Do you sometimes feel like you try to give your partner the emotional connection he or she wants and can’t figure out how?
I was having a Skype session with Andrea and Lawrence. Married for 18 years with two teen-age children, their marriage was strained. When I asked Lawrence how things were going between them, his answer was the same as always: “Fine.” When I asked Andrea the same question, she got a pained look on her face. “Things are okay, but not great. I’m lonely with Lawrence so much of the time. We just can’t seem to connect.”
Lawrence became defensive. “I can never do things good enough or right enough for you. You are always unhappy about something.”
“Lawrence,” replied Andrea, “I tell you all the time what a great father you are and what a great provider you are. You are a good, kind and loving person. But I need time and an emotional connection with you. I get emotional connection with my girlfriends, but not with you, and this makes me feel very sad.”
“Margaret, I don’t know how to give her what she wants from me. I don’t understand what she needs.” Lawrence looked distressed and confused.
Lawrence agreed to have one-on-one sessions with me.
Like so many of the people I work with, Lawrence had some severe trauma in his childhood, with no one to help him handle it. His beloved mother died in a car accident when he was six, and his father turned to alcohol. His way of managing the overwhelming feelings of heartbreak, loneliness and helplessness was to disconnect from his emotions and stay in his mind. A brilliant man, he became a high achiever. Focusing on success kept him so busy that he didn’t have time to feel what was going on inside him. After awhile, the feelings seemed to fade away.
Now, as an adult, he was completely out of touch with his feelings, and very afraid to open to them. The idea of feeling what was buried within him terrified him.
Because he could not connect with himself – with the feeling child within – he could not connect with Andrea, and this is what she was sad about. She loved Lawrence, but this wasn’t enough. She needed to feel him to connect with his heart. But he was afraid to share his heart – afraid to feel the deep pain that was lodged there.
Because Lawrence cared about Andrea and her feelings, he was finally willing to face his fear of feeling.
“Lawrence, feeling your feelings is about being present in your body rather than focused in your mind. Right now, take a deep breath and put your focus into your body. Get very present inside your body. Are you aware of any emotions?”
“I feel sad and scared.”
“What are you sad and scared about?”
“I’m sad that I don’t know what it means to connect and that Andrea is sad about this, and I’m scared that I can’t do what she needs me to do and that this is hurting our marriage.”
“Lawrence, right now you ARE connecting. You are connecting with your feelings and sharing them with me, which allows me to connect with you. Andrea has often said that she wishes you would let her in. This is what she means – what you are doing right now. You CAN do this! How does it feel to be sharing your feelings with me?
“This feels good. But I don’t know how to do this on my own. I’ll never remember to feel my feelings.”
I shared with Lawrence that I completely understood this, as when I first started to practice the first step of Inner Bonding – being aware of my feelings and wanting responsibility for them – 28 years ago, I also had difficulty remembering to be aware of my feelings. I was very aware of others’ feelings, but never my own. I bought a wonderful little gadget called a MotivAider, which buzzed against my body however often I set it to buzz, and it reminded me to check in with myself. I wore this for over a year until I had trained myself to be present with my feelings.
Lawrence got a MotivAider and started practicing tuning in to himself. Andrea reported that, even in just a week, she felt much more connected with Lawrence.
In time, Lawrence got comfortable enough with his current feelings that he was able to open to the buried pain within him, with deep caring and compassion for himself. He learned that he could manage and release these past painful feelings, as well as current painful feelings. He also learned that his feelings held much important information for him regarding how he was treating himself and others, and how others were treating him. His fear of feeling was healed as he learned to compassionately learn from his feelings, rather than avoid them.