Violence in relationships, this is a tricky topic to discuss on a blog. I want to be sure to first and foremost say, violence is never okay. But if we are going to stop relationship violence, we have to understand it.
There are 2 different types of relationship violence. The first is domestic terrorism. That is when one partner aims to control and manipulate the other more vulnerable partner. If you are in this situation, it is of utmost importance to get a safety plan in place. You can contact 800-356-6767 (TN) which is the Tennessee Domestic Violence helpline. This is not the type of violence I am addressing in this blog. Please contact the helpline if you need assistance in this area.
The second type of violence is the violence that occurs between intimate partners when they have a volatile cycle with each other where conflict erupts into verbal and/or physical lash outs. It can leave both partners feeling bewildered, confused, hurt, angry, helpless and afraid. It’s not uncommon, and there is something you can do about it. It doesn’t mean the relationship has to end, but you do need intervention.
So how do things get to this point? A very common cycle in couples is what is called pursue/withdraw. Both partners feel disconnected from the other, and their reactions to feelings of disconnect pull the other into the negative pattern. Think of an infinity loop. There is no beginning and no end and it can be triggered at anytime.
In this cycle, the pursuer is looking to get a reaction from their withdrawn partner. They often feel alone, unloved, indivisible, that they don’t matter, or are unimportant. When they are feeling this way, they often engage in behaviors in an attempt to resolve these hurts. They can become provoking (any response is better than no response), critical (why don’t you help me more?! You are always on your phone! You care more about work than you do about your family!), blaming (I get so angry because you don’t listen to me!), demanding (Why can’t you be more affectionate with me?! I need you to listen to me!). This often comes across as attacking to their partner’s character and behaviors. But underneath the attacks is the despairing pain of isolation and loneliness calling to be heard and soothed.
The withdrawing partner is typically trying to calm the waters by avoiding conflict. They can also feel paralyzed because they feel anything they say or do will be the wrong thing, so they do nothing. They appear stoic and uncaring to their partner, cold and distant, but behind the wall they are feeling inadequate (no matter what I do or how hard I try, it’s never good enough), feelings of failure (I can’t seem to get it right, I can’t make my partner happy). When everything they do seems to make it worse, they withdraw farther and farther. They withhold thoughts and emotions and have a lot of inner turmoil even though on the outside it may appear they don’t care.
So the more the pursuer criticizes and attacks, the more the withdrawer feels unsafe and withdraws. The more the withdrawer withdraws, the more unsafe the pursuer feels and keeps going seeking a response. For the pursuer, if they didn’t pursue, the fear is they will end up more isolated and alone. The withdrawer fears if they don’t withdraw, things will escalate and get worse. Both in their own way are trying to protect the connection in the relationship while also trying to protect themselves from further hurt and despair. It’s a vicious painful cycle and both partners are caught.
When this pattern gets very rigid and continues to worsen, it can lead to violence. The pursuer feels so ignored and invisible their protest gets more out of control and they may say and do things desperate for a reaction. The withdrawer may feel so backed into a corner, they lash out to get their pursuing partner to give them space and distance.
In this pattern there is no perpetrator. Both partners are victims to this painful cycle of disconnection. But both are impacting each other with their reactions and inviting the other (unintentionally) into this dance.
There is a way out. It takes slowing it down, making it safe for each other to risk and be vulnerable to be able to share the deeply hidden emotions that drive this cycle to find the comfort and support that is needed from each other. This is not easy, it takes time, and often needs the help of a professional to help you see where you are stuck and how you can exit this painful pattern.
If this pattern sounds like your relationship, or maybe it’s not quite to that point yet, we are here to help. There is a way to pull out of this pattern and work toward co-creating a loving, caring, safe place with one another. It takes courage and a willingness to risk and be vulnerable.
Wishing you love and happiness and Happy New Year!
Nothing brings people together quite like a football Saturday in Knoxville. But, if you
and your partner have significantly different levels of interest in football, the season can
instead lead to feelings of distance and tension. The tension can be ratcheted up even
higher when if it’s a particularly frustrating season. So, if the Vols slow start has you
down, make sure it doesn’t bring your relationship down too.
Pay attention: Attention is one of the most basic forms of love. It makes sense then,
your partner might feel neglected when you shift a significant portion of your attention
to football. The way you tune in physically and emotionally to a game, is often the very
attention your partner craves. If your partner starts thinking “Gosh, I wish I was as
interesting as a football game,” that can go beyond annoying to actually being hurtful.
