Updated: Nov 19
Discover the key to deep meaningful understanding in your relationship!
Understanding and appreciating your partner's "Patterns" is the key to building strong and lasting relationships and forming deeper connections. "But what are our Patterns” I hear you ask?
In the context of this article, we’ll be taking a systemic look at who and how we are, specifically at three elements of our "Patterns” (trusting you realise these are so diverse, there are many more) and we hope you will begin to see your life partner differently, deepening the relationship with both your partner and yourself in the process.
The three "Patterns" include:
· Natural talent patterns and Strengths
· Attachment Styles from learned patterns of behaviour
· Traumas patterns and childhood wounds
Taking a more systemic approach to our relationships, where we choose to become conscious of the various multidisciplinary patterns that influence how we bring ourselves in intimate relationships, we can be open to realise we are not made up of any one thing, but are rather a combination of elements, all of which come together to form who and how we are.
Our “Patterns” are partly informed by our intrinsic and innate talent patterns, our Strengths, those natural ways of being which express how we think, feel, and behave. Today our talent patterns can be measured through a simple 30-minute online assessment, the results of which brings insight into how we are naturally motivated, as well as our triggers, needs, contributions, overuse and underuse patterns of being . Yet it is not enough to just grab the assessment report. One needs to work at understanding how these patterns are infinitely unique to each person, an understanding that can be grasped by subscribing to our simple Online Learning and Mastermind Group, to gain more insight into why misunderstandings and conflict arise in relationships, as well as how we can use our Strengths to create a language to bring us closer together.
Strengths as a language
When it comes to using Strengths as a language of understanding, and thus as a tool to alleviate conflicts, we firstly need to understand that the weakness of our unique natural wiring is that a mismatch of understanding between two people can lead to faulty communication. This disconnect can occur at many levels, from how we uniquely see the world, conversation styles, and whether we mistakenly assume others “should” just get us. So it stands to reason that the greater the differences in our natural wiring & talent patterns, the more difficulty two people will have interacting.
For those new to Strengths, there are 34 talent patterns, falling within 4 domains. The four domains are split into two axis: Relationship Building - typically talents around people and relationships, and Tasks - related to doing and thinking. To elaborate further, one might say the relationship building axis contains talents that are wired towards human connections, through influencing or emotional connection, whereas the task axis has talents that are largely thinking, or physically executing and ‘doing’. So imagine what happens when one partner is wired with a desire to connect on an emotional level and their partner simply wants to get on with the job at hand. This is where learning the Language of Strengths becomes so important.
In the case of talents, a communication gap therefore arises between people with task vs relational talents.
This gap may occur not only because people who are relational have trouble understanding task-oriented people, but also because task-oriented people have trouble understanding relational people. Therefore, our unique wiring is such, that misunderstandings are mutual. The language of Strengths once learned & understood brings voice to this, bringing about a change in our mental models, and how we enter into dialogue, and helps us to be less judgmental and more understanding of our unique differences as an expectation is created that we “are” different and so begins the journey to understand why …
For example, individuals who have talent patterns largely from the task axis may have difficulty in reading & sensing another person’s facial and emotional expressions, which in turn may stunt conversations between relational and non-relational couples. Conversely, relationship builders expect that all people would want to converse through warm embrace and emotional engagement, a trait that is often foreign to those largely from the task axis, who might see this as frivolous and wasting time, choosing to rather get on with the the task at hand.
This is why conflict is part and parcel of marriage and other intimate relationships because we are on a journey of learning the language of our partners. Our talent patterns inform both our needs and contributions and also carries with them what is termed “over and underuse patterns”. This is when we go into disequilibrium, and feel dis-regulated, perhaps from stress, or even lack of confidence, yet more importantly from not understanding how to remain balanced within oneself. Sessions with a Strength Coach can assist with an exploration of this.
Sadly, because the majority of the population has no clue as to their natural talents, the world takes us on a journey of nurturing our non-talents, or our non-selves, moving us further and further away from our intrinsic nature and motivations, and as such, we become more of who we are not. This further complicates our intimate relationships.
"Successful relationships require a systemic approach, where multiple elements that make up who and how we are, through our "Patterns”, are engaged."
A few years ago when I began my training as a Strengths Coach I was so eager for my husband to take the Strength Assessment, thinking this was going to give me all the answers to who and how he was, and the tools necessary to bring deeper meaning and understanding to our relationship. This came on the back of feeling he loved his work more than he loved me. Lol, all partners feel a tinge of this right? Wrong. We are infinitely different to each other and as such we bring elements of ourselves into the world that takes a conscious intentional choice to be awake to this reality.
