What is a bonding pattern?

There is a natural ebb and flow in relationship, a movement between intimacy and distance. Even the most ideal relationships have moments in which intimacy is interrupted and good will is in short supply. As we studied the rhythms of relationship and these periods of discomfort, we discovered certain predictable patterns in all of them. We see these patterns as the dance of the selves in relationship, a dance in which the selves, rather than the people, interact. 

We named these interactions “bonding patterns” because they are automatic, archetypal parent/child interactions, like the bonding that takes place between a parent and an infant. These bonding patterns are our natural instinctual patterns for receiving and giving nurture and love. There is nothing pathological about them. They are apparent in all relationships. We will be using a married couple to illustrate our approach, but please keep in mind that the same interactions can take place between two people of the same sex, between two people not in a primary relationship, between parents and children, between employers and employees, and even between two strangers meeting for the first time. In short, bonding patterns can occur between any two people, or any two groups of people. 

The Bonding Patterns 
We will use Bernie and Ginny, a married couple, to illustrate the bonding patterns in this section. When bonding patterns are operating in their positive aspect, they might well be overlooked. If Bernie’s “Responsible Father” is bonded into Ginny’s “Compliant Daughter”, the fact that there are selves are in relationship rather than Ginny and Bernie might well go unnoticed. People would observe that Bernie seems to take a lot of responsibility and that Ginny usually follows his lead, but this would not necessarily seem problematical. A positive bonding pattern is neither good nor bad, it just is. We call it a positive bonding pattern because it does not feel painful.

Bonding patterns

Developing bonding patterns works best when we use a specific example!

Laying out a bonding pattern is called mapping. Of course we can develop positive as well as negative bonding patterns. It is important to realise that negative bonding patterns often come from positive bonding patterns. We often only become aware of bonding patterns when they become negative. In the positive bonding pattern we have all too often tried to smooth all creases.

Mapping can be subdivided into the following steps:

  • The trigger: enquire about the context of the situation and a concrete example in which a problem occurs.

  • Start with the ignition: with who of both people does the tension, irritation or another unpleasant feeling begin? And how does this person then react? A parent or child reaction? And how does the other in turn react to this? Important: a parent reaction invokes a child reaction and vice versa.

  • Then map the parent-child reactions of both people step by step using the lemniscate. Try to see the steps as in a film. How do both persons act; how do they look, what are they doing, what are they saying and how do they react to each other during every step? Number each step and during each step ask how they feel, what the reaction of the other is releasing and what the role of their vulnerability is at the time. The cast off, and therefore not the communicated vulnerability is the most important fuel for maintaining a bonding pattern.

  • Other important fuel sources are the ‘rules’ of the primary aspects. What do they blame each other for? And how should the other act? Map these rules / subpersonalities using the following diagram:

These contradicting rules provide extra fuel so the fire continues to flare up in a negative bonding pattern. It is of course important to also focus on the vulnerability that is ‘under’ these rules. This can also be done using Voice Dialogue sessions in stage 5.

  • In this stage, Voice Dialogue sessions can take place with the most vital polarities that maintain the bonding pattern.