We’ve been honored to support couples long enough that we now see patterns so recurring we could complete the sentences of clients as they explain what happens in their moments of conflict and disconnect.
We will walk you through an example using some of our recent clients, who we will call Jason and Mary. (Although we used a male and female name for the two roles, please note that they are not gender-specific.)
They enter into couples counseling because Mary feels exasperated, frustrated, and deeply discouraged by how she does the majority of things — around the house, with the kids, and to show up in their relationship.
She complains about how Jason comes home from work and just relaxes on the couch while she runs around tending to everyone’s needs.
Although, on the surface, it may appear as if Jason doesn’t care or is incompetent — this is definitely not the case.
It’s also not because Mary wants to be in the role she finds herself in.
Neither of them are happy about their dynamic, and it is pulling them apart.
Jason sees Mary as controlling and nagging, and she resents him for being withdrawn, checked out, and ungrateful.
If this sounds familiar, be sure to keep reading to better understand what’s really going on and the key thing each of you can do to break the cycle.
Again, on the surface:
Jason perceives Mary as…
- Constantly pointing out what he could do better or differently or needs to get done
Mary perceives Jason as…
- Checked out
There is something else — not quite so visible in those moments — that is going on beneath the surface that has them stuck in this vicious cycle.
Let’s look a little closer.
What are each of them feeling, fearing, and needing?
Mary feels alone, exhausted, and overwhelmed. She’s afraid Jason doesn’t care and takes her for granted. She longs to feel supported, loved, and like they are a team. She craves him being engaged, present, and contributing.
Jason feels discouraged, flooded, and overwhelmed. He is afraid he will never be able to do or be enough. When Mary criticizes him, he feels like he has already failed, so it’s not worth even trying. He longs to feel positively connected and like he can succeed.
Unfortunately, the less supported Mary feels, the more she criticizes and nags Jason.
In turn, the less motivated Jason feels and the more he feels like he will never succeed and, consequently, just checks out.
As you can guess, the more he withdraws, the more it infuriates and stresses her. And he then steps even further away.
This cycle can just keep going on and on and on, pulling a couple apart.
Here’s the key.
Jason checks out in the very moments when Mary wants him, more than anything, to come in closer. Even if she’s yelling and it seems counter-intuitive, our loving suggestion to Jason is to lean into her and know that she just wants to feel loved and supported. Do and say something comforting, assuring, validating, grateful, and helpful. This will relax her nervous system and open her heart.
Meanwhile, Mary gets even more negative in the moments Jason longs for and needs some positivity and encouraging connection — in language, body posturing, and tone. When Jason checks out, rather than getting even more upset, approach him with sweetness and kindness. Let him know how appreciated he is. In the moment, don’t bring up how terrible he is for withdrawing and how awful that makes you feel. Tell him some loving things and let him know how much it would mean to you if he could help you with _________.
Maybe even include some affectionate touch when doing so. He will feel motivated and energized knowing that he can succeed at being a great partner and making you happy. Again, be sure to pay close attention to all three areas: the words you speak, the tone of your voice, and the posture of your body. Also, get curious about how he would love to feel more connected and supported in the relationship and reflect on whether or not you could step it up in those areas too.
All too often, in our intimate relationships, we humans do the opposite of what our partner needs from us and what would help.
If we don’t know how to communicate about the issue effectively and don’t understand what is really going on, we can spend a lifetime unnecessarily arguing about the argument itself and never get our needs met. How exhausting.
Instead, there are different ways of being heard, supported, loved, and valued.
But it takes new strategies. New insights. New ways of doing things.
We’ve got you covered, and it doesn’t have to be so hard. In fact, it gets to be way easier!
We want to extend our most heartfelt invitation to join us this February for our Thrive in Love retreat in Bloomington, IN (February 16-17). Spend this Valentine’s weekend in a way that truly reignites the spark, renews your love, and keeps it growing. Breakthroughs, transformation, and amazing reconnection (and fun!) await.
We’re here for you in every way to help you experience the kind of love you’ve always wanted and deserve — so please let us know any way we can support you!
If you have any questions about the Thrive in Love retreat, simply hit ‘reply’ or send us an email firstname.lastname@example.org to have all your questions answered and concerns addressed. You can also schedule a free consultation here to learn more about the retreat, counseling, and our other services.
May 2019 be the year you stop just surviving and go all in for THRIVING!
Wishing you endless blessings for the journey ahead. May it be filled with the peace and joy that comes from feeling your hearts open and connected.
Infinite Love and Joy,
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