What I’d learned in those early days in understanding Intrinsic Strengths, is that when our talent patterns go into underuse or overdrive – what we term ‘over-use patterns’ - this can play out in very in/dependent behaviours which can have many systemic and negative impacts on our relationships, often unintentionally, yet with detrimental impacts. Building on our relationship, began with an acknowledgement from my husband and myself that his overuse patterns were a huge red flag that needed urgent attention.
One of the 34 talent patterns is Achiever, and some of the overuse patterns of this talent include:
and creating a work/life balance that negatively impacts self, others, and the environment within which they operate.
This was ringing loud and clear for me in my marriage. What I hadn’t known, was how important understanding ourselves and others through ‘Interdependent Rules of Engagement’ (I-ROE) was, and how we are better able to understand each other’s needs, contributions, over/under-use patterns, and triggers when we're consciously and actively trying to create win/win situations.
I-ROE is a simple tool which, when used together within an understanding of our talent patterns, can move us towards selflessness, away from those patterns of selfishness that can drive a wedge between our relationships.
Unless we gain equilibrium over our overuse patterns, the selfishness continues
We leave school with no idea of who we are, so it is easy to adopt beliefs of others and lose our own agency in the process. In fact, by the time we are young adults, making our own way in life, even the fundamental linearity of our schooling systems, where we were largely forced to fit “in the box”, would have inadvertently suppressed how we are intrinsically wired, having moulded us into what the world requires us to be, and diminishing our personal identity and agency in the process, all of which impacts how we relate to others. A number of books and particular articles have jumped out at me over the past few years, and opened me up to yet another cog in wheel of the systemic reasons we sometimes struggle in our relationships with others, especially our intimate relationships, and I’d like to share these books and an article with you below, as “must reads”.
If learning the Language of Strengths is something that has interested you and you’d like to understand how we can use talent patterns to mitigate conflict and build great relationship engagement why not join our online Mastermind Learning Group? You can find more information here and scroll down to our global pricing plans.
Overdrive and underuse patterns straddle the full spectrum of the 34 talents, and can negatively impact marriage and other relationships. These are systemically interconnected with both trauma and attachment styles (see below). I’d personally tended to stay away from the idea of trauma. This was until the copious numbers of books and articles I’d been exposed to, along with the rising trend in trauma issues in our world, especially during and post Covid, woke me up to the reality that no one is immune. This new found information nudged me to wake up to the reality that unresolved trauma issues are like a festering wound, waiting to be dressed or more appropriately, addressed.
Attachment Styles from learned behaviours
This brings us to the conversation of learned behaviours that develop as a consequence of our unconscious selves, where we on-board new ways of being that come from our interactions with others and their opinions and caregiving. Our early caregivers have shaped what is termed, our attachment styles, impacting how we relate to others and emotionally attach later in life. These learned behaviours can move us away from our natural selves and can impact our intimate relationships significantly, becoming worse if we have no knowledge of attachment styles, which I urge you to learn about. Recognising and understanding both your own, and your partner’s attachment style can help you build more secure and meaningful connections with your partner.
The book by Milan Yerkovich and Kay Yerkovich ‘How we Love - Discover Your Love Style, Enhance Your Marriage’ takes one back to fundamentally understand how our early caregivers have cemented our learned behaviours and how we emotionally relate to others, bringing insight into Attachment Styles, and I strongly encourage you to read this book. Identifying which Attachment Style both you and your partner may have can be life changing. Sometimes, in marriages that are struggling, learned relational patterns from our early years impact how we attach to others later in life, affecting how we love, and how we experience love from others.
The various ‘Attachment Styles’, a phrase coined to understand how we attach ourselves to others, draws on the powerful tool of attachment theory, exploring how our childhood creates “intimacy imprints” that can affect our marriage and intimate relationships later on in life. Yet without knowing this, we are blind to ours, or our partner’s, trauma triggers. Learning and understanding one’s Attachment Style is the first step in becoming what is termed ‘Securely Attached’, a wonderful process of change that leads to an in-depth understanding of self and helps bring insight into which of our needs were left wanting as a child, needs that may be hindering our intimate relationships today. Arriving at this point may mean having to work with an Attachment Theory Therapist, though reading the Yerkovich’s book is a great start.
Traumas and childhood wounds
Finally, traumas come in many guises and are not to be ignored or minimised. I prefer the term, wounds, as trauma is often associated with huge adversity. Yet the little things are not to be ignored, because what might be insignificant to one person, could be detrimental to someone else. Our wounds are also nothing to be ashamed of, as they are part of the world within which we live, and sadly, no one is immune. These can sometimes lead to a disequilibrium in our physiology and psychology, manifesting in dis-ease. Loving someone who is hurting can be very demanding, and we should not try to do this alone, but rather seek the services of a trauma coach or therapist. Moreover, addressing unresolved traumas is crucial for personal growth and deeper intimacy.
