courage helps us get unstuck

What Stops You From Your Courage?

I was listening to a YouTube by Sadhguru the other day and he asked, “What are you doing with your one precious life?”

It is a great question. Sometimes we get stuck in something, whether a job, a relationship or a mindset or attitude. We may have given up fighting the situation. Or we may hold onto a bad attitude. Or we may be pushing down our real feelings because we feel sad about thinking we are powerless or trapped and want to avoid those feelings.

If we truly value ourselves and our life, we have to tackle whatever we feel stuck in.

In order to do this, we must find our courage. With courage we can make the possibility of what we want a reality; we can begin a journey that will take us from where we are, to where we wish to be. Without courage, we will stay stuck.

What stops people from finding their courage?

· I don’t believe change is possible.

· I don’t believe I deserve what I want.

· I don’t believe I have the capacity to do what is needed.

· I am not supposed to rock the boat.

· I feel safer staying in what is familiar.

· Discomfort and vulnerability scare me, so I don’t persevere.

Despite my parent’s limitations, my father always told me to follow my heart and do what I loved. And life created circumstances that pushed me to look at myself. As I learned about how I would get myself stuck (I’ve been stuck many times) and began to look at and change those parts of myself, I slowly unhooked from beliefs that stopped me.

I still get curve balls thrown at me. I still fall into emotionality at times. But I know I am free to choose what I want my life to be. I know change is possible. I do not accept limitations. I am willing to sit in discomfort. I focus on making the journey itself engaging instead of grasping at an outcome.

Who are you? Where do you get stuck? What stops you from your courage?

Courage will help you get unstuck.

The Journey of Improving Our Relationships

The Journey of Improving Our Relationships

How does having a significant illness relate to being in a relationship that doesn’t work? How do we take that understanding and apply it to improve our relationships?

In 2016, when I was struggling with Lyme disease, in desperation, I went to an alternative treatment center. The treatments included shots, IV’s and fevers which could get out of control, body temperatures moving to unsafe levels. The needles pushing through tender skin, hurting despite the icing of the area previously. The weight of the IV needle in the vein hindering easy movement. There was no way to escape the discomfort of the treatments that went on from morning into the night for several months or the exhaustion from both the illness and the remedy. I found the treatment to be stressful, traumatic and at times painful. But I knew I needed to get better and I was willing to suffer to find my health again.

You might ask how this situation relates to being in a relationship that isn’t as good as it could be, or where a couple is struggling. These two journeys are somewhat different, but parallels exist. In both cases, we are in a state of dis-ease and we are looking for healing or wholeness.

When I was at that clinic, I created a mantra, which I used to focus my intentions and attitudes.

Please help me find health.

Please help me be safe.

Please help me have courage.

Please help me hear the guidance of my higher self.

I silently repeated this mantra over and over. When I was getting a painful shot or sitting in a bathtub full of ice and ice water in an attempt to keep my fever from getting dangerously high, I would say this mantra to myself. I used it to ground myself. I used it to keep my focus clear. I used it to reassure and soothe myself.

A person in a failing relationship can easily get overwhelmed with distress, with feeling unsafe emotionally, with not knowing if they can get through the difficulties, with lacking clarity and not knowing which way to turn or how to navigate through the disruptions between themselves and their partner. Like my Lyme journey, a relational journey also requires courage, reassurance, guidance, safety and the desire for the relationship to return to health or wholeness.

I was lucky to have mostly kind staff and nurses, and the patients were silly and playful with each other. We created the support we needed amongst ourselves. Connection is another part of what gets us through difficult times. In a relationship that works, we have connection that supports us through life’s challenges. But in a relationship that doesn’t work, often we do not have that safe connection with our partner.

It is painful when we fight, when we don’t know if our relationship will survive. It is painful to feel confused and not know which way to turn, or how to get an argument to turn into a more productive conversation.

Yet our desires for a better relationship are achievable. We can learn how to create healthy emotional and relational selves. We can create safety in our relationship. We can find our courage if we have guidance. And we can learn to ‘hear’ the right way to go.

