Passion and energy are part of every great relationship, whether it is part of sex, conversation, communication, or dreams.
It is always better when both partners seek and offer it, but it is also wonderfully contagious.
Drama is a whole different animal in intimate relationships. If we define relationship drama as passion and energy run amok, plunging across sacred boundaries and destroying everything in its wake, it makes lovers into enemies and leaves lasting and painful scars.
The sources of this negative kind of drama may be totally legitimate if the venting is occasional.
A partner in a relationship who has been putting up with many hurtful experiences over a long period of time can eventually break in ways he or she might not have done before. A painful, unexpected trust-rupture can activate anger or pain in unpredictable ways.
People who are a lot of emotional or physical stress can be more susceptible to unusual emotional outburst that they would not normally feel or express.
Too many disappointments in other areas of life can spill over into a relationship that would normally have the resources to deal with the challenges.
But, most intimate relationships can heal from these understandable experiences. Whichever, or both, partners contribute to the dramatic interaction, they are likely to achieve a good resolution if they have a past history of relationship success and the untoward intense and negative drama is understood.
It’s a very different story when a person repeatedly brings negative drama into each succeeding relationship that is more than often out-of-proportion to what a situation calls for.
Many relationship disappointments can make anyone intimacy-wary and pre-defeated, but there can be other causes as well. For example, some people have unreasonable expectations of the level of emotional intensity a relationship should be able to provide, or want more than their current partner is comfortable with. (See my article on “Unequal Appetites” on Psychology Today Blogs.)
In more extreme cases of repeated drama sabotage, a partner who expresses negative drama in every intimate relationship may be unable to see his or her contribution because of the level of distress experienced.
That continuing unconscious anguish sometimes is the result of an untreated personality or anxiety disorder or underlying depression. Those underlying drivers can activate the brain to move too quickly to a fight-flight or self-erasing response, drowning out the hopes of more rational options.
Being exposed to constant, intense, dramatic conflict in childhood can skew the brain’s receptors in adulthood, making immediate and inappropriate dramatic responses more likely.
These now-adult children may only know how to choose partners who continue to repeat those early patterns with them. There is also scientific evidence that children who do not get the nourishing they need in early infancy do not develop the needed capacity to handle stress in later life.
Negative drama can be expressed in raging anger, self-righteous blaming, rapid and prolonged withdrawal, threats of abandonment or exile, continuous provocative demands, emotional or physical abuse, self-destruction, or intense disdain.
Some people are more subtle in their expressions of drama, but the result is the same. Whether it is one or both partners who continuously engage in negative drama, the relationship most often self-destructs.
Intimate partners, who bring negative drama into their relationships, often don’t understand why their relationships end.
The incredible energy and passion of a dramatic person can be a powerful turn-on at the beginning of a relationship, especially if it is expressed sexually. That can lead overly-dramatic people to believing that they are super desirable initially and then rejected for the very same behaviors over time, leaving them confused and wounded when their partners unexpected check-outs. Because human beings are natural traders, all relationships are “deals” at some level, and the initial, satisfying trade can lose its luster when it costs more than it is worth over time.
Research has shown us that quality relationships have at least a five to one ratio of positive to negative interactions and only need less than one-to-one to predict trouble. (See all of John Gottman’s powerful work).
There are some very dramatic relationships that do work but if they tilt in the direction of negativity, the energy expressed between the partners will destroy all hopes of long-time resolution.
So, how can you tell if you are just a passionate person or your level of intensity is relationship-dooming?
– Have intimate partners often described you as “too much?”
– Do you find yourself in relationships where your partners don’t usually reciprocate the intensity you need?
– Do you feel disconnected and alone in your relationships even when your partners seem to be satisfied?
– Have your partners told you that they feel invaded or pushed by your requirements?
– Do you find yourself often easily riled up about things your partners feel are not that important?
– Have your partners complained about how long it takes you to get over your “problems?”
– Have most of your partners wanted to end dramatic interactions before you have?
– When you can’t get your needs met, do you respond with escalating intensity?
– Do your partners initially respond well to your passionate responses, but eventually seem to avoid them?
– Would people who know you well describe you as easily ruffled or quick to anger?
