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A House on Fire

 

If you think back to the last time you experienced a crisis in your relationship, you may remember the feelings of panic and fear.  You may even remember feeling uncertain about whether your partner was going to be there for you.

 

In those moments, it is easy to let our fear build, until it transforms from a few sparks into a full-on house fire.  When our relationship-house is on fire, we turn to the person we need the most for help.  In our panicked state, we don’t always have the mindset to calmly explain that we are in crisis and need help.  More often, we attempt to let our loved one know that we are in crisis, that our house is on fire, by throwing little bits of the fire in their direction.  What we intend as a “hey, I’m really hurting right now, and I’m scared and need to know that you’re here for me”, comes out as anger directed toward the person we are turning to for help.

 

If I throw fire at my partner’s house, they’re going to take protective measures to keep their house from also catching on fire.

 

This intensifies whatever cycle has already been occurring in the relationship.  One partner feels uncertain, and lashes out (when really, they’re looking for reassurance), the other partner backs away further, uncomfortable with the intensity of the first partner.  This backing away leads the partner to feel further abandoned, and deeper into their crisis, fanning the flames, and turning the small bits of fire they throw at their partner into a raging fireball.

 

If we can understand this cycle, and recognize it when it happens, we can begin to stop it.  Initially that might look like a “hey, I see what we’re doing here- we’re in our fire cycle”.  Next one partner might say, “yes, I know I’m lashing out, because I’m anger, and under the anger is fear that you aren’t going to be here when I need you”.  Or the other partner might say, “I see you lashing out, I know you feel anger, but I want you to know I’m here for you”.

 

If we can acknowledge the anger and the more vulnerable emotion behind it, we can slow the cycle and find connection in our relationships.

 

If you find yourself stuck in this cycle, and need help getting out of it, set up an appointment with Alice today by calling 801.944.4555.
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The Disconnected Relationship

What is love? According to Sue Johnson, “It’s intuitive and yet not necessarily obvious: It’s the continual search for a basic, secure connection with someone else. Through this bond, partners in love become emotionally dependent on each other for nurturing, soothing, and protection” (Johnson, 2009). Humans have a hard-wired need for emotional responsiveness and closeness. At the beginning of our lives, we are born with the survival response and need for attachment from our mothers. This need for a secure attachment never fades; it follows us into adulthood evolving into the need for a secure attachment with a partner.

Underneath most fights and marital issues is the longing to feel connected to your partner, to feel that secure attachment and to know, do I matter? Are you there for me? Unfortunately, our culture has painted the picture that this type of dependency is weak and undesirable. Because of this, many relationships begin to exhibit over time, physical and emotional isolation that is actually traumatizing to humans; it communicates to the brain “danger.”

Most relationships begin with a super close connection; partners tend to be more responsive to each other’s needs. However, over time this tends to dwindle and fade as each partner begins to make assumptions about the other. For example, one partner wants more attention or love but expresses this by acting angry and nagging, the other begins to withdraw and pull back not knowing how to react and possibly feeling as though they can’t do anything right and so begins, the “dance” of the couple. The more one nags and pursues, the more the other pulls back and begins to withdraw. At this point, the relationship begins to unravel leaving each partner wondering if the other is there for them or not. During this dance, neither really discusses the deep emotional pain they are really feeling, which keeps them spiraling around in this cycle.

Once you have been able to identify your relationship’s negative cycle, you can both agree to break the cycle. Although disappointments will always be a part of every relationship, we can choose how we handle them. We can handle them in the same old ways, reflecting fear and defensiveness or we can handle them with a little more understanding. If you and your spouse feel as though you are constantly caught in an endless negative cycle, schedule an appointment to begin changing that cycle by learning to understand the underlying emotions and recreating a deeper emotional connection with your partner.

 

Johnson, S. (2009). Hold me tight. Retrieved from http://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/200812/hold-me-tight

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