But without new information coming into our ‘system’ we often don’t know how to proceed.

WeConcile is a do-it-yourself online relationship course designed to teach you how to change your relationship, how to make it safe and healthy. You can find your courage and become a full team with your partner. You will learn new ways of being that will open up new connections in your relationship. And unlike dealing with a major illness, you can enjoy the process of gaining more contact with, and understanding of your partner.

Recovering from Lyme disease is a long journey. Some of the people I went to that clinic with have passed. They were not able to defeat the disease. Others are still struggling. Some, like myself, are more or less, better. I never gave up. I sought to recover, to find new knowledge, new tools. It took many treatments, a clear focus on what I wanted, and continued courage and persistence. I was one of the lucky ones who found what I needed.

You are on your own journey. But a journey is just that – moving through terrain, from one location to another. Your journey can lead you to a place where you have the love you have always desired. Don’t give up on your dreams. It is completely doable to create a nourishing and peaceful relationship and the process of doing so is no longer a mystery. A science of love exists with the tools you need. You only need to choose to begin the journey of healing your relationship.

I Feel Lonely in My Marriage. What Can I Do?

I Feel Lonely in My Marriage. What Can I Do?

If you feel lonely in your marriage, often it is because you and your partner are not connecting emotionally.

Ask yourself:

  • Have you and your partner moved into a distant relationship to avoid fighting or is something else going on?
  • What am I avoiding talking about?
  • What am I avoiding asking for?
  • Do I acknowledge my need for emotional connection or just try to make do with what is?
  • Where have each of you put your attention and energy instead of towards each other?
  • Does one of you have a problem with vulnerable emotions?
  • Did something happen that caused you to pull away from your partner?
  • Have you avoided asking for your needs to be met in the past, and been disappointed by your partner not knowing what you needed?

Once you explore what you think is occurring, then you can take an action:

  • Set up a time to talk with your partner and bring up the hard stuff, your desire for more emotional connection, or events that have caused you or your partner to pull away from each other.
  • Tell your partner that you are feeling lonely (unhappy, etc.)
  • Be vulnerable, not accusing

Sometimes a partner will not be able to have this conversation or is not able to tolerate the emotions of sadness or grief. If this happens:

  • Make an appointment with a therapist
  • Take a relationship building course or workshop

As you tackle your relational issues, instead of feeling lonely in your relationship, it can become connected and alive.

Remember, if there is abuse occurring, get professional help. Do not try to talk it out without the help of a therapist.

Another post that might interest you is Learning To Reconnect. https://blog.weconcile.com/2013/04/01/learning-to-reconnect/

In addition to the WeConcile blog, You can also read more posts on relationships here: jenniferlehrmft.com and https://medium.com/search?q=jennifer%20lehr

Embrace the Suck

Embrace the Suck

I’m writing and will be presenting a Continuing Education course for therapists called Clinician Use of WeConcile® to Facilitate Couples Work. (You can find the course here: https://www.goodtherapy.org/clinician-use-weconcile-facilitate-couples-work-web-conference.html). Doing this work is making me think about what it takes to make a change in a relationship, and about the couples who choose to stay stuck instead of tackling this significant part of their lives. And it is making me again look at what actually happens in a person to allow the kind of change that transforms a relationship to something amazing. Yet, so many people are scared of this.

Precisely what is scary for them?  I think it is simply having to experience painful feelings and begin to sort through them. An example of a problematic feeling could be feeling awkward or gross in front of someone else hence feeling a sense of shame. Of course, we have difficult feelings, regardless, but we aren’t consciously choosing to look at them. They just leap out and grab us when we get triggered. We react, and then those feelings subside, or we put them away. We create an outside reason – she made me mad. We aren’t looking deep at why we were triggered. How what she said made us feel unseen or less than. How what she said, triggered an echo of our feelings about how our father made us feel.

This is a quote from Sue Johnson, founder of EFT for couples. “Awareness of emotion is central to healthy functioning …. Since emotional responses orient the individual to his or her own needs and longings and prime the struggle to get those needs met.”

