Sometimes I wonder why relationships are so fascinating to me—how people talk to one another, how one deals with conflict, stress, frustration, why some couples make it and others don’t, how people forgive one another when their heart is broken or when some egregious infraction is perpetrated on them by a loved one.
Because of my intense intellectual curiosity about the push and pull of relationship development and maintenance, I have read many relationship books. One of the best books I have read on this subject is Hold Me Tight by Sue Johnson Ph.D. She describes emotional safety and responsiveness as the key to a lifetime of love.
The drive to emotionally attach, finding someone with whom we can share our hopes, dreams, fears, insecurities, successes, joys and sorrows is as essential as food, water and shelter. It is the building block of health and wellness.
Dr. Johnson goes onto describe transformative conversations that couples can utilize to enhance their relationship when the thrill is gone. Feeling judged, inadequate, defensive and emotionally distant can destroy even the strongest bond. Dr. Johnson encourages couples to allow their partner to share positive and negative feelings.
Feelings are feelings. Feelings need to be expressed and honored. Partners should not take emotional honesty personally. When an argument begins, is someone trying make the other the bad guy or be the one at fault? This fault finding usually turns into mutual attack, accusations and blame as one tries to protect oneself. If this happens occasionally, couples can get to a place of forgiveness and closeness. If it becomes habitual, it is deadly to a relationship. Individuals become armed and dangerous, getting ready for the ensuing attack and counterattack.
The cycle escalates until withdrawal and disengagement appears to be the only option. If one member of the couple wants to win the argument so the other can lose, both people lose and the relationship suffers. The way to stop this cycle is to not look for winners and losers. Dr. Johnson encourages her readers to stop, identify the cyclic nature of the negative conversation, get a hold of the emotional train running off the track, take a time out and come back refreshed willing to express true feelings of hurt, fear and sadness.
Being vulnerable when one is wounded and ready for a fight takes courage and commitment. One strategy to combat this if to ask couples to literally stand shoulder to shoulder to face and identify the problem, rather than letting the problem come between them. Stay on the same team. Fight the hurt, sadness and insecurity, not each other.
When these types of cycles take hold, kindness needs to make its grand entrance. Kindness is defined as gentleness, benevolence, courtesy, goodwill, graciousness, patience, sweetness, tenderness, tolerance, understanding, consideration, thoughtfulness and helpfulness. What if all relationships had kindness show up in a major way? Think about how it would transform relationships.
For more information, visit myrelationshipcenter.org or contact joneen@myrelationship
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