Do you ever feel like you're living with a stranger rather than the person you married? Or like you are fighting an endless battle over nothing in particular with increasing disconnection?
I promise that you are not alone - those feelings come up for many people in long-term relationships and marriage. We try to talk about the stuff in life that needs to be ironed out - content like finances, kids, or extended family, but we get derailed not because of the subject matter, but because of the feelings that come up underneath.
It's normal to go through phases of feeling like you can't connect - where everything feels like an effort.
The truth is, most of us can get into 'negative cycles' in our relationships that are exacerbated during stressful times. By negative I mean that we begin to misread each other, make assumptions based on the body language or tone of the other, and end up feeling unsafe and shut down as a result.
We sometimes create just what we don't want, increasing disconnection. This is because we can begin to experience our partner as a scary tiger based on what we see on the surface. Ironically, we are often surprised to find out what is happening for our partner underneath: their unspoken fears, hurts, and misunderstandings. So we react - based on what we initially see as a growling tiger, without seeing the scared bunny rabbit underneath.
The goal is to learn to talk with each other from the bunny place, the place that is soft and vulnerable. The catch is that you need to feel safe enough to dare to do that. Ironically, the closer you feel with your partner, even though it can feel scary, the safer you actually are.
We tend to create disconnection and hardened defenses (anger and withdrawal) in order to feel safe, but it actually makes us feel more alone and less resilient. It also feeds the 'negative cycle'.
Coming to know that cycle like a team investigating a phenomena, working together to understand and defeat it, is a bonding experience in itself. The immediate result is that we tend to feel more bonded and supported, with a common goal. The more transparent and safe we feel, the less assumptions we tend to make about the other. Starting to see the world through our partner's eyes and thereby daring to give them the benefit of the doubt.
From there the results are plentiful: we can find our way back to one-another more easily and swiftly. This closeness and safety inevitably brings with it less effort in communicating, and most importantly, a secure and lasting connection.
Katharina Sandizell, LMFT