Unconscious Relationships: The Patterns That Bind Us


I have been a couple’s therapist for twelve years and one thing I see over and over again is the uncanny way that couples who were intensely in love and attracted in the beginning of their relationship, become disappointed and disillusioned. The attractive qualities in their partner end up triggering their deepest childhood wounds. It seems almost inevitable that a romantic partner will be the perfect person for pushing all your buttons that you have put so much effort into hiding, even from yourself! There are unconscious reasons for this initial intense attraction, and then later the intense interpersonal struggle with your beloved.

To start off, I will introduce a few general points about intimate relationships. There are five stages of growth that intimate relationships experience to evolve. In the same way that there are life stages for an individual person, there are also relationship life stages. The first stage is the honeymoon stage. This is falling in love… rose coloured glasses… and perceiving your lover as perfect and complimentary to you. You see all their similarities. It is like this stage needs to be absolutely fantastic to get a couple through stage two. Stage two is the stage of negotiating difference. This stage is about power struggles, disappointment, inner wounds, issues being triggered, and fights. All of a sudden you take off the rose coloured glasses and you begin to see all of your beloved differences. It can be a very rude awakening!

Stage three is where after struggling together over years, you step out of the battle to find yourself again after being lost in the process of the relationship. Stage four is a coming back together in a real way. Now you know who this person is and you make a choice to be with them (or not). Stage five is the symbiotic stage, where the relationship takes on a life of its own. Have you ever seen two happy elderly people walking down the street, knowing exactly how to move with each other?

So while intimate relationships can tear us apart and bring us to our knees, the potential is a beautiful healing and connection between two people.

What has all this got to do with unconscious attraction patterns?

After working with so many couples, I believe unconscious attraction brings two people together to potentially heal past unconscious wounds or patterns. It is as if UNCONSCIOUSLY, there is a knowing that this person is the perfect person to match you and bring to your consciousness what is unconscious and needs healing. The patterns fit like a key in a key hole that unlocks the potential to heal with another. Of course, instead of healing we sometimes simply open the wounds and become re-hurt. However, I have faith that it is actually the potential of healing the wounds that unconsciously attracts two people in intimate relationship.

Perhaps that is why when we fall in love we have a sense of familiarity or of “knowing” them before. The unconscious does know all about them! It knows all about us! And it works its magic that we call falling in love.

The difference between successful relationship counselling and unsuccessful relationship counselling, is when both people leave counselling taking responsibility for their 50% of creating the dynamics between them. Often couples enter counselling blaming one person or each other for the relationship difficulties. They usually come into counselling in the second or third stages of their relationship. It is usually a last chance attempt at repairing the relationship before leaving. So the challenge of couple’s therapy is to explore the readiness of each person in the relationship to become conscious of their unconscious patterns that are triggered by their partner. In general, the more we all become aware of our patterns and how they impact on the people close to us, the more real choice we have in changing what is causing us pain and anguish.

Where To Now?

In the later part of January 2012, I will be posting a series of blogs on Conscious Relationship. So tune in later this month for more valuable information on how you can heal your relationship by healing yourself, and then working with your partner to shift the unpleasant dynamics in your relationship.



33 Responses to “Unconscious Relationships: The Patterns That Bind Us”

  • Loved it Vanessa. Have you read “Getting the Love You Want’ by Harville Hendrix? My fav book on relationships. He talks about conscious connected relationships and explains the exact mechanism by which it occurs.
    I also believe like you say that we are unconsciously attracted to heal those wounds. It can’t be anything else. It’s just too obvious. Hope you are doing a few more on this. I’ll be reading them.

    • Hi Madonna, thank you! Yes, I have read Harville Hendrix’s book and I agree his stuff is good on relationships. I will be doing more on similar topics. The last ten blogs in the 31 day challenge will be on conscious relationship…. enjoy!!!

      Have a fantastic Day
      Lots of love

  • Liz See:

    Thanks for the great and clear info Vanessa! I have also read “Getting the Love You Want’ by Harville Hendrix and when I watched a show on him it made perfect sense to me. Look forward to reading more from you!

  • Wow, great post Vanessa. :) Very interested in this topic. I too will be tuning in for further posts… I wasn’t aware of those five stages but makes a lot of sense.

  • Great post Vanessa! Blaming someone just keeps people stuck. I don’t have that book but I think I’ll have to get it! Looking forward to hearing more about the blog series!

