A Poem by Pablo Neruda:
She: The farthest stars are entangled in your arms. I am afraid. Forgive my not having arrived sooner.
He: A smile from you erases all of the past. Your sweet lips shelter what is already far away.
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
These quotes have always resonated with me when it comes to couples and relationships. This past year has been challenging for so many couples due to the Pandemic and the stresses of working from home, possibly losing employment, taking care of children who are also struggling, and the many things people have lost, including possibly loved ones. These additional pressures and worries over the past year have naturally impacted each person, individually, and relationships, as a whole.
The need for support and connection is more significant than ever resulting in couples relying on one another more often. Yet, they do not have the usual outlets they would typically have before COVID to relieve stress, have fun, and feel calm together. The strain is immense, and it’s an even more critical time to find ways to support one another and create a strong connection.
My work with couples centers around the concepts of helping them understand how they are getting stuck in negative interactions and what these mean. The negative patterns that couples get stuck in are really about underlying feelings about not getting needs met, fears and longings about the relationship, and feeling disconnected and lonely. Humans tend to hide their vulnerability and emotions, such as hurt, shame, or sadness. These emotions get covered up by protective defenses or barriers such as shutting down, expressing anger, withdrawing, or being critical of their partner. When humans have needs for attachment that are not being met and/or when fears about abandonment and loss of the other arise, barriers also come up. These are exacerbated during times of crisis, like this past year. Of course, some couples may band together well during times of crisis, as well, and then fall apart when the crisis is done.
Whatever is happening in your relationship now, finding ways to understand and change the negative pattern will help you get through the next months.
Here are some ideas to help you connect and remove barriers in your relationship:
1. Identify the negative dialogues or interactions
It’s essential 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. Usually, one person is saying critical things or “pursuing” through nagging behavior. The “pursuer” is the one that actually wants to connect but doesn’t say so directly. For example, “I’ve told you so many times to take off your boots when you come in to keep the house clean.” This statement puts the other one on the defensive because they have probably tried to remember, but they have so much on their mind and so forgets. The pursuer is actually saying, “I miss having a partner who values what I value and wants to support the family and us.” Learning how to say what you need and what you feel is extremely important for connection and understanding.
2. Tune into yourself to learn about your own emotions and attachment needs, and fears about the relationships.
Our society often teaches us to deny our feelings and “suck it up” and thus not share what we feel with one another. We may think about other’s needs more than our own. This is especially true for parents. Still, it also undermines a person’s ability to pay attention to themselves and their own needs: for acceptance, closeness, understanding, feeling important, loved, and appreciated. It also undermines the ability to be aware of fears of abandonment, rejection, not being valued or accepted, or being unlovable. By developing awareness, understanding, and acceptance of these needs and fears, you can then be more transparent with your partner when expressing them. Try to stop and pay more attention to what is happening in your body, physically, and with your emotions, as a guide to what you need.
3. It’s so important not to let emotions fester. Sharing your feelings and needs when they arise will help prevent blow-ups or furthering the disconnection.
As you develop an awareness of your emotions by tuning into your body, then you can begin working on expressing them when they arise. Doing this will minimize the tendency to build a barrier to communication and connection when in a negative cycle.
4. Our relationships are vital to our mental health and overall wellbeing.
Think of your relationship like a garden that needs watering and tending to. Taking time to nurture your relationship will help it to flourish and grow. Of course, during this difficult time, when it’s hard to get out and be social or go to a movie or eat in a restaurant, it’s still important to find ways to “date.” Carving out time to take a walk, having dinner in your bedroom, listening to music, or reading out loud are some options. Take the time to plan dates where you can enjoy each others’ company, do an activity that you love, or be together without distraction. Be creative!
Humans are wired for connection, and building lasting, connecting, loving relationships is what all humans strive for.
By becoming more aware of and tuning into your own emotions, you will know what you feel, need, and want and be clearer with your partner about these things. 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 therapist – it’s worth the time to make your partnership solid!
HOW CAN COUPLES AVOID CREATING BARRIERS TO LOVE?
Dr. Sue Johnson, a well-known psychologist, and couples therapist, wrote a book, “Hold Me Tight – Seven Conversations For A Lifetime of Love,” which outlines what couples can do to create more connection and avoid the barriers to love. Her approach is called Emotionally Focused Therapy and is very successful at helping couples reconnect. This type of therapy, EFT, is the best approach for struggling couples