Remember, traumas and wounds are a natural part of life, and seeking support for or from loved ones, more importantly sharing our traumas with our partners, can help build resilience and growth, deepening meaning in our lives, and bringing people closer to intimacy through the vulnerability that is expressed. Yet it's important to note that we are coming out of a world where sharing one's emotions was seen as a sign of weakness, especially for men. We need to be conscious of this and work towards interdependence within our relationships to mitigate further conflict. This means creating psychological safety, and having a conscious awareness of our impact on self, others, and the environments in which we operate. This can be personally or within our families and communities, as everything is interlinked, and can have knock on affects in our relationships. Interdependence can be challenging, yet the results are life changing.
In today's world, seeking a multidisciplinary approach to wellbeing is crucial, along with engaging in self-discovery, exploring attachment styles, and working through one’s traumas as a couple, to foster intimacy, vulnerability, growth, and resilience. Remember, seeking help from a counselling professional or coach is a sign of strength, and it can bring immense value to your relationship.
Another systemic view to our intimate relationships is a sensitivity to the hurts and challenges we have faced on and during our journey of adulthood, even if we think these have been overcome. These “war wounds” remain part of us, and can be triggered at any time, often without warning, especially when life is not going well. We need to learn and practice vulnerability, building psychological safety within trusted intimate relationships. This begins by feeling confident to share our deepest fears that come from our lived experiences. Vulnerability in this regard, can often be a massive challenge for some, and difficult to overcome, especially when psychological safety may have been problematic growing up.
A book I consider a must listen/read for anyone who has faced challenging circumstances and wants to understand where to go from here, is a book written by Oprah Winfrey, together with Neuropsychiatrist Dr Bruce Perry. I especially enjoyed how this book challenges us to move away from assuming something is “wrong” with us, by taking a nuanced shift towards asking “What Happened to You?” from a book of the same name. It contains conversations on trauma, resilience, and healing, and brings a very raw and real take on aspects of unresolved trauma and how important it is to recognise everyone is affected by trauma in some or other manner. It also helps to define trauma, which I found very helpful, as often the word trauma sounds too big for things we might consider to be insignificant, yet may be hindering our intimacy.
Thus, it helps us to understand how necessary compassionate and interdependent understanding becomes in helping a person heal and evolve into one’s unique and natural self, very often without the need to medicalise social and personal issues. It’s here where we can become more whole and wholesome in our relationships with self and others. Yet fundamentally Oprah's book creates a shift in how we enter into viewing the people we love, to take a more systemic approach in how we care and nurture each other. Asking someone you love “what happened to you?” allows them to feel deeply heard, connected, and "actively" listened to.
We all have a deep longing to be seen, heard, and deeply listened to, that in our desperation we can easily step away from interdependence. Interdependence is where we serve “us” so we can serve "each other”. Successful marriages and partnerships are those that recognise we all have something of value to contribute and are openminded enough to listen and make space for each other. The world in which we live has created many biases, bringing with it a very narrow lens that can bring judgement instead of curiosity. We can begin to believe our own stories and narratives, assuming our opinions are truth, instead of recognising there is no one truth. Truths are just our personal illusions and patterns of thought, brought out through the lens of our opinions in how “we” see and experience the world.
By realising our partners see the world differently to us, due to their natural talents, learned behaviours, and traumas, we can mitigate some of our frustrations, and learn new ways to put ourselves on hold for each other. This, I might add, becomes a conscious, intentional, choice, yet one that can bring wonderful fruits of our labour.
Brain Inflammation alters our Mental Health Patterns
Some of you reading this will be in relationships where your partners have lost their mojo and may be under a medical professional. There is hope, because losing our mojo doesn’t have to be forever, though I must stress I do know and understand how demanding it is, loving someone who is hurting and has lost their purpose and self in the process. So, with brain inflammation on the increase, leading to mental health issues, it would be impossible to have an article on our patterns without an honesty regarding the global rise in our mental disequilibrium.
This leads to an article that expresses systemic interdependence in how we care for our partners as part of a larger community, and the idea that what is happening to someone, does not affect them alone, and thus, the importance of creating a win/win equilibrium across the whole family. This is based on work done in Japan with individuals thought to be suffering with mental health issues where medical professionals take co-responsibility together with the family, and everyone else involved, putting the agency back into the hands of the person suffering, more importantly, without judgement.
Our world often suppresses who we are at our core, and this can cause us to switch off or switch up our over-use patterns. Yet as they say in Africa, “it takes a village to raise a child”. Therefore, as the topic of this article infers, it takes a systemic approach to create balanced loving relationships, elements required for a great marriage and intimatacy. This is what I loved about this Japanese article. This radical movement makes space for people with mental health and other challenges to study (and celebrate) themselves. What emerged from this article was the concept of taking a multidisciplinary and inclusive stance to our wellbeing.
