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Couples can get stuck in some very vicious cycles and negative patterns with one another that rob them of their intimacy and connection with one another. Here is a story of a couple who got caught in a common pattern and how they were able to pull out of it together and reclaim their relationship.

I am presenting a very simplified condensed version of the counseling process. This takes time, effort and courage to make these kinds of changes. (Names are fictional).

A common dance:

She feels alone, like he is not really there for her, he doesn’t really care. So she gets angry, yells and complains at him of how dissatisfied she is with their relationship. (This often comes across as criticism).

He doesn’t like being yelled at, so he withdraws and distances from her. He gets quiet and immerses himself in other activities.

The more he withdraws, the more alone and abandoned she feels, the more she yells and protests. The more she yells and protests, the more he withdraws. The all too common, frustrating and painful dance.

What’s really going on:

Through providing counseling in a safe and empathetic environment, Alyssa is able to dig behind the guard of her anger and see a deeper place within herself where she feels sad and alone and longs to be close to her partner. She doesn’t let her partner see this vulnerable part of herself because that is too scary. It is too risky for her to reach for him and share this because he might reject her further. So she ends up expressing her pain and protest from the guarded position of anger. She is still reaching for him, but not in a way that draws him closer. It actually results in pushing him further away.

In counseling, Alyssa takes a risk. She turns to her partner with tears in her eyes and shares the pain of her loneliness and longing for him. Being moved by her pain, he automatically moves toward her to provide comfort. He becomes accessible and responsive. It’s hard for Alyssa to trust in this at first, because it’s new, different and still a little scary.

Joe takes a risk too. He begins to realize that he withdraws because he feels inadequate, like a total failure in this relationship because of how unhappy Alyssa always seems to be. When Alyssa attacks him, he feels like he can do no right, he cannot win, so he stops trying. When Alyssa sees him withdraw, she doesn’t see this side of his pain, she just sees the withdrawal and comes to believe he just doesn’t care. In counseling, Joe turns to Alyssa and from a vulnerable place, takes a risk and shares with her that he wants so much to please her and feels like he can never succeed. Alyssa never thought he cared this much.

These key moments begin to change how this couple sees one another. Joe stops seeing his wife as someone who is always angry and displeased with him to someone who longs to be close with him. Alyssa stops seeing Joe as cold and uncaring but as someone who desperately wants to please her.

The change in this dance doesn’t happen over night. It’s taking risks a little at a time and working to understand what is happening behind the scenes. It’s learning to turn toward each other and reach for connection in ways that pulls our partner in, rather than pushing them away.

Counseling can help create the safety needed to risk and reach, be vulnerable and open and create the key moments that bring about closeness and intimacy, understanding and connection. A new dance that couples were meant to enjoy with each other.