Friday, March 16, 2012

Not waving, but drowning.

"Whenever I try to talk to my wife about our relationship she says it's fine.   So what's wrong with me, I feel so miserable, yet she seems happy?"

Everything in relationship balances; the degree to which one partner is out of touch with their emotions is the degree to which the other will feel overwhelmed by theirs.  My client was processing all the feelings in the relationship and, without the skills to identify his own emotions accurately, felt overwhelmed and isolated.  He felt ashamed of these feelings, judging himself as weak.  His wife, however, was in denial of her deeper feelings and had pushed them away as her way of making life easier.

When there is a loss of connection in a relationship - perhaps due to an unresolved issue, a breakdown in communication or the stress of everyday life -  each partner adjusts to it in the hopes things will improve.  The adjustments slowly drive a couple further apart, it can be subtle at first but one day they wake up and realise they are exist in entirely different emotional landscapes.  

In the case of my client he was in an emotional swamp - drowning in feelings he could barely understand, struggling helplessly to get some kind of footing. His wife was living inside a rock: believing she was safe within her own world and refusing to recognise that her husband wanting to talk about the relationship was a cry for help.  

Not understanding their loss of connection and trying to keep the relationship going, each had unconsciously chosen opposite coping strategies.  Even though it seemed to be working on a daily basis, the distance was now making the relationship vulnerable.  At this stage usually the person in the swamp makes a last ditch attempt to rid themselves of bad feelings, often believing the best way to escape the pain is by leaving the relationship. Its usually then their partner wakes up and falls into a great deal of pain.

Unconsciously we are extremely sensitive to the loss of connection in our relationship, we feel vulnerable and start making small adjustments, not realising that the best thing we can do is start communicating.  Its rather like living in an earthquake zone and ignoring earth tremors in the hopes that the big one will never hit, the pressure builds to such a degree that there has to be a seismic shift to release it.  When a major earthquake strikes, the fallout can be devastating.

Most long-term relationships hit this state and many don't survive it . It takes commitment and willingness to face things head on, to open up to each other, share vulnerabilities and regain connection.  But taking a risk and learning to communicate about and be comfortable with our emotions, builds the strongest, most loving and resilient of relationships.

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