So, for example, suppose Joe had a very successful father, and nothing Joe does makes him feel as if he can match what his father did. So, underneath Joe is going to have some feelings of not being worthy, or not being good enough. Joe’s deep longing is to feel worthy. What does Joe do about this feeling? He pushes it away. He doesn’t feel it. He’s not even aware of this feeling. Instead, he puts his wife down. He takes his yucky feelings and gives them to her – and he’s not even aware of it. She is too controlling, too annoying, too this or that. And she, of course, has her own dynamics that interlock with his. So, they bicker a lot. Sure, they love each other, but they are both in their individual defensive places much of the time. Neither Joe nor his wife has that sense of leaning back into the soft cushion of their relationship because emotionally, they don’t feel fully safe. Who knows when a harsh word will come, or one will criticize the other.

And yet, the process of changing this dynamic is known. Opening up each partner’s inner emotional experience, with a focus on emotional engagement and corrective experiences will allow new ways of relating and new self-structure to emerge.  We just don’t know how to do this. That is why therapy, workshops, and experiential educational systems can help.

What if Joe became able to realize and talk about how being raised by his very successful father impacted his feelings about himself. What if he realized that he was continually reacting to issues that triggered a deep shame he had around feeling as if he was not good enough. What if, as he talked about these feelings, his wife began to understand him better, and he began to understand himself better. What if she began to see how what she did triggered him, and she developed more empathy for him. What if he also came to see how he triggered her and what if in this process of exploration and reconnection Joe began to see her value, and he began to want to connect, rather than push her away. And what if in this process, he found his own worth. And because of all of these shifts, he no longer put his wife down. Because they are now connecting on a deeper level.

Each person has the enormous opportunity to expand and reorganize their inner experience, transforming their relationship.

This quote from Brene Brown encapsulates the way to change, “I believe that you have to walk through vulnerability to get to courage, therefore . . . embrace the suck. I try to be grateful every day, and my motto right now is ‘Courage over comfort.’”

Courage over comfort. That is the key. The primary vehicle for change in a relationship really is developing a better relationship with our own feelings and unpacking why we feel what we feel when we are having that feeling.

To learn how WeConcile protects your privacy go here: https://www.weconcile.com/privacy.html

Toughing It Out

We all have emotional survival strategies that do not work. A common one is ‘going it alone,’ ‘sucking it up,’ or ‘toughing it out.’ We put our heads down, close our eyes and push forward, as if we are in a blizzard miles from home, and no one is with us. We aren’t even aware of what we are doing. We’ve adapted. We are survivors. We will make it. But it is lonely and it isn’t fun. I’ve been in this mindset and situation many times in my life. I’ve seen many of my friends do this as well. While it is a great ability to have if there aren’t any resources, often that is not what is going on. Too often we aren’t saying to ourselves, to our partner, to our life – I need more.
Why is this? Why do we not ask for support when we need it? Why do we accept too little? Why do we tough it out instead?
In relationships we often do not ask for more, because we don’t know how to get our partner to see our needs. Maybe we’ve tried and it hasn’t gone well. Maybe our partner is caught in his or her own struggle and isn’t available. Maybe ‘keeping the peace,’ has become more important than ‘bridging the gap.’ Maybe we are more afraid of being alone than we are of ‘toughing it out.’
Often it is our own generous natures that plays a role in our ‘toughing it out.’ We’ve learned to take care of ourselves and we learned to take care of non-nurturing others and not put that person out. Perhaps our childhoods were such that we had to take care of ourselves emotionally. We never learned what a reciprocal and supportive relationship looks like. What we learned was to ‘not rock the boat.’ This habit pattern has been wired into our brain. We trudge forward, only to realize later that we are starving and need more.

How do we change this?

• Trust the importance of asking for what you need. Although it may create a strain in the relationship, it is also what will allow it to move forward. If the relationship breaks, then there is a deeper problem present.
• Trust that there is support and that you can access it.
• Be willing to let go of situations that are not nourishing.
• Know that love is not about sacrifice and going it alone. Love is about supporting each other on our journey to wholeness.

