Part 2 of a 5-part series on how to save a marriage
Are you in a long-term relationship where you are either fighting a lot of the time or feeling distant, disconnected, and without passion? Or, do you find yourselves going along fine until a conflict arises, and then you can’t seem to find way to resolve it? Do you either try to win by getting angry and defensive, or give in to avoid the other’s anger and defensiveness? Do you find yourself shut down, numbed out, or resistant much of the time? Do you and your partner love each other, but resentment is building because of all the unresolved conflicts and communication problems?
Relationship issues occur when the dual fears of loss of another’s love (rejection) and loss of self (engulfment) have been triggered. Each of us has learned protective ways of trying to have control over getting the love we need and avoiding the pain we believe we can’t handle. As soon as one of these fears is triggered, we automatically go into our learned ways of protecting against pain and trying to control the other person into being the way we want them to be. When we get angry, give in, withdraw or resist, this protective, controlling behavior often activates our partner’s protective controlling behavior. The interactions that follow may be filled with anger, blame, judgment, defensiveness, explaining, denying, withdrawal and resistance. Love does not flourish in the face of these difficult interactions.
A simplified version of The Six Steps are:
1. Willingness to feel your feelings and take responsibility for them
2. Choose the intent to learn
3. Dialogue with the feelings
4. Dialogue with your Higher Power
5. Take loving action
6. Evaluate the action.
We will start with Step One of Inner Bonding. In Step One, you choose to be willing to feel your feelings and take responsibility for them, rather than turn to protective, controlling, addictive behavior.
What do you feel in your body when someone gets angry, blaming, or judgmental toward you?
What do you feel in your body when someone shuts down, withdraws, or becomes resistant toward you?
Take a moment to tune into your body and see what it feels like when your fears of rejection or engulfment become triggered. What happens in your stomach, your throat, your heart, your arms and legs? Does your body fill with adrenaline and go into the fight or flight reaction – the stress response?
You cannot begin to react differently when your fears of rejection or engulfment are triggered until you know that fear is being activated. You will unconsciously continue to respond with your learned protections until you become conscious of what you are protecting against.
We have all learned many ways of avoiding feeling and being conscious of our feelings. All addictive behavior – substance abuse, process addictions, reactive behavior toward others, and judgmental thoughts toward ourselves – are ways of avoiding feeling the deep loneliness, as well as helplessness over the other person’s behavior and feelings, that is at the core of all addictive behaviors. When your partner behaves in some rejecting or controlling way toward you, this deep loneliness and helplessness is activated. But these are such difficult feelings to feel that most of us will turn to our learned addictive behaviors to avoid them. We will either try to have control over the other person by getting angry, judgmental or giving in, or we will try to control the pain of the loneliness with substance and process addictions.
The only way out of this is to be willing to feel the very challenging feelings of loneliness and helplessness over others and learn to manage these feelings rather than avoid them. If you were to learn to accept and manage these feelings rather than turn to your learned protective controlling behaviors, you would begin to change the dysfunctional relationship system that may be eroding your marriage.
The Six-Step Inner Bonding process is a process for moving out of your automatic reactive behavior and into kindness and compassion toward yourself and your partner. The remaining articles in this series will show you how to do this.
[Margaret Paul Relationship Toolbox]