Football and your relationship might seem like separate issues from your perspective,
but if attention is not being paid to your partner at other times, game time can become a
Big Orange representation of that disconnect. There’s nothing wrong with watching the
game and rooting for your team. Just remember not to let your love of the game get in
the way of the love for your partner.
Watch out for spillover: A football game may only last a few hours, but its impact
can go far beyond that. Emotional spillover can be a major problem, especially after a
tough loss. If football is taking up a lot of your time, the importance of protecting
your other time becomes even more important. This means finding ways to calm
yourself down and hit the reset button so you can be present with your partner.
Remember, over-doing it with tailgating and alcohol will only make this harder. Add
excess alcohol to the emotions of a football game, and you can quickly have a
relationship disaster on your hands. Alcohol lowers reduces our capacity for self-control,
making hurtful statements and even physical violence more likely. Make it your
responsibility not to let your negative emotions contaminate otherwise quality time.
Accept your partner: The struggle to change someone is often even more exhausting
than the issue itself. Trying to convince your partner that football doesn’t or shouldn’t
matter will not work. The result of your efforts will likely be increased anger and
resentment. Instead, try accepting their fandom as one of many things that make your
partner who they are, not a problem that needs to be fixed. You may believe that if you
offer any acceptance, you won’t get what you want. It may seem counter-intuitive, but
adding a dose of acceptance can loosen the grip of frustrating emotions that keep you
and your partner stuck, allowing new solutions to arise.
Communicate the real issue:
Your partners focus on football could be upsetting for
a variety of reasons, like lack of quality time or even increased spending.Regardless, the key is communicating in a direct and constructive manner. Instead of blaming football
itself or attacking your partner, explain specifically how you are feeling and being
affected by what’s happening. The challenge is to move past your initial reactive emotion
and tune into the deeper meaning behind it, which if often about your sense of
connection to your partner. One thing that can help is to remember to complain rather
than criticize. There is a huge difference between saying; “Will you quit staring at the
TV? All you care about is football!”; (criticism) and “I’m feeling disappointed that you’ve
spent most of the day watching football and we didn’t get a chance to connect. Can we
spend some time together?” (complaint). Criticisms paint your partner with a broad
brush and feel more like an attack on who they are as a person, whereas complaints
focus narrowly and explain how you feel, rather than a negative assumption about your
partners intention or character. At their core, both approaches are bids for attention and
care, but criticisms are likely to be seen as an attack and cause your partner to pull
become defensive. Complaints aren’t always easy to hear either, but they are much more
likely to bring your partner closer. And that’s exactly what you really want.
Celebrate your differences: If you and your partner were exactly the same, things
would get boring really quickly. Your difference around this issue can be an exciting
opportunity to get to know each other better. Discover what excites the other and makes
them tick. If you don’t like football that much, be curious and try to learn what your
partner likes about it so much. If your partner doesn’t like football, find out what
they do like and do it with them. Getting into one another’s world through both activity
and conversation helps strengthen your bond and keep things interesting. Think back to
when you and your partner first met. I would venture to guess that much of what fueled
your sense of connection was an intense desire to know and be known by your partner.
Even if you’ve been together for a long time, I can assure you that if you tap into that
sense of curiosity there’s more to discover.
Written by Dr. Clay Culp, Emotionally Focused Therapist at Healing Hearts Counseling
When betrayal occurs in a relationship or marriage, it breaks the foundation of trust and safety. Everything you thought you knew now comes into question and there is doubt and insecurity. When going through the pain and trauma of betrayal, often the question is asked, can the relationship be saved? And if so, how?
Here are some key steps to healing from betrayal asÂ illustrated by John Gottman:
There must be believable and genuine remorse
Behavior change with understanding and insight. (One must understand the reason behind the choice, why conflict was avoided, emotions stayed hidden.)
Compensation: the act of making it good again. Making changes in the relationship to rebuild trust and positive connection.
Building a new relationship to include: creating the sacred in the relationship, honesty, transparency, the cherishing of your partner on a continuing basis.
Building emotional attunement.
What is emotional attunment? It is very important to a healthy relationship. It means being in-tune with each other. Noticing when your partner is experiencing negative emotions. Awareness of what your partner’s in the moment experiences are. Understanding and being tuned into your partners world and making the choice to turn toward your partner, not away, during times of vulnerability.
These are just an outline of some basic essential ingredients in healing a relationship after a betrayal. It is often very important to get outside help to understand what happened, why it happened and to begin the process of rebuilding.