These kinds of changes are scary. What if we lose the person we need? What if the support we want isn’t possible in this particular relationship? What if we open up a messy conversation or bunch of feelings?
Asking for what you need takes courage. Relating is challenging. Our old wounds are sure to be activated. Yet, if the other person is 100% committed to making this relationship the best it can be (and nobody deserves anything less) these challenges can be worked out. They won’t break the relationship. They will ultimately make it more connected, more supportive and stronger.

How Unspoken (And Unanswered) Needs Sabotage A Relationship.

June: I don’t like our gardener. I don’t like how he trimmed the roses. I don’t think he did a good job on the grass. I don’t like…

What is going on here? – Disguised and unspoken feelings. (I feel uncomfortable; I want you to hear my discomfort. I want to know that you will be on my side.)

Bob: Oh. Well, they are all like that. I’ve worked with a lot of them.

What is going on here? – Logical explanation. (I want you to see that it is okay. I don’t want you to be unfair to the gardener. Why aren’t you happy? Everything is okay.)

June: You never listen to me – storms off.

Bob: What happened? What is wrong with her?

Bob didn’t listen to his partner’s unspoken and underlying feelings and needs. He gave a logical explanation instead.

June felt unheard and reacted.

Bob felt ambushed by the emotional reaction of his partner. He hates this feeling of being powerless. He doesn’t know what to do.

How can this couple repair this recurring scenario?

Move in closer to reach for underlying feelings.

Ask yourself, what is June trying to say (but not able to say directly?) What feelings is June experiencing?

Bob’s task is to learn to listen, explore and reflect rather than explain. – I’m sorry you don’t like the gardener. How did that make you feel when the gardener did that? What do you think we should do about it? (Empathy and reflection of what was said, curiosity of deeper feeling, teaming up to solve problem if needed and to show that on partner’s side.)

Bob’s possible resistance – I don’t want to ‘take care’ of my partner that way. I want him/her to be able to tell me what he or she is feeling directly. I shouldn’t have to.

Answer: We all have to ‘take care’ of our partners at times. Especially while they are reaching for support and don’t know how to do it yet.

If you want THIS relationship to work, you have to learn to communicate in a way that your partner can hear you. You aren’t going to get different results from the same actions.

Pull out for birds eye view to see the cycle.

June reaches for support indirectly.

Bob explains to ‘make it all okay’ and to be fair to everyone.

June feels unheard and reacts, in this case perhaps gets angry and attacks

Bob feels ambushed and confused.

June storms off very upset and feeling abandoned.

Bob apologizes but is confused and doesn’t know what to do to fix this.

June ‘beats Bob up emotionally’ because she still feels that it is Bob’s fault.

June eventually and briefly realizes that it wasn’t all Bob’s fault but isn’t able to ‘hold’ onto this awareness.

June and Bob are caught in this dynamic and need to unpack it to ‘see’ what they are caught in and step outside of it TOGETHER. (Not just feel what they are caught in)

How can they talk about the pattern they see happening?

Bob’s new conversation

It seems that when you reach for support and I don’t realize it, I try to make everything okay by explaining. You feel unsupported and abandoned and get angry and lash out at me. I feel punished by your anger. It hurts a lot. I will try to slow down and be more curious about your needs. I need you to try to tell me what is going on.

June’s new conversation

Yes, I guess I am reaching for support and I don’t even realize it until you talk in a way that feels so unsupportive to me. I will try to let you know that I am feeling let down and needing something from you instead of flying off the handle. I need you to try to pay attention to what I am really saying. I’m not so good at realizing what I am asking for until I am disappointed and we are in a fight.

Bob and Jane are working on building an more solid place to stand, where they are there for each other emotionally and also talking about the cycle or pattern they get caught in.

 

Learning to Reconnect

It had started like a regular day weekend day.  John and Patti were taking a walk.  The sun was shining.  Life was good.  But then, John sheepishly told Patti that he would not be working on a project they had told Patti he was going to do, and that had been planned for that weekend.  He said that he felt too busy and had other things he would rather do that day, and that there would be lots of time to get it done.