  • Loved this post!
    It seems you will have a few tuning in for more on this topic, and I will too :) It totally makes sense to me, and although I knew this was the case with relationships it will be great to have some tools to work with to do the healing. that is certainly the hardest bit. I’m going to get the book too :)

    • Hi Carlee, thank you, I think you are right… people are really interested in this topic! It’s fine to comment on what would be helpful, I’ll keep tips or healing relationships in mind as I write my blogs on this topic. There will be ten blogs covering conscious relationship so stay tuned after these next ten on honoring emotions.

      I am fascinated by relationship and raising conscious awareness, so these blogs will reflect my passion!

      Have a fantastic day
      Lots of love

  • This is very succinctly put Vanessa – I think everyone would be able to recognise themselves in one of these stages – thanks for sharing!

    Warmest wishes

    • Thank you for your comment Janet!

      I find a lot of people don’t know about the relationship stages but quickly make sense of where their relationship is at in these stages. Relationships tend to swing back and forth between stages and some aspects of the relationship may be in different stages, so it’s not always clear cut. But the stages give people a kind of map and normalizes some of their struggles in their relationship.

      Have a fantastic day
      Lots of love

  • Anne Hannan:

    Hi Vanessa…Thanks for this insightful message. I recall I had heard similar stages in relationships and makes sense to me. I am currently working on my relationship with myself as I have seen myself in those situations…Have a fantastic day…x

    • Hi Anne, that’s really interesting about seeing those stages within your relationship with yourself… I’m going to reflect on that more. Thank you for your insights.
      Lots of love

  • Great article Vanessa! I’ll be looking forward to the rest of the series. Relationships are one of those great mysteries in life that people always seem to be trying to solve. Your insight is extremely intriguing–esp. since my husband & I are together practically 24/7 (we both work from home). We’ll be married 12 years in May–so far so good :)

    • Hi Jenny, thanks for your comment. You guys are doing well to send 24/7 together and be OK in your relationship… that’s great to hear. I agree relationships are one of those intriguing mysteries and yes, they can be beautiful!!!

      Lots of love

  • Kama:

    I believe we can go through those stages several times within the one relationship. As we grow and change and our partner grows and changes we need to adapt to each other again.

    • Hi Kama, thank you for your comment! Yes definitely, the stages are not clear cut and they don’t necessarily move in that order. It’s not unusual to go back and forth between the stages throughout a relationship.

      Lots of love

  • Wow Vanessa! Wonderfully written. I am so looking forward to that time in my marriage when the little day to day grumbles when you have young children turn into the beautiful smoothed out love for one another that you see with elderly married couples. To look at each other all wrinkled and worn and know that your love for one another kept on keeping on.
    Thank you for the reminder
    x Kylie

  • lisa:

    Hi Vanessa, I think that was so interesting and to begin with I thought and questioned my relationship as if to make a checklist of completing the stages and was abit perplexed till I read your other comments about back and fourth..that I totally agree with… My husband and I have been together for 25years and had 9yrs before we got married and 10 before we had kids…I am so grateful for the time we had together and now that our kids are 15 and 13 I am feeling like we are going through a new challenge and stage of our marriage. keeping on top of teenagers and the family together with open communications is alot harder than any of the previous years (sometimes of course) and I feel lucky that we have such a stable and strong relationship. And being only 15 when I met my husband we find it abit like an “in” joke that him and I only get about the times our kids are going through. I just love him to pieces soo much more than I did even when I was 15 practicing signing his last name with my own..lol….Thanks and I too will be following your blogs.

    • Hi Lisa, it sounds like your relationship is very special… thank you so much for sharing! Yes, relationships keep shifting back and forth through the stages, and they shift and change with other life shifts such as children growing up and leaving home.

      Enjoy your beautiful relationship!!!
      Lots of love

  • Hi Vanessa, interestingly you only have female responses.. Love to see the response from a Mens magazine. I have been married 44yrs. Lots of ups and downs and obviously lots of Love from everybody, children,grandchildren, friends and family. Love is a vibration that is all there is…. Unfortunately these other things must be taught, responsibility, respect, renewal (cycles), commitment and this is the responsibility of the mother (she is not your slave) and nor is your wife- partner. Teach boys and girls to cook, clean, be tidy, be curtious, say please and thankyou from a young age when it is not difficult. Then you can have a far better relationship with your other half when you find them without the stress of having to change them (nagging)! Just my 2 bobs worth.
    Seek joy, Richard.

    • Hi Richard, it’s great to see a man comment on my blogs, and I also wonder what type of responses I would get from a men’s magazine.

      You have made some interesting comments, although I am not quite sure what you are saying in some of it, such as “it is the responsibility of the mother to teach responsibility or respect etc.” Psychologically speaking, both a mother and a father teach children important parts of identity and coping skills as they grow up.

