“I just want to feel closer like we used to,” Lynne said to me and “I just want to feel respected ” Tom said. As they began to tell me their story I could sense the relief they felt in being able to be heard and understood, and also in discovering that the experience they were having, was not uncommon. Jane and Tim were talking about common and normal experiences of people in relationships, struggling like most people do with the burden of additional stresses like ageing parents and children not sleeping at night and amongst it all, trying to find a way to keep their bond alive.
Relationships go through predictable and normal developmental cycles and they sometimes get stuck in places where we need some assistance to get clear on what is happening underneath and how our messages have been misunderstood and miscommunicated.
So often, what we do and how we behave, think and speak, seems to be so far from where want to go or how we want to feel in our relationships. Generally speaking no one intends to be a bad listener. Most people don’t maliciously set out to ignore or withdraw from their loved ones. No one deliberately sets out to nag, harass, whine or complain to his or her partner. Very often we just need a little fine-tuning to see how we are impacting each other and our relationship.
We all long for closeness and connection in our intimate relationships. We mostly long to feel valued heard and understood and we mostly want to feel like we really matter. Yet so often these are the feelings that are missing. We might know what we want to feel but we often don’t have a clue how to get there.
We can get caught in the same patterns again and again that go around in never ending negative cycles and we seem stuck. Unsure what to do next; we end up doing the same as we’ve always done and hoping for a different result. Einstein would say that that is the definition of madness!
Good relationships have certain characteristics that make them go well. There is lots of research and evidence to show this. Some of it is obvious, like being kind, spending time together doing things we enjoy, staying in touch with our partners’ world. Yet, the patterns we get caught up seem to prevent us from doing the very things we know would make a difference.
Understanding the particular flavor of your own cycle can be incredibly illuminating. Knowing what ticks you off, what makes you get angry and what makes you worry, what makes you afraid and sad, the things that cause you to react badly to your partner, this all helps. Having your partner understand this, helps as well.
After all, most people are generally doing the best they can at the time with what they have. It’s just that they don’t know any other way. And we are all made up of our histories, those large or small trails of baggage that we carry behind us sometimes with awareness, but sometimes less so.
Once we understand how each other’s brains work, how we each get triggered to react in certain ways, we can take steps to settle and soothe ourselves as well as our partners. When the amygdala, the part that regulates the emotions in the brain, goes off line, then we only have access to the reptilian part of the brain, and, consequently, we have reduced options available to us, usually fight or flight and these reactions sometimes get translated in our patterns to pursue or withdraw.
There are a myriad of behaviours and defensive patterns we resort to when we are stuck in these places, but none of them bring about the closeness we long for.
However, when we can look at love through the lens of the brain it ceases being so personal. And when we understand and experience the underlying fears and concerns we all have to stay connected, the biology that is so fundamental to our human experience, we can start to do things differently.
We learn to take risks in sharing and expressing what’s important to us as well as holding onto this in the face of another’s apparent disagreement. And we can do this without sacrificing the relationship or ourselves.
Knowing how my partners’ brain fires, helps me know how to be supportive rather than make things worse. Knowing how my own brain fires, I can learn tools and techniques to settle and soothe myself as well as make space for my own emotions.
We can start to make some small changes in the dance pattern and almost like a miracle the dance itself begins to change. We can turn it all around from a negative feedback loop to one that brings responsiveness and connection; the intimacy that we long for and the safety and security that our brains need, that we need, to thrive.
When we increase the positivity in the relationship the ripple effect spreads out into our children, our families and our communities. Relationships are not easy, but gaining the knowledge and skills to turn your relationship around, to make the dance one of joy and connection, of closeness and security is a journey worth venturing on.
Do you need help in creating, improving or maintaining a relationship? If the answer is Yes contact Margie Ulbrick Counselling Services 0403 814 477 for a free confidential 10 minute consultation to find out how I can help. Or Schedule an appointment online now.