A cloud immediately moved over Patti’s world. She felt as if a rug had been pulled out from under her. She didn’t know why.  Over and over she heard the words in her head, ‘you are all alone, you can’t depend on anyone.’  She felt herself pull back away from John.  She realized she felt set up.  He had promised something and had broken his promise.  She felt as if she could not trust him and as if he was ‘taking the easy way out,’ instead of honoring his word. For Patti, it was a big injury.  She needed to know that she could rely on him.  Trust was very important to her.

John on the other hand felt as if he had been backed into a corner.  He didn’t know how to explain how he felt.  He didn’t fully understand why Patti was so upset.  As they talked, he was able to say that he hadn’t told her he didn’t want to do it on her time frame because he didn’t want to disappoint her, so he had agreed to keep her ‘happy.’  He realized that he didn’t know how to get to be himself and get his needs met when they were different than hers. He didn’t know how to say no and feel safe.

Because of the disconnection that occurred, both John and Patti fell into deep feelings of despair and hopelessness.  They each moved into their own ‘default places.’

Over the difficult conversations that continued throughout the day, Patti was able to convey that she didn’t know how she could trust him, trust his word, and also how she could feel as if they were a team, as if he would take care of things she needed him to address, without her keeping an eye on his progress.  And John said that he understood that it was wrong of him to have ‘set her up’ with a false expectation and a broken promise, and that he needed to learn how to articulate his real feelings.

The break was partially repaired because they were able to talk about the deeper attachment issues that had been activated – things like:

 

  • Are you really there for me?
  • Can I be myself and still be okay in this relationship?

 

Patti and John were not able to ‘compromise’ until each of them had their real feelings on the table.  Then they could address the underlying issues. They had worked out a way that Patti’s need to have John participate in some of the projects that were overwhelming her, could be met by John, without him feeling as if he were having to ‘answer’ to her.  Patti could address John’s need to not feel controlled, and to have his different process and way of taking care of things respected. John could address Patti’s need for someone who was helping her and not just leaving her carrying a load of responsibility that was too big for her.  He could also address her need to be able to trust his word – that he would do what he said he would do, and not make promises that he was going to break. But they both were still quite raw and not yet back to their regular sense of connection. Because of this they were vulnerable to having their wounds get re-triggered.

Later that evening, they fell into a very unproductive conversation when they were talking about what happened in ways that weren’t related to their deeper attachment needs.  As John talked, he implied that Patti’s more conservative financial view was the problem in this situation.  This tact effectively stopped the conversation for Patti because it wasn’t addressing the deeper attachment needs of ‘I need to know I can trust you,’ ‘I need to know you have my back,’ and ‘I need to know you will be happy even if I want something different than you.’ Instead of continuing to connect over their deeper needs, Patti became more frustrated and tense and the conversation became difficult.  She felt as if he was taking an ‘I’m right and you’re the problem’ stance.  As she became more upset, John felt the pit of his stomach tighter.  He became confused. He didn’t understand what just happened.  He was just talking. What was happening?

They dropped the conversation and both moved into their own confused and separate upset worlds. The intensity of each of their feelings shows how this situation tapped into old wounds for each of them.  Because of this intensity, both of them got lost in a private world of hurt feelings. Although they were able to talk and were attempting to be supportive of each other, it wasn’t until the following day that they were clear enough to be able to see the other’s vulnerabilities and reconnect.

The next day it was much more clear.  Patti was back in her ‘regular’ reality and as she looked back at the previous day, it seemed like another reality. Those intense feelings had evaporated and no longer had any hold over her. Patti realized why she had been so intensely triggered, both the first time when John went back on his word, and the second time when he was talking about the problem in a way that could only turn into an argument.  She realized that the intensity she had experienced was due to old wounds from various events in her childhood and life.  She felt as if she had stepped into, and then back out of, a time warp. The day spent in that time warp had felt like falling into shards of glass. She was relieved to have gotten through it.

At the same time John was realizing that his fear of reactivity also came from events in his life when a person would ‘switch.’ The unpredictability and emotional volatility he had witnessed as a child had left him scarred and scared.