– Can you let go of your level of passion or intensity when your partners ask you to back off?
These are just some sample questions not intended to make you feel badly about yourself if you’ve answered yes to many of them.
If you are a naturally alive and intense person, you may just need to learn how to channel or tame your passion when you’re on the other end of a partner who is overwhelmed by you.
But if your drama has become burdensome or threatening to many of your partners, you’ll want to take a closer look at what part you might be playing in your relationship failures. You cannot heal what you cannot see or know, so, even if it is uncomfortable to face those truths, you’ll be able to work on healing the behaviors that are your contribution.
Dr. Randi Gunther – www.randigunther.com
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I don’t know if you can avoid all drama in relationships, and, in fact, that’s what makes them exciting.
But some relationships and some people seem to attract more drama than necessary. It’s best to start with recognizing what the drama is about – what causes it, what keeps it going, and what is really going on beneath it. Drama is getting overly upset about something small and blowing it out of proportion. We’re all guilty of this sometimes, but if it happens a lot, it makes relationships difficult to maintain.
Most of our drama about another person comes from our expectations of them.
If we expect them to act or think a certain way and they don’t, we can often become very upset. This leads to us being angry or hurt or feeling unloved. Hope the other person will intuit what we need, and we believe that if they loved us enough, they would come through for us. However, if they don’t know what we were expecting, they can hardly be held accountable to do it for us.
Communication is important here.
If we don’t communicate what we want and need, we’re definitely not going to get it. If we do communicate it, there’s a chance the other person can’t or won’t do what we want or need, but at least we will know why not. Then when we get upset, we are all speaking the same language instead of trying to figure out what’s really going on.
Another way we bring drama into our relationships is because we have been hurt in the past and haven’t gotten over it.
When the person we are in relationship with now starts to look or feel like our past relationships that didn’t go well, we panic because we think we know where things are heading. It may be true, but it may be an over-reaction on our part. Notice what’s happening and work with how you’re feeling. Make sure it’s about this person and this situation.
We can only change ourselves, so if you’re caught up in the drama, but you’re not creating it, ask what’s really going on.
Give the other person a chance to see how they are interpreting the situation and what you can do to help calm it. Acknowledgement and reassurance can go a long way here. And if you find that you are attracting dramatic people into your life and relationships, ask yourself what is so interesting or exciting about dramatic people and see if you can find that in a way that isn’t quite so disruptive to your life.
Becky Bringewatt, MA, LPC, NCC – www.mantiscounselingandcoaching.org
First it is important to evaluate what it is about these types of relationships that attract you.
Do you have a history of trauma with your family of origin or with previous relationships?
We tend to gravitate to what we know and what is familiar.
If drama and stress is what we are used to, then this is what is familiar and what we will be attracted to in relationships. It is hard to break this cycle if you are not aware of patterns that you fall into when you meet and start a new relationship.
This is also about boundaries.
It is extremely important to pay attention to the red flags that you see when you meet someone new.
Even though the man may seem like the perfect guy in the beginning, there are red flags if he is not who he says he is.
If he is moody and possessive in the beginning, this will only get worse as the relationship progresses.
If you cannot be yourself and it the start of the relationship, imagine how it will be 6 months or a year into the relationship.
A relationship should be easy in the sense that you can be yourself without judgment and the need to filter what you say.
You shouldn’t have to change the way you dress or wear your hair. You should be able to feel at ease with you partner and not be stressed out at the thought of seeing him or being with him. If you are tense and stressed out at the thought of seeing him or going out with him, pay attention to that. Don’t force yourself to be something that you are not to accommodate anyone.
If you find yourself falling into the pattern of being in relationships that are stressful and have a great deal of drama, it might be a good idea to see a therapist to examine and process what keeps you stuck in this pattern.
A good therapist will help you examine what patterns are familiar to you and help process some of the reasons that make it difficult to change these patterns. Therapy can help you identify important boundaries to establish early on in a relationship and support you in maintaining them.
Ileana Hinojosa, MLA, LMFT – www.themindfullife.net
To avoid drama you have to be able to manage your emotions well enough to think about the pros and cons of any current or potential relationship.
