Intensity in relationships can feel intoxicating, especially at the beginning. Passions are high, sex is new and you are constantly thinking or talking about your new love. But what happens when this intensity causes negative consequences such as anxiety, arguments or extreme anger? And what should you do if you get stuck in the cycle of ‘break up and make up’, as so many couples do?
In some cases, intensity occurs when a partner does something called ‘splitting’, which is a state of thinking and behaving in extremes, causing high emotions within the relationship dynamic. We are going to explore this now…
The All Or Nothing Mentality
If you have noticed any of the following communication patterns in your relationship, it could be time to seek some help in couples therapy.
- Intense mood swings and fluctuations. If you, or your partner, are often worried about what might be said or done next, it’s a good idea to seek help. Or, you might be the person who experiences intense mood swings or has reactions that you feel are disproportionate. Again, seek help.
- Your partner, or you, think in absolutes or divides concepts into two opposing camps, such as right / wrong, black / white.
- Partner idealisation, followed by condemnation as time progresses. This is where you (or your partner) might go from being totally besotted by the other person, to becoming critical and dissatisfied by their lack of perfection later.
- Your partner, or you, believes that everyone is either good or bad. There is no room for moral ambiguity.
- Pushing toward people and then pulling away. This is a game you might play that tests one another’s love – creating a pattern of intense closeness followed by distance and withdrawal – which is them remedied with intense, and often sexual, closeness.
- Your partner, or you, believe that someone with a different viewpoint is against them. They also don’t entertain the viewpoint and refuse to look into it.
- A victim mentality. This is where you or your partner self-create victimhood, blaming the other partner for causing hurt, pain or discomfort.
- You, or your partner, may think that, by making fun of those who think differently, you are somehow improving your self-esteem.
- You, or your partner, may struggle keeping relationships, be it a friendship or a romantic partner. This is because if a friend or partner disagrees with you, they automatically become the enemy.
- Always being right. We all experience being wrong sometimes. We are only human, after all. If you or your partner fail to self reflect on mistakes, this is a sign that the relationship (and the individual) needs some work.
All of the above is a form of ‘splitting’, which we will now explore further.
What is Splitting?
Splitting is a common ego defence mechanism. It is where a person sees the world in extreme opposites (good vs bad, positive vs negative).
For example, a woman might believe that all men are bad because of her personal experiences with men she has known. Or that if someone is angry with her, they cannot also be feeling love (because she can only see negative vs positive, rather than the two interacting simultaneously). She might think that if a partner wants time alone, it automatically means rejection. It is ‘all or nothing’ reasoning and fails to account for the wider nuances of life or the complexity of human interaction.
Most commonly, splitting is adopted in childhood as a coping mechanism. It can develop when a child is a unable to understand the confusing combination of nurturement and unresponsiveness in a caregiver. It can also be a response to trauma.
The Harm of Splitting
Failing to moderate emotions or consider the more nuanced aspects of communication can lead to a pattern of working only in extreme opposites. If someone tells you something negative about your partner that you didn’t know, splitting would cause you to immediately see them as ‘bad’ or ‘untrustworthy’. If your partner gets a new job that causes them to work away more, splitting mentality would have you think they are ‘leaving you’.
Working in the extremes can be exhausting for all involved and create a dishonest narrative within the relationship.
Splitting can also be seen as abusive to the non-splitting partner, as they may feel they have to walk on egg shells or be hyper alert to ‘triggering’ anger, aggression or extreme thinking in the splitting partner.
If any of this sounds familiar, please do not despair. I can help!
Getting the support you need
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Whichever help and support you need, my pledge to you is consistent.
Book a free 15 minute conversation, which is all you need to begin your journey. We will talk about where you are now, where you want to be, and how I can help you get there.