Although Patti felt relieved herself, she realized that still had to help John to recover as he was still lost in old feelings.  She knew none of it had been done on purpose by either of them. John had some learning to do about how to be fully present as her partner. She knew that she was now able to reconnect. She also knew that reconnecting without understanding what had happened meant that this kind of event might continue to occur without hope for improvement. She told him that she had gotten the oxygen mask on herself, and she was now available to get one on him. As they talked, what had overtaken them became clearer.  They were able to reconnect emotionally and previous day’s pain faded into the background.

The reconnection included both of them realizing more about their own and their partner’s needs and difficulties. They were understanding how deep their wounds were, and how important a ‘safe’ attachment was.  This insight allowed them to reconnect more easily and quickly each time they had a disruption. As their relationship continued, both John and Patti continued to heal, because they were willing to explore what had happened between them, and attend to each others’ injuries.

 

Standing In Your Shoes

(Names and details have been changed.)

I was recently talking to Cathy, a friend of mine.  She and her girlfriend Sammy were having a tough time in their relationship and had just gotten into a fight. She explained what had happened. They were decorating the house for the holidays together, but Sammy got upset and said it was all for her, her tree, her project. She lashed out at Cathy and left. From Cathy’s perspective, Sammy was having a temper tantrum.  She didn’t understand why Sammy was getting so upset. Why couldn’t they have a nice evening together?  What went wrong?

We talked for a while about what Sammy’s ‘triggers’ were and why she was upset at Cathy.  Shee had multiple unresolved stressors in her life that were getting activated. Mostly it seemed that she just didn’t believe in herself.  There were a number of reasons for this, including having  famous parents whose reputations she would never live up to, an achievement oriented girlfriend who had very little free time and as a consequence wasn’t as available as she needed.  Sammy struggled with her sense of not being who she ‘should’ be and that she should somehow be ‘more.’  This was part of a bucket full of difficult issues going on for her – some she was probably not fully aware of, and we were not yet to the heart of the problem between them.

Eventually we got to my friend’s ‘part.’  What she was doing that was contributing to Sammy not feeling a part of this family event.

Sammy had been busy, so Cathy had picked up the tree.  They were living in Cathy’s house.  They were decorating with her ornaments.   They were doing it on her schedule because this is when she had time.  The holiday decorating was very important to her.  It meant family to her.  She wanted to do it with Sammy. But somehow the ‘WE’ evaporated (at least from Sammy’s perspective) and decorating had become yet another project to be squeezed into an already tight schedule.  Somehow the project became something that actually interfered with the act of connecting and being a ‘WE’ with her partner.  She wasn’t intentionally casting Sammy aside. She wanted her to be part of this ritual.  But she hadn’t been standing in Sammy’s shoes.  She hadn’t been able to see what was happening through Sammy’s eyes.

As Sue Johnson – founder of Emotionally Focused Therapy – says, ‘if it’s emotional and packs a punch, it is about attachment’ – or “Am I important to you?”  When Sammy was upset, it was because she didn’t feel important, wanted, needed or good enough.  When Cathy got upset, it was because she felt mistreated by Sammy’s behavior and felt that her intentions were misunderstood.  She wanted the ritual for both of them, but her ‘get it done’ skill set wasn’t working in this scenario.

The world of our partners may be complex. We may struggle to understand their experience. Their reactions may appear mysterious to us. We may have no idea why they are behaving as they are.  We may not see how our actions contribute to our ‘cycle’ of conflict.  We may not wish to take responsibility because we feel innocent. And in we actually are innocent in that we are not hurting our partners on purpose.

We hurt them when we lash out because we feel hurt, or because we are caught in a way of being that just isn’t right for the other person.  And sometimes hurting someone else is unavoidable and part of the friction of growing.  The pain makes us look deeper.

My friend and her girlfriend are both really good people. Neither of them would intentionally hurt someone else.  Sammy acted out because of her own sense of needing to feel more special. And Cathy had no idea that Sammy would experience her actions this way. But unexamined ways of being, old issues or unidentified needs can blind us.  Nobody is at fault here.  But there is an opportunity to learn more about each other and ourselves.