Our negative emotions (pain, fear, frustration) serve a purpose. They let us know that something is going on within us that needs attention.
When we experience physical pain, it is the body’s way of alerting us that something is not quite right and needs attention. If we were to just medicate that pain without looking at what’s causing it, we can inadvertently cause more damage.
Such is the same with negative emotions. Our culture wants immediate gratification and happiness and has lost sight of the valuable growth that comes from delayed gratification and understanding and “feeling” emotions. Many are in the habit of numbing or avoiding their negative emotions. Whether it’s through prescribed medications, or self-medication techniques like drugs, alcohol, porn, sex without love, etc. Emotional pain is an indicator that something is not right. And if you allow yourself to feel it, examine it, understand the thought process and behaviors behind it, then you can do the necessary work to grow, to move through it and create healing. The problem with this method is that it’s time consuming, it’s not a quick fix. However, it’s a longer term fix and allows for a deeper connection with yourself and the important people in your life.
ÂAll marital partners, at some point in their marriage, will feel disconnected from one another. This is a normal occurrence in marriage. However, if it is not recognized as normal, if steps are not taken to prevent it, recognize it, or recover from it, it can make a couple vulnerable to infidelity.
What does it mean to be connected? It means being emotionally in tune with each other. You know when your partner has had a good or bad day, who are their best friends and who are their enemies, what’s going on at work or with extended family. On a larger scale, what their dreams and goals are, what makes them sad and what makes them happy. What their scared of and what they most aspire to be. These are things that two people who are connected know about and care about each other. It requires openness and honesty, genuineness and kindness.
When do couples become disconnected? A couple experiences disconnection for many reasons. There are times in a couples life when they are extra vulnerable to disconnection; the birth of a child, the death of a loved one, the loss of a job, or other life changes. Disconnection can also happen from not taking the time to be alone with one another, to talk to each other. Not making your marriage a priority and letting other life happenings get in the way.
How do we prevent becoming disconnected: one major way to avoid disconnection is by making your marriage a top priority and always taking time to spend with one another. When there is conflict, to deal with it by talking openly and in a caring way with one another so conflict can be discussed and resolved. Don’t allow resentments to build, talk to each other and stay in tune with each other’s emotions.
You may take all of the precautions and still find that you feel disconnected. The first important step is recognizing it. Being able to catch and notice that you have not been connecting with your partner. The next step is to address it. Let your partner know, without attacking or blaming, that you feel disconnected and together figure out what you need to do to reconnect with each other and tune back in to each other.
When you find yourself disconnected, deal with it with each other. If you do not, you both become vulnerable to infidelity. When disconnection exists for too long, it becomes to easy to find connection from someone outside the marriage.
Couples are not connected ALL the time, that’s normal. And feeling disconnected is not a sign of an unhappy or unhealthy marriage. But how you deal with it when you feel disconnected is. You must recognize it and address it and find each other over and over again to minimize the vulnerability to infidelity.
Where do you begin when you’ve just found out your spouse has had an affair? Or, what if you are the one who’s had the affair and your partner has just found out?
If you’ve just found out your partner has had an affair, be prepared for the roller coaster of emotions. It is not a time to make any permanent life-changing decisions. Here are some important things to consider:
You do not have to know right now if you are going to stay or go. You are in crisis and may feel like the rug has been pulled out from under you. Give yourself time to make important decisions. Emotions are very raw right now so it’s okay to not know which direction to go yet.
Some people make the mistake of telling friends and family and then regret it later. So be choosy about who you share this with, the best route is to seek out a counselor who can help you sort through all the challenges that are in front of you. It’s also important to have a support system, again, select confidants carefully. There may be support groups in your area, seek these out through your local church or counseling center.
You are going to experience a lot of different emotions from anger to sadness, betrayal and fear, confusion and frustration. All this is normal. Research has shown that individuals who have been betrayed show symptoms of post traumatic stress. You may have flashbacks of the affair and images that you never even experienced. You will have triggers like when the phone rings or your partner gets a text message, where the fear and anger comes alive. You may want to cry one minute and scream the next.
In this kind of situation, the fight or flight response kicks in, but neither are conducive to moving forward. If you want to save your marriage, you can neither fight nor flight. A normal human reaction is to act out the rage and blame, yell at, accuse, distrust or check up on your partner. While these are normal reactions, they do continued damage to the relationship and to your own self esteem. Sometimes what might make you temporarily feel better in the moment, makes matters worse in the long run.