The less able you are to manage your own emotional reactivity, the more likely that your anxiety will spill out into the relationship. This is not to say that the relationship is just your responsibility.
Your partner must also be able to manage his emotional reactivity. This can be a challenge, so the more mature each of you is, the less likely you are to live in a world of anxiety and drama.
There are many reasons why we might feel attracted to someone, and not all of these reasons are apparent.
Unconscious drives from the past may stir up powerful and compelling attraction to a particular person.
The person you feel attracted to could remind you at an unconscious level of a primary attachment figure like your father.
If your father was a nice man, that’s great. If your father was a raging alcoholic, well, you can see the potential problems! How many times have you heard someone say, “I can’t believe I married my father!”.
The less differentiated you are from your family of origin, the more likely it is that those past relationship issues will plague your current and future relationships.
Attraction is powerful and so exciting; it’s enticing to just dive in and throw caution to the wind. It can be an overwhelming when you meet someone you are really attracted to. I would hate to be the one to say that you need to ignore these powerful feelings. Falling for someone is an experience that doesn’t come that often in life. You want to enjoy it.
That’s why I think it’s so important to take your time before making commitments.
Enjoy the romance but remember that this man may not be relationship material for you. I have two pieces of advice:
The first is to take any new relationship slowly.
That includes sexual intimacy because once the relationship becomes sexual, your ability to rationally analyze it is greatly reduced.
The second piece of advice is to work on your own issues.
The better you know yourself, the more differentiated you are from your family of origin, the less likely you are to make unconscious, emotionally driven choices in a partner. Also, the more mature you are, the more you likely you will be to attract and choose emotionally mature men. Mature people want mature partners, you included.
Enjoy the romance, but don’t commit until you can think.
Sally LeBoy, MFT – www.sallyleboymft.com
There several factors that create drama in a relationship.
Sometimes it’s because you move into the relationship too quickly, without really getting to know each other. Then conflicts arise because you don’t see eye to eye. The other factor could be the mind games you both use to manipulate or coerce to get your way. And you do this because you’re not sure of the state of your relationship. Both cause flare-ups, conflict and misunderstandings that create drama and insecurity.
How can you minimize or even prevent this drama?
1. Avoid being treated poorly.
In other words, do not tolerate abusive behavior that makes you feel “less” than who you really are. Get out of the relationship as soon as possible.
2. Be sure you are ready for a relationship and are not going into it feeling needy, desperate, hurt, angry or wounded.
Your insecurity will put your partner on the defensive, which can be emotionally draining and uncomfortable.
3. Pace the relationship so that it moves forward at a slow, but steady pace.
Just enjoy the present and see what happens.
4. Let the relationship enhance who you already are.
If it doesn’t, it’s not the right relationship.
5. Communicate your needs and wants and be sure you know his.
With this awareness, you will not be disappointed or frustrated.
6. Fight fairly, without one person feeling they always have to give in.
Listen, share, validate each other’s differences and compromise.
Your relationship should be fun, loving and nurturing. A relationship that goes from one state of chaos to another is not healthy and should be avoided. You and your partner deserve a harmonious relationship based on mutual respect and appreciation.
Amy Sherman, M.A., LMHC – www.yourbabyboomersnetwork.com
Often when couples encounter drama in their relationships, they have learned this from others role modeling this behavior such as parents or primary caretakers.
Drama is a way to avoid what is really going on inside of yourself while focusing on the other person with judgement and criticism. It is playing out a false image of ourselves and others which is essentially a distortion of understanding relationships in the first place.
How we feel about others ultimately defines how we feel about ourselves.
We can get addicted to drama by focusing on others as the target so we can be distracted with dealing with the parts of ourselves we do not like or accept. If we can begin to be authentic in relationships and live them with awareness without making false assumptions, we can find ourselves worthy of love.
When we feel worthy of love and live with genuine love and concern for one’s self and another, we then have emotional integrity and we become whole whereby we live fully in mind, body, spirit and emotions.
