Couples in distress may disagree about sexual issues, romance, money, or infidelity. They criticize and blame each other, and often cannot let go of painful incidents or arguments from years past. They are quick to bring up grievances with their partner but are unable to listen and truly hear what their partner has to say. What is going on?
Drs. Sue Johnson, Harville Hendrix and Helen Hunt, believe that the root of the problem is that the partners do not have an adequate emotional connection. They state that the need for a safe emotional connection is basic to all relationships. When that connection is present, partners feel safe with each other, and can risk emotional vulnerability as they listen and speak to each other openly about their feelings and needs. When safe connections are lost, partners seek to protect themselves and avoid hurt. They may blame each other, or even get aggressive in an effort to get a response. Alternately, they may shut down and try not to care. If the reconnection does not occur, their struggle intensifies, continues, and becomes more painful.
Think about the messages that you have received from important people in your life about closeness and trust. What did your past relationships teach you? Did you see loved ones as reliable or untrustworthy? Was your voice heard and listen to, or were you told to be "seen and not heard?" Did you learn to distance yourself, or not need others because depending on others was dangerous? Were you taught that it is weak to need closeness, or support? What strategies did you use in past relationships when things went wrong? When you felt alone or disconnected in your present relationship did you become very emotional and demanding, or were you more likely to shut down? How well do these patterns work for you in your relationships?
Relationships are never easy but as you become aware of your dysfunctional behavior patterns, you have the power to change them. You can make your relationships more meaningful by learning a new way of relating to one another. As you develop healthy communication patterns you will be building trust and allowing rewarding emotional connections.
Hold Me Tight, Dr. Sue Johnson
Making Marriage Simple, Harville Hendrix, PhD and Helen Hunt, PhD