Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.” – Rumi
This is a wonderful quote to think about when you are in a relationship or seeking one. Often, in my work with couples, I have found that the tension and negative cycle that they get stuck are are really about their underlying feelings – their hurt, shame, or sadness when needs for attachment are not being met and/or when fears about abandonment and loss of the other arise.
In trying to “hide” these underlying feelings, individuals create barriers or shields that stop connection, distract one another from the real issues and protect themselves from difficult feelings . This, in turn, creates a sense of isolation and aloneness, exactly the OPPOSITE of what the person really wants.
During the holidays, it’s especially important to be aware of what might be barriers between you, as a couple, since there is extra stress and family-of-origin issues that often arise when visiting or hosting family members. Remaining connected during the holiday season will help to buffer against issues that come up.
HOW CAN COUPLES AVOID CREATING BARRIERS?
Dr. Sue Johnson, a well-known psychologist and couples therapist, has worked with thousands of couples and done research on how distressed couples develop negative cycles or patterns of behavior which are what create the distancing in relationships. Her book, “Hold Me Tight – Seven Conversations For A Lifetime of Love” outlines what couples can do in order to create more connection and avoid the barriers to love.
Here are some ideas to help you along in your relationship:
- Recognize the demon dialogues – it’s important to notice when either of you is entering into a dialogue/argument that feels very familiar, is destructive (creates anger, hurt feelings, distancing) and doesn’t get resolved. If you are in one, usually one person is “pursuing” the other through criticism or nagging behavior. The “pursuer” is the one that wants to actually connect but can’t say so. For example, “Why are you always late – I can never count on you for dinner”. This statement puts the other one on the defensive because he/she has probably tried to make it but can’t. The pursuer is actually saying, “I miss you and wish you were home – when you’re late, I worry and feel alone”. Learning how to say what you really feel, is extremely important and helps your partner know what you really want and need.
- Develop an understanding of what you need and what you’re afraid of in relationships. Often times, in our society, we are taught to deny our own needs, especially women and mothers, and to think about others. This, of course, is a wonderful concept but it also undermines people’s ability to pay attention to themselves and their own needs: for acceptance, closeness, understanding, feeling important, feeling loved, feeling appreciated. It also undermines the ability to be aware of fears of abandonment, rejection, not being valued or accepted or being unlovable. By developing an awareness, understanding and acceptance of these needs and fears, you can then be clearer with your partner when expressing them.
- Express these needs when they arise – not when you’ve gotten to the frustrated, angry or withdrawn level. If you develop the awareness of your needs and fears, then begin working on expressing them when they arise. This will help you and your partner meet each others’ needs before frustration and anger develop. This will minimize the tendency to build a barrier to communication and connection when in a negative cycle.
- Make sure to take time to nurture your relationship. Just like a garden that needs watering and tending, a relationship needs to also have that level of care to flourish and grow. Don’t put your relationship last, especially parents, because this will only lead to less connection and companionship. Take the time to plan dates where you can enjoy each others’ company, do an activity that you love, or just be together without distraction.
Building lasting, connecting, loving relationships is what all humans want and deserve. Making sure you know your needs and fears and expressing them to your partner in a safe, caring way, will go a long way to making a strong bond and connection. If you are struggling in making this happen, get some professional guidance from a couple therapist – it’s worth the time to make your partnership solid!
Happy Holidays and if you’re struggling, give me a call.
Learn more about Marie Caterini Choppin, MSW, LCSW-C