Self care is critical during the time of healing. Self care includes things such as exercise, going for walks, getting enough sleep, spending time with those who are supportive, getting counseling, making sure you eat well and enough. These small things might seem trivial or difficult to do, but it is important to take care of yourself.
You may want to ask questions or know details about the affair. It is okay to ask these questions, just be sure that you really want to know the answers. For some people the not knowing causes suffering and they would rather know, for others they would rather not know. There is no right or wrong, only you can know what is going to be helpful.
If you are the person who has had the affair, some important things to consider:
There is no right time frame for getting over an affair. So do not push your partner. Your patience and support is critical. Do not avoid talking about the affair, do not give excuses or blame. Right now your partner needs to know that you understand the impact this has had. This is not going to be easy for you either, but it is important that you remain supportive during this challenging period.
This may seem obvious but it bears pointing out: be honest. Be where you say you will be, do what you say you will do, don’t leave anything out no matter how insignificant it seems. Rebuilding trust is going to take time, but it starts now
Listen to your partner. If they ask questions and want to know the answers, it is important that you answer them with total honesty. Do not decide for them what they should and should not need to know. It is important to allow your partner to make the determination what he/she needs to or wants to know.
Be an open book for your partner. And remember, this is temporary. But this is an important time to be in close physical proximity to your partner to maintain a sense of safety. Allow your partner to see your phone, text messages, emails, to regain a sense of safety. You can, and it is necessary to, have your privacy back at some point, but for right now your partner may need this to begin the process of rebuilding trust and feeling safe.
You are going to go through difficult emotions as well. Guilt, shame, regret are all normal feelings to experience. It is important not to let them get in the way of being there and listening to your partner. It is also a good idea for you to seek counseling as well to deal with these emotions and to understand why you made this choice.
If you want to save the marriage (or even if you are unsure) it is important to seek couples counseling as soon as possible. It may take some time to find a counselor that you feel comfortable with. Remember, affairs happen in good marriages and to good people. There are many reasons why an affair occurs and it can take one to two years to recover whether you stay in the marriage or not. Take your time, seek help and work together to begin the healing process.
Helping restore your intimate bond and connection
Marriage counseling is an important part of any successful relationship. We will all experience stuck places and moments of disconnect in our significant relationships. The key is knowing how and when to reach for help. There is no reason to have to navigate these painful stuck places alone.
We all need a sense of belonging to a few important others from the cradle to the grave. We are social beings and wired for this sense of belonging and connectedness to important others. When we can’t reach those we emotionally depend on, we panic, and that results in a few behaviors that can create distance and disconnection in intimate relationships. We can often experience feelings of shame around these reactions, but we all experience this when we cannot reach the people that matter most to us. We can reshape these reactions when we understand what is going on and can create a path to healing. That is what marriage counseling from an Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy perspective is all about.
Your connection with your intimate partner is essential to your emotional and even physical wellbeing. Study after study has shown that when we have strong, quality connections with our significant others, we are mentally, physically and emotionally stronger. When our intimate connection is distressed, it affects all other parts of our lives. Marriage counseling can help bring clarity and understanding to what is going on and how to get back into secure connection with one another.
Do you end up fighting about stuff that seems petty on the surface? Of feel like you keep revisiting the same old argument over and over? Have you ever felt alone in your relationship? Do you end up being critical and demanding and escalate because you end up feeling like your partner doesn’t really care and you don’t know how to get him/her to hear you?
Or maybe you feel like no matter how hard you try, no matter what you do, you just can’t get it right with him/her, nothing you do is good enough so you end up shutting down and pulling away, hoping to not ignite another argument.
These are the typical positions partners take when they can’t connect with one another in the ways that once seemed to easy. These reactions and patterns end up making things even worse, and the longer it goes on, the more hopeless it can feel. But there is hope. We now have scientifically based, researched ways of understanding these relational patterns, why and how they occur, how to stop them from spiraling to restore a loving, secure, intimate bond.
Understanding what is underlying these arguments is key to pulling out of these negative patterns that seem to snowball and get worse over time if not adequately addressed. This is where we can help.
Marriage counseling through Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy with a trained professional will help create a safe space to explore painful emotions that underlie your reactions. It will help the two of you understand what is happening, slow down, and calm this seemingly out of control cycle so that you can pull out of it together. It will help the two of you turn to each other from a softer place, alleviate feelings of shame, understand the ways in which your partner is trying to reach you, understand and express your longings and needs, and navigate these painful experiences to find your way back to bonding and connection with one another.
We are here and ready to help. Contact us today.