Have You Lost that "Loving" Feeling in Your Marriage or Relationship?
How long does it take to shift from feeling that intoxicated "in-love" feeling to feeling "in-love" in a committed relationship? For most of us, after about six months, we start to shift into the love that is much more rewarding, what we call companionate love. This is also about the time that patterns learned at an early age from your primary caregivers start to show up in your relationship or marriage.
What is a "Secure" Connection?
If you grew up with a secure connection to your primary caregiver, you learned to give clear signals to your mother or father about what you needed, and you positively predicted a response that fit your needs. In your adult relationship or marriage, you probably don’t even notice minor mis-attunements in your relationship, or if you do, you quickly repair them. You stay emotionally connected to your partner, and talk things through, even when disagreements occur.
What is an "Insecure" Connection?
If you have a history with a primary caregiver that was insecure, meaning you either expect that your caregiver won't meet your needs, or you can't predict whether he or she will meet your needs, you may start to test your partner, especially when you are stressed. What you may not realize inside is that you most likely are anticipating that your partner will do what your primary caregiver did: disappoint you. This is when John Gottman’s 4 Horsemen that doom relationships can enter the scene of your marriage or relationship: criticism, defensiveness, contempt, and stonewalling.
The tests that you set up for your partner pull for an equally insecure response, and a negative pattern or cycle can start between the two of you that then can snowball over time into a potential avalanche that can throw your relationship and your emotional connection off.
We Just Need to Work on our Communication Issues: False
From my experience in marriage and couples counseling and therapy, a couple usually enters counseling or therapy talking about having “communication” problems related to money, sex, work, household tasks, religion or child-rearing issues. However, usually the actual problem has nothing to do with how they communicate, but is actually related to the couple's emotional connection. When this is frayed, a couple can easily get into a habit of magnifying their differences and minimizing their similarities. Instead of resolving issues, like who is going to walk the dog, a couple can keep arguing about the same things over and over again. Resolve may seem like a distant dream.
What Can I Do to Save My Marriage or Relationship?
Focusing your attention can be a first step to help you slow down the destructive “communication” pattern in your marriage or relationship. You can do a body scan to tune into yourself, and identify how you feel to do this together with your partner or spouse. A mindfulness program uses exercises, including focusing your attention, that help your prefrontal cortex, right behind your forehead, to link separate regions of your brain responsible for thinking, feeling, and how you connect with the rest of your body, below your neck. Slowing down the activation in your mind can help you to tune into yourself, and then to tune into your partner. Once you gain attunement, you can focus on resonating with your partner, feeling what he or she is feeling. Your partner can actually experience you as having a “felt sense” of what he or she is feeling. This breaks the pattern of disconnection and separateness that the negative “communication” pattern instills, and security grows in your relationship or marriage.
An Alarm in Your Mind: Watch Out!
When you have experienced criticism, loneliness, lack of caring, betrayal, or abandonment, your mind tries to protect you from getting hurt again by sending an alarm throughout your body whenever you encounter something even slightly similar to the pain. To feel safe, understood, comfort, and trust you have to go through many experiences to heal from your past.
As you and your partner tune into each other, you can help each other manage even powerful emotions that come up at times. When you’re able to stay present with each other, instead of going into a negative pattern of disconnection, you can identify your core emotional states and the meaning behind those states. You can then focus on the response that you need from your partner in your marriage or relationship. Your “communication” issues are resolved, so practical issues such as who will take the dog for a walk do not in any way make either of you question your relationship or marriage.
In a Nutshell: Steps to Make Your Marriage or Relationship Last
- Focus your attention on your body sensations to identify when you are getting activated emotionally inside
- When you notice an activation, immediately apply your brakes by slow, deep breathing and other calming activities
- Identify and name your emotional state that is activated
- Give meaning to the activation behind the emotional state: how can you make sense of this
- Identify your need that is connected to your emotional state: what do you truly need from your partner or spouse in this situation? Express your emotional state and your need to your partner directly
- As you maintain a state of calmness, identify your partner's emotional state, and notice how his or her emotions are impacting your own emotions to help you resonate, or have a "felt sense" of what he or she is feeling
- Invite your partner to share what he or she is feeling, and stay open and receptive as he or she shares this, along with his or her need
Share Your Experiences
Have you been challenged in your relationship or marriage by feelings that shift over time, so that even small things start to annoy you? If so, what have you done that has helped repair these moments of disconnection? Share your experiences, and join the conversation.
If you find this article helpful, please forward it to a friend or family member, and to your connections on your social networks.
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