Historically, the approach has been for the medical fraternities to have all the answers. Yet when one looks back to our grandparent's time, married couples would seek counsel from their elders and the community, who would offer support. Sadly, as capitalistic values have put profit before people, we have moved away from the idea of interdependence, and have allowed families to disperse, our values often overshadowed, especially as families relocate all over the world. This lack of emotional and interdependent support can put immense strain on relationships, and our mental capacity, and many couples have found themselves without the guidance and support of their extended families and communities.
When we become interdependent and practice vulnerability, by reaching out to others who are in a position to offer their wisdom and support, there is also more curiosity, less judgement, and we can enter into conflict situations with positive intent, by unlocking and looking at what is right with one another. This is Positive Psychology at its best, which forms the basis of the Strength movement. This in turn can have massive positive knock-on effects. When we raise a positive mirror for others, and hold a person in high esteem, they can begin to see themselves differently. The Japanese intervention expresses this.
As a side comment, it is becoming increasingly known that many biological and environmental processes take place that can disrupt our immunity, creating inflammation of the brain, and manifesting in eccentric behaviours. This is why I personally do not like the term “mental illness”, as it brings with it, century old constructs that medicalise our personal and social issues, and the resulting behaviours, without taking a big picture view. We need to acknowledge and disrupt the thinking around how social, personal, and environmental issues can change our inner biological patterns, which may manifest as disequilibrium, both in our physiology and psychology. The assumption therefore should not be that one is psychiatrically ill. My wish is a future where instead of autoimmune disease being looked upon as a comorbidity of mental illness, that we see mental illness as a comorbidity of autoimmune disease and, as such, treatable.
In conclusion, relationships need an active approach to first recognising how different we are, and with this, fostering a deep understanding of each other's unique "Patterns". We need to practice the art of vulnerability, and take time to learn each other's Strengths Language, additionally, addressing the learned behaviours, traumas, and attachment styles. This can lead to more fulfilling and lasting relationships. Embracing compassion, seeking support, and practicing interdependence can pave the way to brighter future love and intimacy together. When necessary, reach out to others for guidance and support, just like how traditional cultures would seek counsel from elders, such as a trained Coach, therapist, or trusted family member. By embracing interdependence and positive conflict resolution, you can unlock the full potential of your relationship.
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If you or a loved one are struggling with personal, professional and/or social issues don't wait to seek help from a counselling professional. Talking about your problems with a caring individual is the first step towards interdependence and recognising we are not here to live through our burdens alone.
Please do feel free to share your comments below 🙏🏻
Sam McDonald has been married for 30 yeas and has four children. They are a Strength-based family, using the CliftonStrengths® to enhance marriage & family life. Their home is in Hampton Court, UK and the FalseBay Coast, Cape, SA. She is a Futurist and Chief Visionary Officer for WITH-HUMANITY, a change-maker with a dream to disrupt our current meritocracy by "Unlocking the IntrinsicIdentity © of all Individuals in service of greater human engagement" creating an all inclusive universal value metric and social system.
She is a Normative Visionary, Systems Thinker, Disruptor, Change-Maker & Activist. Graduating Cum Laude with an MPhil in Futures Studies from the University of Stellenbosch, after failing matric, she believes matching one's intrinsic wiring to how we learn yields exponential results, leap-frogging our current education system. She influences thinking in order to create futures-led enquiry & change towards a future we all want to be part of - linking strategic leadership and management with futures thinking. Her use of Interdependent Rules of Engagement© and the CliftonStrength® Assessment, as well as various Foresight Methodologies, are tools of choice to influence mindset change, and help people understand each other's unique world views, which are coloured by what she terms our Strengths Language.
She moved to South Africa in 1983 from Nottingham, UK and has lived in both dysfunction and functional environments. These she views as her "cross to bear is your gift to share" - serving as a bridge in understanding how to create function out of chaos.
She and her fellow Coaches, work with motivated clients using the CliftonStrength® Assessment as a power tool for:
Strength Based Interviewing & Recruitment
Assisting motivated individuals to fall in love with their careers and find the work they were born to do.
Working with high achievers to discover their value and purpose
Working with Start-ups to gain momentum, motivation & self-awareness of the Entrepreneur
Assisting Students to gain a greater self-awareness, expediting their career path, building confidence and self-esteem.
Working with individuals to re-engage in their work environments & leveraging their strengths
Working with marriage relationships to help you love again and understand the toxicity, reduce negative experiences, create understanding and, in turn, assist with long-term strategies for lasting transformation
Finding your true Purpose, Passion and Value in Life
Falling in love with your life and work again
She teaches the 'Interdependent Rules of Engagement© & Vulnerability' to focus on living 'Interdependence' as the key to healthier environments - choosing this as 'rules of engagement' over 'Dependence', 'Co-Dependence' & 'Independence'.