Unconscious collusions in relationships harm people in families, friendships, church staffs, and work partnerships.
In this case “collusion” does not refer to a conspiracy or illegal activity, but an unintended relational dynamic that develops over time. For instance, it’s uncanny how we can attach to people who are the polar opposite of us, not realizing that each of us are stuck in a dysfunctional dance that repeats hurtful wounds or expectations from the past. It’s a collusion because the attitude and behavior of each person reinforces that of the other.
Collusion is a family therapy term but it describes a spiritual formation reality.
As Kristi and I have taught in our recent blogs and podcasts on family dynamics, healthy spiritual formation emphasizes family formation. Our personality and relationship patterns are largely formed in our families — for better or worse.
Bible reading and other spiritual disciplines will not change your spiritual formation much if they don’t include being emotionally honest about your current and past family dynamics. The Bible itself teaches that loving our family members is the most important expression of our faith in Christ (1 Timothy 5:8).
Eight Harmful Collusions
Here are some of the common unconscious collusions that may be stealing your freedom of personal expression, dignity, and love:
1. Feeler vs. Thinker
In the early years of our marriage, Kristi carried the emotions (negative and positive) for herself, me, and our three children. At the same time, I was in my head, analyzing and problem-solving for all of us. We were both burdened and it caused conflict till we gave each other empathy and learned that we could sometimes switch roles.
2. Optimist vs. Pessimist
A lead pastor keeps ideating with new strategies and partnerships to grow the church but the executive pastor often puts on the brakes to point out pragmatic realities and problems that need to be dealt with.
3. Risk-Taker vs. Risk Averse
Two sisters are partnering to lead a family business. One is fearful and wants to protect assets and follow all the rules and the other is bold to take risks for growth.
4. Over-Functioning vs. Under-Functioning
A doctor can’t bear to see her younger brother ruin his life with drinking so she keeps giving him another chance by using her connections and money to fix problems and find him a new job. (This is the dance of the addict and codependent.)
5. Pursuer vs. Distancer
A mother wants a closer relationship with her teenage son but he wants to have his own life. Her expressions of love feel intrusive or controlling to him and his distancing feels rejecting to her.
6. Frugal vs. Spender
Saving money and spending money are both needed in families, businesses, and churches, but often two people are on opposite sides of the equation and have conflict about this.
7. Exploring Options vs. Making Decisions
Some people feel better with keeping options open and others with closure and structure.
8. Serious vs. Fun
There’s a time for earnest work and a time to relax and play. If you partner with someone who is on the opposite end, there’s likely to be conflict.
These polarities are more than personality differences to understand and accept — they’re examples of brokenness.
In collusion, there are personality weaknesses that are denied and unconscious. Each of us tends to be mesmerized by our personality and think our way is better and the other person caused the problem.
Steps to Break Free
To get free of a negative collusion requires abandoning fixing the recent problem in favor of strengthening the relationship through listening to each other with empathy. Here are three steps:
- Use feeling words to describe your experience
- Admit to your part (it’s a two-way street)
- Practice the opposite side of the polarity (and support your partner to do the same)
Listen to this week’s SoulTalk: In our relationships, we can become stuck and stifled in unconscious patterns, called collusions. Bill and Kristi examine the ways these painful collusions show up in our important relationships so that we can learn to better “communicate about how we communicate.” We can override these patterns by the power of the Holy Spirit, and experience deeper freedom and empathy.
To listen to more Soul Talks episodes about family dynamics you can go back and listen to episodes 123-129.