By the time a relationship (or one person) gets to critical mass, there are usually a lot of contributing factors. It's like a great big snowball and it's taken on a life of its own and keeps on getting bigger and bigger. It's complicated, and what's happening now can't be separated from the things that have happened to get to this point. In order to understand and then address what's happening now, we need to consider how we got here.
To understand this, let's identify some factors that research tells us are facts:
- When we don't feel close and we don't know what to do about it, we will either attack or we will defend.
- When one of us attacks, the other will usually defend, or withdraw instinctively.
- When one of us withdraws, the other will instinctively attack, or pursue.
This is the most common pattern. 85% of us do this to some extent. It is instinct. Think bird of prey. Think lion chasing gazelle on the nature channel. It's tied to survival, and we humans do it too. (The other 15% do similar, but equally unhelpful dances that keep the snowball rolling).
The more one of us does one thing, the more the other does the other. OR more of the same.
When this is the predominant theme of your relationship, there is less room for any of the good stuff!
- Less feeling secure.
- Less happy memories.
- Less giving each other or the relationship the benefit of the doubt.
- Less feeling you can count on each other, or that you matter to each other. That you can influence each other and be a team.
- Less laughter, love, admiration, self esteem, respect.
- Less of so many of the things that build a strong foundation to create a secure base and a safe haven against the world.
- Less feeling seen and heard and understood.
There is more:
- Loneliness. Maybe like adversaries or maybe like polite strangers.
- More hopelessness and negative assumptions about the relationship or our partner.
- More self-doubt. More anger. More HURT.
- Add to that the raw spots and differences and hurts that we bring into our relationship. We've all been beat up a bit in our own ways with our own sensitivities and triggers.
- Add to THAT the raw spots and hurts that have been triggered in the relationship itself.
- Add to THAT the accidental hurts that one person 'inflicted' without even realizing the damage it did to the relationship on the other.
- And then add to THAT the hurts that one partner did to the other that they do realize but can't seem to repair well enough to move on.
- Now throw in some of the added complications that neuroscience is discovering now about how our brains organize incoming information. For efficiency, we naturally chunk things into themes and and highlight the aspects of our memories according to what theme we have filed under. For example – if we feel that our relationship is secure, we will think of the positive memories from the past that support that truth. And vice versa. Studies have shown us that when we are in love – we see our partners as more attractive and more intelligent than when we are looking back and seeing that same person after we have fallen out of love with them. They literally seem like a different person when we look at them through the lens of resentment and bitterness. We will look back and see more of the good times or more of the bad times – more of our partner's strengths or more of their virtues depending on the lens we are looking through NOW on the relationship.
One of the most common ways this plays out in hurting relationships is that one partner will look back on their pattern or dance (eg attack-attack, pursue-withdraw, withdraw-withdraw) and see only the other's part. And then use it as a reason to end the relationship. It is so natural to miss the power and the opportunities that we might have had to influence things in a different direction if we'd only known how, or understood these behaviors in their context, or seen how our behavior was inviting the other to do more what they were doing, or ….
CAVEAT: Every relationship is unique and has its own story. Our assumptions about mutual influence and co-created 'dances' are based on knowledge and scientific research and experience and compassion. We use them as a starting place to help to understand and heal a hurting relationship. Never to batter you over the head with them in the face of conflicting information from you. In EFT, we use these assumptions with you, and for you. Never against you.
- Adding to that, the same field of research shows us that what we think we have said is not always what we have really said. We might think we have been really clear, or kind or assertive about something and the signal is completely missed! Maybe it wasn't sent as clearly as we thought Maybe it wasn't received as clearly as we'd hoped. Usually – if we're human - it's a bit of both.. .(True story, used with permission: Husband: 'I don't understand why she is upset: She wants me to tell her how I feel and so I tell her to “**#% off'” and that just makes it worse!')
- Now let's add to that how society these days is giving us all kinds of mixed messages about how entitled we are to be happy and in love, without necessarily being that clear on what happy and in love really is, or how to be it. Or how we should maybe stay in a relationship for as long as it feels right.
- And then add the fact that temptation can come in different forms these days with lots of us working long hours together and going away to sleepover conferences and eating and drinking and being merry while our partner is at home the kids and the washing and reality, and lines can start to get a bit blurred before we have realized it.
- And THEN consider that research is discovering that one of the biggest factors that lures a person to be tempted to stray from a relationship is seeing ourselves reflected in the eyes of another with adoration and love and admiration and respect. That can be like MIRACLE GROW for our desire and our self esteem. If we are finding it really, really hard to ask for, or to know how to create or resurrect that in our own (REAL) relationship, then it can be pretty darned hard to commit to working on that if someone else is on hand to offer us a counterfeit version with immediate results.
Of course, it's a whole lot more complex than that, but that's a story for another day...