13 Jun

And so it happens that even  the best functioning relationship reaches the point of stuckness. Years of not fully expressed wishes and concerns, communication problems, minimising one's needs in order to compromise and “not rock the boat” result in rift causing accumulated over time and culminating in moments of crisis, which provides disturbance to the existing equilibrium and status quo. 

The strategies used to help us push through difficulties no longer apply as the nervous system sends us constant reminders that we do not feel safe anymore. Feelings of rejection, being hurt, and misunderstood. come to the surface making it hard to extend our empathy and understanding of what the other partner wants to convey. The neurobiology of that experience creates a tricky system to navigate in ways of moving forward. 

As noted by Stan Tatkin (2011) in his well acclaimed book ‘Wired for Love’,  what we do as partners is fundamentally about survival and our beastly instinctual selves. This message is often encapsulated in a simple imperative ‘Thou shall not get killed’ wiring our responses to the most primitive action of our nervous system to protect us from danger to ensure our survival as a species. During those times, our responses do not accommodate the emotional mindfulness, required to understand the other person’s perspective, we are able to achieve during the time of peace. During the time of war and fight for survival, this primitive function rules as danger requires fast actions and the fast-acting part of our brain does not care about specifics and protecting other person’s feelings. It is there to protect us.

During those times of perceived ‘deeply-seeded betrayals’ the more entrenched the situation becomes the more difficult it might be to re-create a "safe environment " where mutual trust  can once again be achieved. 

How to achieve peace during those turbulent and highly destabilising times.

It is important for us to understand that we all have ways of responding to conflict based on the certain style of relating that we inherited from earlier life experiences. It is what we call our attachment style. Understanding who we are in the relationship, and how this correlates with the style our partner represents, is a very important step towards preventing escalation of conflict and providing a safe environment for finding a mutually beneficial resolution.  Our responses especially during times of conflict and heightened arousal are automatic and hard-wired to our nervous system. For that reason having a map explaining how we operate can come with many benefits. 

Some of us are described as secure, we are so-called rocks or anchor in the relationship characterised by a steady and committed nature and ability to understand the other person's perspective in a grounded and compassionate way. We are generally happy and content people that adapt easily to the needs of the moment.

"Islands", because of their insecurely avoidant attachment style are individuals that grew up being usually very independent and self-reliant, hence not needing other people in the same way others may draw on them for support. Due to their self-reliance they be characterised by limited ability to connect with emotions often elicited by their partner during times of distress finding them ‘too much’ and shying away from a deeper connection during those times.

The third type of attachment is known as insecurely ambivalent or a "wave". Waves are often generous and giving, overly focused on taking care of others. They are often happiest when around other people, drawing on the energy projected during those interactions. Waves can often experience insecurities when unable to connect with their partner on the emotional level required by them when needing reassurance and connection. They sometimes experience lack of connection in a deeply visceral way, which exacerbates the sense of rejection they might experience during those moments.

How to move forward from that situation. 

Useful tips:

  • Understand your own attachment style as well as the style your partner represent taking into consideration ways of relating to each other and what you need from each other when seeking closeness
  • Accept the differences you may represent for what they are, without trying to change them 
  • Notice and acknowledge the vulnerabilities that your partner has. This may include: things or situations that create a trigger for them e.g. running late to pre-arranged meetings, feelings of tiredness, being intrusively questioned, intruded upon or blamed. We all have vulnerabilities some of them deeply embedded going back to early childhood experiences. Understanding them for what they are and the context they were created in is helpful in navigating the tricky territory of running into conflict,  preventing it from arising
  • If your vulnerabilities are being triggered, stop before you respond when you observe feelings of resentment emerging
  •  Acknowledge how you feel, which of these feeling belong to current experience and which ones are a threat of another past  " story" that co-exist in your background compounding current experience
  • Remind yourself of the bigger picture and what it is that you value about the relationship and your partner 
  • Apply self-soothing strategies to help provide some comfort to what you feel and bring yourself to your green zone of tolerance of distress
  • Choose good timing to re-visit the conversation when both you and your partner feel regulated and able to engage in it.

S. Tatkin, , 2011, Wired for Love. How understanding your partner’s braian and attachment style can help you defuse conflict and build secure relationship, Oakland SA: New Harbringer Publications Inc.

* The email will not be published on the website.