned feelings. It is quite easy for each partner to keep blaming the other for bringing these “bad” feelings into the present, since each is consciously trying to keep from experiencing the ones that were disowned in their own family. The metabolizing process is then continually thwarted–thus the need to recycle the conflict repeatedly in an attempt to start the metabolizing of those feelings.
Nonconsciously, partners have chosen each other to have access to the full range of emotions that both need to metabolize. However, their conscious conflicts about the ways they are opposite keep reinforcing that the other person’s thoughts and feelings are dangerous, “broken”, or pathological. Often the feelings that one partner is expressing actually were dangerously exhibited in the other partner’s family, so the fear of those disowned feelings can be continually reinforced, even though the disowning partner’s brain nonconsciously wants to feel and express them.
It should be clear that the solid establishment of safety in the therapeutic space is particularly essential to help couples push their recycling dramas of opposites past the first phase of metabolizing. Any form of taking sides is quite destructive to couples caught up in this type of drama. The therapist must guide the partners in their discovery of the full range of human emotions as normal and helpful, while also learning that there are safe and unsafe ways of expressing them. Difficulties in their families of origin that led to fear or negative beliefs about certain emotions should be explored with empathy and understanding–never blame or labeling. The optimal outcome of therapeutic intervention with dramas of opposites is that both partners develop an appreciation for what their mate has brought to the relationship.
About the author:
Jana Edwards, MSW, LCSW, BCD is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker who specialized in treating couples in her private psychotherapy practice in Denver, Colorado, for 35 years. Through her experiences with around 200 couples, she developed Neurodynamic Couples Therapy. She has taught workshops for therapists on her method for the past 10 years and provides consultation services to many couples therapists.