Our imagination is one of our greatest gifts. And when we link our imagination with empathy we have the power to step into another’s world and understand their experience not just with our minds, but also with our hearts. Empathy = em+pathos or ‘from emotion, from suffering, from experience.’ We have to experience another’s emotion, suffering, experience. It is this ability that allows us to address how we are impacting another.  Yet if we are unable or unwilling to experience our own guilt, or for some of us the shame of hurting another, we cannot link our imagination and our empathy. We cannot step into another’s world, take responsibility for our actions and make the changes needed.

What if we were to step not just into the world of our partners, but also into the world of the animals we raise for food, of the humans who serve us, or sew the clothes we wear?  What if we were to step into the world of children growing up with no opportunity for education?

As we use our imaginations and also our empathy, our excuses for unacceptable situations can no longer hold.  We can no longer say, ‘it has to be this way – it isn’t cost effective to do it another way.’  We can no longer justify taking care of ourselves first at the expense of others. There was a great war over slavery in this country because many could not see how the economic system would work without it.  Yet it did and it does.  When we make changes, new ways emerge – whether in the larger systems already in place in the world, or in the intimate and personal interactions of our own relationships.

It is up to each of us.  Use your mind and your heart. Step into that place of imagination and empathy. Then decide what you are and are not willing to change.

 

 

 

 

How Past Trauma Impacts Current Relationships

“The more quickly either person goes from disappointment or hurt to anger, defensiveness, or emotional withdrawal and remains stuck there, the less that person is capable of having a relationship and the more the other person will have to walk on eggshells.” – Mark Goulston

Why do some people have relationships that work and others don’t? One reason is past trauma is affecting the emotional safety of the relationship. Most of us don’t know what a “traumatized state of mind” is, but we do know when our world gets dark. We know when we feel as if we’ve been attacked or not considered by another. We know when we are so hurt we can’t talk, or we can only scream or react.

There are two things to consider here: one is actual trauma caused by another, such as being raped, hit, yelled at, picked on, etc., and the other is a “traumatized state of mind,” which is when one is experiencing intense disconnect or anger out of proportion to what is actually occurring. In this article, we are looking at the traumatized state of mind, not actual abuse. If you are in an abusive relationship, get help or get out.

Without going into what actually occurs in the mind/body during trauma, there are degrees of trauma, all of which causes disconnection. In moments of trauma, we don’t have external support. We are thrown back on ourselves. We are alone, no longer part of a matrix of connection and love. Later in life, various events can trigger that experience and those feelings. Whether it is a voice inside saying, “How could you treat me like that?” to a rage or withdrawal that you can’t get yourself out of, we find ourselves alone again. What we do with that experience varies. Some of us fight to be seen, to make it right, while others pull back and hide, or abuse substances. But while doing so we are not making a choice. We are reacting. Whatever the scenario, there has just been a disruption in our relationship.

When we move into and experience a traumatized state of mind, we lose perspective. Complexity collapses. The world becomes black and white, good and bad. We can no longer communicate rationally because we are no longer rational. Our world has fractured. From where we are, it appears that the other person has betrayed us. We are hurt and not thinking clearly. It is from this place that damage is done to our relationships. We are no longer capable of communicating rationally, and maybe not even treating the other person fairly. We are no longer in command of ourselves.

Changing this dynamic in a relationship requires:

* Understanding our past wounds so we can heal them.

* Seeing and taking responsibility for our own behavior and the damage we’ve caused our relationship.

* Learning to deal with hurts and disappointments differently.

* Seeing our relationship as a place to build a bridge between differences, not as a place with rights and wrongs.

* Sharing our wounds with our partner, our wounds are part of the relationship.

* Learning to reach forward with vulnerability and support each other when we are traumatized.

It’s up to us to master ourselves. We can change ourselves if we choose to, but to do so, we need to become aware of how we lose ourselves “under the influence” of our past emotional trauma. Only then we can be fully present for the other and be in a truly functioning relationship.

