I’ve spent a lot of time in the car this month visiting my father who is ill and listening to stories and podcasts about relationships, and I’ve found myself thinking about the art and the science of male-female communication. As a therapist, I counsel couples in Bethesda and Washington DC, which gives me a particular lens to think about how men and women relate. Although I enjoy helping couples and thinking about relationships through the view of EFT (Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy), I find that most of us think about our own intimate relationships through our day-to-day experiences.
I feel like as a couples therapist, I know quite a bit about how relationships work. However, I, too, struggle to communicate in my own relationship. I’m writing this blog from the standpoint of a married woman first, and of a couples therapist, second. Why is that? Because experiencing (both for the self and with the other in mind) is at the very heart of understanding, especially when it comes to our close relationships. We are all human beings; and every human longs to connect! And when we don’t, we begin to feel scared or alone. We have to live our way into understanding each other better; we don’t automatically land there just because we said “I do!” And guess what? Life takes a toll on our relationships, and over time it is inherent that our communication will begin to suffer without proper maintenance and attention.
Think of your relationship like a car. A car needs gas to run. At a minimum, our relationships need enough fuel–time, space and resources–to keep on going. To run optimally, a car needs skilled attention and maintenance. And, what happens when we take our car to get serviced at a place where they aren’t very skilled, or we skip our regularly scheduled oil changes? The car starts to wear down. Without proper time and attention, this process can happen in our committed relationships as well.
Just from the daily wear and tear of life, this same process happens in our relationships. My husband has supported me through a 3rd degree, two houses, the growth of a business, and the raising of our three children. Even good events in life can create strain and stress. Yet, when we have something equivalent to a car accident in life—such as a sick or dying family member, a troubled child, a job lost, or an emotional set-back or downturn—we feel the impact of that problem in our relationship most quickly and easily. What happens? We begin to fight; we avoid each other; we blame each other; we ignore each other; we could turn to someone or something else for solace. And, why? We do this because we are hardwired to connect as human beings. When something threatens our sense of security or connection with another person, we experience what Sue Johnson terms “attachment distress”, which embodies our signs and symptoms of hurt or fear. Yet, these signs are just cries, calls, and often screams for connection with our most important person–our partner.
Give yourself a relationship check-up this month even if things are going great. Ask yourself the following questions:
- Am I talking less with my partner about things that matter to me?
- Are we fighting more about logistics?
- When was the last time that we made time to enjoy each other, even if just for 10-30 minutes at the end of a long day?
- When I’m stressed, do I turn toward my partner for support?
- Or, do I turn away in order to avoid a fight or out of fear of disappointment?
- Do I blame my partner for how I feel in the relationship?
- Do I avoid my partner to keep from feeling too much?
In my next post, I will share how we can manage our involuntary responses, or default tendencies, to maintain our committed relationships as adults.