Updated: Nov 17
As a couple's therapist, I often get asked what ultimately ends a marriage. Many assume it is conflict, but what actually drives couples apart is disconnection. Sure, lots of conflict happens over money/kids/house/you-name-it, but underneath all of this “content” is usually the need to just be seen and heard. When that need time after time goes unmet, of course we start to feel disconnected, which feels scary and even shameful. If I know one thing about humans, we really don't like these feelings, so we get our armor on and go into protection mode. This often looks like criticism, blame, demands, defensiveness, or maybe just shutting down altogether, but each of these behaviors are just reactions to the emotions. Fun (but twisted) fact- we actually do these behaviors to try and pull our partners in closer! And this is why…
Emotions are our guide to getting needs met. We cannot control what we feel when we experience a trigger but we can control how to respond to it. In our defense, so much of how we communicate what we feel is based on what we have learned. Most of the time that starts in childhood based on what we have seen (or haven't seen) our caregivers model. This can happen consciously or unconsciously, but one way or another, it gets encoded within us and we start “practicing” from there, especially in our romantic relationships. For example, if we often were told to “suck it up” or “get over yourself” when we expressed sadness or frustration as a child, how could we respond differently as an adult when this was the only language that was taught to us?
Hopefully it's becoming clearer why “I do not feel heard and that makes me sad and scared, and what I really need from you right now is a hug and to just sit with me” can be so hard to say, and so much easier to say, “you never listen, you jerk!!!” In my practice, about 99.9% of the time it is because of fear. And because fear is another pretty vulnerable emotion to express, it’s a lot easier to keep that armor on and show up with anger. The problem is, if both partners armor up for too long how is anyone really getting what they need and how is anyone being seen with all of this protection on?
Turn Towards, Not Away
So, how can we start teaching ourselves that our partners are not the enemy? We have to practice nurturing secure and connected attachments, which means usually reprocessing where the secure attachment was ruptured or the absence of it. EFT (emotion focused therapy) teaches couples to restructure their attachment by further accessing these underlying emotions through a safe and secure bond with their partners. EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing) therapy is another treatment that offers healing by adaptively reprocessing the underlying emotions, perceptions of self, and body sensations associated with attachment wounds, that we didn’t have access to before. EMDR can also be incorporated into couple’s therapy, allowing each partner to witness each other’s healing and reprocessing, holding a safe space for their experience and emotions.
Ultimately, through the lenses of EFT and relational EMDR, I teach couples how to be brave by taking the armor off, reaching for their partner, and asking for what they need. Human beings are made for connection and are not meant to struggle or suffer alone. The “downs” in life are inevitable, so why should we have to sit in that pit by ourselves or try to figure out how to climb out without any help? When we learn how to feel safe in our relationships, especially in the presence of vulnerability, we are left feeling more connected, secure, and most importantly, seen.
Interested in more information? Schedule a free 15 min consult to learn more! With offices in Gilbert & Phoenix Arizona, our therapists are ready to help you achieve your limitless potential. Call 480.448.1076 today!
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