      I agree that when we try to change our partner, it often leads to difficulties in relationship, whether that is a man towards a woman or visa versa. However, in my experience with “nagging” it is usually an indicator of communication break down, and that would.be two ways.

      Thank you for leaving a comment, I hope more men have their say
      Have a fantastic day
      Lots of love

  • Fantastic post Vanessa.. can’t wait for the others… would love to see some tips for transitioning through each phase.

  • Oh Vanessa if only I’d read your blog 2 weeks ago. Maybe my heart wouldn’t be aching now. My husband left, gave up @ stage 3. I always saw us @ stage 5. He, too, talked of that. Oh well. Any suggestions for me on what to read now, in the ‘dumped’ stage please?

    • Hi Leigh, thank you for your comment… I am so sorry to hear that! Relationship break up is difficult to experience. Grieving is the first step unfortunately, and there are a range of good books on grieving relationships or after separation (Google those terms). When you are down the road a bit in your grief, it is important to look at what happened in that relationship that you can learn from, and that may help in a future relationship (I know a new relationship is probably a long way down the track… but what is important is to eventually make meanings out of your last relationship that release you from blame, resentment or guilt). This will take a while and you may want support from a trusted therapist as you go!!!

      I wish you the very best
      Lots of love

  • Terry:

    Hi Vanessa… thank you for your post. Wise as always!

    I’ve sometimes wondered if the first stage, where we fall in love with rose-coloured glasses, is not in fact a peak state of consciousness where we are open-hearted enough to see into the sacred heart of the other and not be bothered by the surface stuff that seems so important in later stages.

    It has seemed to me that the ‘power struggle’ stage is in fact a fall from grace, triggered by the emergence of all the stuff I have not dealt with from my childhood. If that is so, I wonder if it might be possible (if I HAVE done my inner work beforehand) to never lose the essence of that original “state of grace”. Which is not to say I wont still have to negotiate the power dynamics as deep life patterns enter the fray, but rather that they could be less important, and thus will not overwhelm the true love that I might feel from the start.

    What do you think? Wishful thinking perhaps? Interested to hear your view.

    In Gratitude

    • Hi Terry, thank you for your enlightened comment. I believe this too, that the first stage (the honeymoon stage) is where souls recognize each other which facilitates that open-hearted peak state of consciousness you speak about. And I also agree that the second stage is where our childhood wounds and projections happen, sometimes in a very intense way.

      I belief it is an on-going journey of mindfully witnessing emotional wounds and patterns in ourselves through the stages of relationship. I think there would always be these stages as there are stages in an individual life for its healthy growth. But I also think, with a sound level of awareness, we can re-engage in the first stage love while n later stages of the relationship, but in a more grounded way, with conscious wisdom and compassion for self and other. Relationships are like a dance that flows and ebbs, and if done mindfully can become a beautiful co-creation!!!

      It’s great to have another man comment on my blog with a different perspective. I love hearing about your ideas and vision for conscious relationship.
      Lots of love

  • Paul:

    Hello Vanessa, I love the way you have articulated the stages of relationships and the need for self responsibility instead of blame, very well put and straight forward.

    Have known about these stages for a long time from some early relationship training and personal experience. For me I think the key is in having a compatibility where two people have enough awareness, emotional maturity and communication skills to be able to talk about these stages, recognise them and work on them together – and realise it is a learning process.

    If there is underlying love, respect and intent to want to make the relationship work, it can be a wonderful growth experience having a partnership that mutually supports negotiating this rocky obstacle course with patience, perseverance, authenticity and giving each other the space to do their learning.

    Two people honouring each other’s journey and their own can build a beautiful relationship and quality companionship.


    P.S: I am editor of a men’s magazine and associated with a large Men’s Spirituality and health network. Contrary to a lot of perceptions, we do feature strongly on relationship issues and workshops and have done for a long time. Most of the men’s networks I know of do likewise, it is integral to men’s personal growth work. Would be happy to reprint your article above and link to your website if you are agreeable.

    • Hi Paul, thank you for your wonderful comment… I agree with every word you wrote!!! In the stages beyond the first one, generally unpleasant projections and conditioned, unconscious patterns emerge that challenge us all and our partners. The trick is to “witness” those patterns within ourselves with compassion and an openness to understanding ourselves, and also (as you said) a willingness to work through the relationship dynamics with our partner.

      Self responsibility is so much more refreshing than blame!!!

      Fantastic comment…
      Lots of love

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