How To Stop Those Repetitive Fights

George had been very upset about the actions of an ex friend. Susan could feel his pain and asked him if there was anything that she could do to make him feel better. George replied, “I could think of something”. Susan retorted, “I wasn’t talking about sex”. George responded, “So what’s new?” Susan feeling criticized, said, “you don’t care about me, all you care about is sex”. George responded back, “well you asked, next time don’t ask if you don’t care”. “Don’t worry, I won’t, Susan snarled. She walked away and they didn’t talk till the next day.

The interaction that Susan and George had was a familiar and repetitive one. They had started out okay, but somehow both misunderstood the other and ended up in a fight.

Lets replay this, except George and Susan are more conscious about their wounds. Instead of fighting, they are going to get closer and build more trust between them.

George had been very upset about the actions of an ex friend. Susan could feel his pain and asked him if there was anything that she could do to make him feel better. George replied, “I could think of something,” He was thinking about sex. Susan immediately thought to herself of “He’s upset and angry, I don’t want to have sex with somebody who is angry”. She was silent for a minute, trying to figure out what to do. A few minutes later, George said, “that would have been the perfect opportunity for you to have initiated sex, which you never do. ” He was frustrated and disappointed. Susan could feel his anger. She felt hurt and she felt like he was taking the anger that he was feeling about his ex-friends and dumping it on her. They were looking at each other, as it was clear something serious was occurring between them. Susan mustered up her courage and responded, “I just initiated last night”. George got still for a moment and realized that she had. He responded by saying, “yes you are right, you did. They continued to talk.
Susan “remembered” and recounted that she had grown up in a family where she had to take care of other’s needs at her own expense. “Nobody was really interested in what I needed,” she said. ,”And when you wanted to make me to make you feel without considering how I felt, I got hurt. I am afraid to be vulnerable when somebody is angry and for me, having sex is being vulnerable. George responded, “when you didn’t move forward and make it all okay, my disappointment about always being let down came up. So many times in my childhood and other relationships, I’ve been let down. I just wanted you to make me feel better and it felt like you were failing me too.

Both George and Susan had been feeling unloved and not understood. But as they talked, they began to piece together the old stories feeding their reactions. They were able to talk it out and avoided a fight. They helped the other heal by listening and empathizing. And they both became more conscious of who they were and were gaining the ability to not allow the past to haunt them.

But how do we do this?

When we get reactive or triggered, it means we’ve opened an old can of worms. Think of each worm as an old story that is a wound around which we have unhappy feelings. These feelings lurk below the surface, ready to come up under the right circumstances. Rather than being in touch with our present reality, we relive old stories. Some of those stories make us angry, some make us sad. These stories can be like gasoline on a fire. They are lenses through which we view our lives and they distort our perceptions. We disproportionately and quickly escalate our emotional responses to what appear to be very inconsequential events. These stories need to be recognized as old wounds and told, both to each other and to ourselves, if we are going to be able to stop these repetitive patterns.

There are several tools to help us remember that we are caught up in a wound and repair it:

* The 90/10 rule. If we are upset, often it is 10% about the present situation and 90% about the past.

* Telling our story to our partner is building a relational bridge. Reacting as if we are right is blowing up the relational bridge. Remember, your partner is your friend. Treat him or her as if he or she is, and talk, don’t react or accuse.

* Find the sadness, loss or grief that is under the anger. It is hard to build a bridge when you are yelling and screaming, or withdrawing.

* To have a successful relationship, you have to be a person who can have a successful relationship. Become a person who is communicative and open. This is more important than trying to get your partner to change. If they don’t change, the relationship may end, but your power lies in you, not them.

* Accept that what is happening in the present moment demands your love and attention. The present moment is your friend. It is an opportunity to discover your emotional wounds and the wounds of your partner. It is an opportunity to start unraveling the old stories and stepping out of being driven by old wounds.

* Remember, we all have wounds. A relationship is an opportunity to repair these wounds. A relationship is a journey that allows us to create “home” both within ourselves and with another.