Recently, during a particularly difficult session, one partner threw his hands in the air and said, “This is just hopeless. It’s never going to change. We’re doomed.”
When a couple is involved in an emotionally charged therapy session, they don’t realize that this is a replication of the feedback loop from their relationship. This feedback loop is the cycle of their behaviors, reactions and emotions and is the enemy – not the other partner. They are caught in a cycle that has a strangle hold on them and they are mired in the repetition of this cycle which causes distress and distance in the relationship.
It is common for people who have been going around and around the same issues for years to mistake their behavior patterns for the relationship itself or worse to feel that it is because the other person is at fault. They don’t realize that this destructive cycle is a knee jerk (protective) response to their partners behavior that touches the deeper, more vulnerable needs that each person in the relationship is working so hard to protect.
Vulnerable feelings are an outgrowth of painful life experiences. We have all experienced situations that have felt hurtful or harmful. Instinctively, we push these tender feelings away or wall them off because they feel too overwhelming or difficult to explore. We hide from the underlying feelings that are the drivers of our reactive behavior. If our partner says or does something that inadvertently triggers these tender places, without even realizing it, we react in a way that sets off the negative cycle that is destructive to the relationship.
It takes time to understand and clear away these defenses and behaviors. People often are too fearful to trust that their partner will be willing to learn about these experiences in a nonjudgmental way. There may also be a part of themselves that is getting in the way of letting their partner in. Often, they mistakenly think that it’s safer not share these experiences and to keep their distance rather than to be open. So, they keep the alarm system armed so that their partner can’t come too close. The irony is that closeness is exactly what they need to heal the wounds that they are closing themselves off from and that block the connection they yearn for.
Couples therapy creates a safe haven for exploring the behaviors, hidden feelings and wounds that are undermining the connection in the relationship. In couples therapy, I continually instill hope for the relationship and reinforce the desire for closeness and intimacy. We move through this process slowly and gently so that both partners feel safe and heard.
It takes work in couples therapy to build the bridge back to your partner, but if you allow yourself to stick with the process, the result can bring you greater happiness than you ever thought possible.