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In this cycle, the pursuer is looking to get a reaction from their withdrawn partner.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!
I recently heard this story about facing adversity. I thought I would pass it on to you. In your marriage, you may face turbulent times. When reading this story, you can apply it to any adversity in your life, but you can especially apply it to struggles in your marriage. Will your marriage be the carrot (crumbling under tough times), the egg where you harden and become cold with one another, or the coffee bean.
Enjoy the story and I hope it inspires you!
ARE YOU A CARROT, AN EGG, OR A COFFEE BEAN?
by Mary Sullivan
A young woman went to her mother and told her about her life and how things were so hard for her. She did not know how she was going to make it and wanted to give up. She was tired of fighting and struggling. It seemed as if as soon as one problem was solved a new one arose. Her mother took her to the kitchen.
The mother filled three pots with water.
In the first, she placed carrots.
In the second she placed eggs.
And the last she placed ground coffee beans.She let them sit and boil without saying a word. About twenty minutes later, she turned off the burners.
She fished the carrots out and placed them in a bowl. She pulled the eggs out and placed them in a bowl. Then she ladled the coffee out and placed it in a bowl.
Turning to her daughter, she said, "Tell me what you see."
"Carrots, eggs, and coffee," she replied. (You known the tone of voice.)
She brought her closer and asked her to feel the carrots. She did, and noted that they felt soft.
She then asked her to take an egg and break it. After pulling off the shell, she observed the hard-boiled egg inside.
Finally, she asked her to sip the coffee. The daughter smiled as she tasted its rich aroma.
The daughter then asked, "So, what's the point, mother?" (Remember the tone of voice.)
Her mother explained that each of these objects had faced the same adversity – boiling water – but each reacted differently.
The carrot went in strong, hard, and unrelenting. However, after being subjected to the boiling water, it softened and became weak.
The egg had been fragile. Its thin outer shell had protected its liquid center. But, after sitting through the boiling water, its insides had become hardened.
The ground coffee beans were unique, however. After they were in the boiling water…they had changed the water.
"Which are you?" she asked her daughter. "When adversity knocks on your
door, how do you respond? Are you a carrot , an egg, or a coffee bean?"
Think of this: Which am I?
Am I the carrot that seems strong, but with pain and adversity, do I wilt
and become soft and lose my strength?
Am I the egg that starts with a malleable heart, but changes with the heat?
Did I have a fluid spirit, but after a death, a breakup, a financial hardship, or some other trial, have I become hardened and stiff? Does my outer shell look the same, but on the inside am I bitter and tough with a stiff spirit and a hardened heart?Or am I like the coffee bean? The bean actually changes the hot water – the very circumstances that bring the pain. When the water gets hot, it releases the fragrance and flavor of the bean. If you are like the bean, when things are at their worst, you get better and change the situation around you instead of letting it change you.
When the hours are the darkest and trials are their greatest do you elevate to another level?
How do you handle Adversity?
ARE YOU A CARROT, AN EGG, OR A COFFEE BEAN?
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.
What are the boundaries for effective conflict resolution in marriage? Often, when couples get married, they come into the marriage with unspoken expectations. A common one that comes up is the right to free expression. I should and have the right to express every emotion that I have in the name of honesty. Hogwash!! This can be incredibly damaging to a relationship! Some of this may sound contradictory to that last post that talked about being your genuine selves with each other, but in there I mentioned there has to be boundaries. Well in this post we are talking about those boundaries with the understanding that unbridled self expression can be very damaging to a relationship. It might feel good in the moment, but what feels good in the moment is not necessarily for the benefit of the relationship. Everything you say and do in your relationship will either move you closer together or push you further apart. So ask yourself that question when you are about to “express” yourself. Is this going to bring you closer or push you further?
Here’s an example: when my husband is with the kids for a few hours, I come home and the house is a disaster. If I were to come home and start complaining that the house is a mess, he might feel resentful that I don’t appreciate the time he spent with the kids so I could have some time for myself. I might feel annoyed that the house is a mess, but for the sake of the relationship and my husband’s feelings, I keep that to myself and focus on appreciating his efforts. Is that disingenuous? I don’t think so, because both feelings exist, but I choose to express the ones that will draw me closer to my spouse.
Think about how you can do this in your marriage. Next post I will write about how to express dissatisfaction about something in the relationship without pushing your partner away.
Thank you for visiting!
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.