Do you ever find yourself spinning in the same old pattern in relationship? Do you get into the same argument over and again and don’t know how to get out of it? Do you rack your brains wondering what creates this vicious circle?
I see couples every week for coaching who have reached a stalemate in their relationship. They are often trying to get their needs met with strategies that are simply not working. They may even be unknowingly pushing their partner away. It’s extremely frustrating when deep down there is genuine love and a desire to work things out.
We all have certain strategies that we developed as children that are not working anymore…
As a child we learned strategies that helped us to survive. For example, we may have learned that if we stomped our feet and made a lot of noise someone would pay attention to us. Or we may have learned that if we lied about our actions we could escape getting reprimanded, thus maintaining a bond with our caregiver.
The list of strategies goes on. Some are subtler and some are more blatant. But one thing is for sure; most of these fall short or utterly fail when applied to adult romantic relationships.
Being an adult means effectively navigating differing needs and desires.
It means being able to set healthy boundaries and deal with disappointment. It means being able to fully express yourself AND learning how to do this with love and empathy toward your partner.
Why do we repeat ineffective strategies?
One of the main obstacles I see in couples is substituting MERGING for BONDING. This is because most of us don’t know how to, or what if feels like to be securely bonded. Let me explain…
Bonding is a natural human need. All mammals bond. Bonding is a feeling of belonging and being loved for who you are. It is a knowing that you have someone who you can run to when things aren’t going well. It’s having someone you can trust and lean into. For example, if an emergency or crisis happens in your life, who is the first person you call? This is to whom you are primarily bonded!
In an ideal childhood we bond securely with our adult caregiver. A securely bonded person as an adult does not freak out or give up when things go wrong. They seek repair and re-connection. If connection is lost in relationship, a securely bonded person seeks re-connection as if they deserve it.
Being securely bonded is tied to the ability to self-soothe and self-regulate. It is about being an individual in the relationship while caring deeply for the other as well.
Merging on the other hand is a fused identity. We’ve all heard the saying “joined at the hip.” This is exactly what happens to many couples. Merging is being unable to discern which emotions are yours or another’s . “Joined at the hip” is not far off the mark as we experience our emotions generally in our bellies, at hip level.
When merged, we feel another’s pain as if it’s our own.
How does merging contribute to communication difficulties?
If you are merged with your partner, it is difficult to bring anything and everything to the table. There is a fear that being honest will hurt the other, which will actually hurt you, because you are tied to each other. It is difficult to discern your individual needs because it’s difficult to discern where you stop and the other begins.
Thus one of the biggest keys to relationship harmony is learning to see and respect another’s individuality. Your partner’s needs or boundaries might make you feel awful. But it is not actually your partner making you feel like crap. It is YOU as an individual being activated into fear, anger, sorrow, disappointment, frustration – because of your own needs and projections.
Here are 3 suggestions for re-connection that honour both your need for bonding and individuation:
- 1) Drop verbal attempts. Go into silence but stay connected. Hold hands, eye gaze, or cuddle until you both calm down. These are natural bonding activities that can be done even if everything is not “worked out” yet.
- 2) Have an “I Feel” conversation. Go back and forth expressing your authentic feelings in the moment. Do not judge the other or yourself. Feelings are just feelings. Try to imagine what it is like to feel what they are feeling. Everyone’s feelings always make sense according to their unique background, history, chemical makeup, and life experiences. There is no wrong or right when it comes to feelings, even if you don’t agree or feel the same thing.
- 3) Share empathy. Empathy doesn’t mean you are coming down from your perspective or changing your feelings. It just means you can hear another, even if they are in direct conflict with you. Share empathy and notice what your partner needs in order to feel heard. Once your partner feels heard they will be a lot more ready and relaxed to hear you!
Following these steps will help you start moving toward a true bond in relationship where you can deepen as individuals and share a journey that unfolds from two unique perspectives.
Once you have learned to create a secure bond, there is no need to merge. But then it is fun to choose to merge when you want to!
Love is your Nature,
Remember, Love is your Nature!