The whole is always greater than the sum of the parts. This diffuses drama. When love becomes unconditional, we are totally seeing ourselves and others as whole. When we can live without expectations, we are not disappointed with others for being who they are because there are no conditions placed on anyone. That is where acceptance and authenticity lie. Everyone can feel the freedom to be their genuine self and there is no place for drama to occur.
Drama is avoidable.
When you find yourself delving into drama, you can eliminate it by being honest with yourself and others by having the courage to speak your truth. Say exactly what you mean and you can eliminate drama before it becomes so overwhelming and harmful.
Connie Clancy Fisher, ED.D. – www.drconstance.com
Are you a drama queen, or do you repeatedly date drama kings?
Hmmm. There are all sorts of people in this world, and there’s someone out there for everyone; even the drama queens and kings.
So what’s a drama queen/king anyway?
Well, I’d say it’s someone who is tense, theatric, and acts out. Often these outbursts are cries for help in one way or another; though it doesn’t seem to come back that way. These cries are full of frustration, heart break, annoyance, and sometimes petty strife. The problem with this is that the drama that comes back isn’t what you’re particularly wanting in your life. So someone’s not clear on what they really want.
If this isn’t what you want in your life, why does it keep showing up?
Good question. If this shows up repeatedly in your life, it’s there to teach you something. I say teach you, because you’re the common denominator in these relationships that repeatedly creates drama, anxiety and tension.
– Pay close attention.
– Be open to what and/or who shows up to help you.
– What are you hearing?
– What are you seeing?
– How are you feeling about it?
– Sit with it.
You see, you tend to somehow unconsciously create what you need to help you through life situations; even the things that end up causing you some discomfort along the way.
So if you’re tired of what keeps showing up, do something different from what you’ve been doing. Anything. It doesn’t matter much what you change as long as you change something. Because guess what? If something changes; something changes. So whatever you change, you will get a different outcome.
Other tips and insights on how to avoid drama in your relationships may include:
1. Be clear on your requirements, needs and wants in a relationship.
2. Clear your own drama before entering a relationship.
3. Make sure you have clear boundaries.
4. Enter new relationships slow and cautiously; especially if you’re used lots of drama.
5. Do your personal development work and require it of a potential partner; else the relationship will be out of balance, with you carrying most of the weight.
6. Pay close attention to any red flag (warning) that may show up and make mental notes to yourself about it.
This is just a few tips/insights to get you started in avoiding, getting rid of, and acknowledging drama when you see it; BEFORE you’re vested in the relationship. Here’s wishing you all the best for a drama free life and relationship.
Barbara Ann Williams, LPC, MS – www.barbaraannwilliams.com
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Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way, says we should keep our drama on the page.
She tells us to do our journaling, so we can purge out the upsets and use them as art.
While Julia Cameron coaches artists and writers, I think her advice applies to all of us.
Keep the drama contained.
Put it somewhere. Yes, we all have mood swings. Yes, we all get infuriating mixed signals from our partners (and potential partners). But if we can find appropriate vessels to hold that energy for a while, we can get other things done and think more clearly about how to handle the crises and commotions in our personal lives.
What does it mean to contain?
Containing drama doesn’t mean bottling up your feelings. It just means managing your energy so you can do creative things, take care of yourself, and cultivate strong relationships.
Containing drama keeps us steady and lets us see the hurricanes happening on lined paper.
1. Containing drama means recognizing when you’re tired, sad, bored, or lonely……and taking care of yourself in appropriate ways.
2. Containing drama means getting plenty of rest, taking care of your body and obligations in a timely manner, and seeking guidance from someone wise when you don’t know what to do.
3. Containing drama means learning to let go of what we can’t control (e.g., why won’t he text me back?), putting those unanswerable questions in a particular place and letting them remain there until our therapy session or lunch with our best friend.
4. Containing drama means howling into a pillow or writing our tirade in red marker on a yellow legal pad and then ripping it up.
5. Containing drama means creating a visual like stuffing the trouble into a cookie jar, closing the lid, leaving it on a shelf for now. You can come back to it later.
If containment seems too difficult, you may need help regulating your nervous system’s response to stress.
A good trauma therapist who is calming and supportive can help you learn to soothe yourself and create just the right containers for you.
Dr. Deborah Cox – www.deborahlcox.com