Archive for abandonment

Stuck couples

Couples get stuck, Relationships get stuck, Marriages get stuck
Feeling stuck in a relationship is often what brings couples into counselling. We can all identify situations in our relationships where a level of stuckness is to be expected. But when stuckness feels damaging and destructive couples tend to feel they are on a hamster wheel and cant find a way out.

It is important to identify what causes the stuckness in order to move forward.
Sue Johnson the developer of Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy (EFT) calls them the Demon Dialogues where we cannot connect safely with our partners.
She has identified three basic patterns:
Find the Bad Guy– a pattern of mutual blame and criticism that keeps a couple miles apart, blocking reengagement and the feeling of relationship safety.
Protest Polka – a pattern of Demand-Withdraw or Criticise-Defend. This is a protest against the loss of the secure attachment that we all need in our relationships
Freeze and Flee or Withdraw -Withdraw
Partners feel hopeless and begin to give up and close down to escape the hurt and despair, leaving numbness and distance.

In dance terms Sue Johnson describes this as the most dangerous dance, when suddenly there is no one on the dance floor; both partners are sitting it out far apart from the other.

We begin to see the relationship as more and more unsatisfying or unsafe and our partner as unloving and uncaring.

Using Emotionally Focused Therapy couples make progress by increasing safety and security in their relationships which allows them to listen and respond more to each others needs which in turn helps partners tune into the important feelings and needs and then put those feelings and needs across to their partners in ways that invite positive responses rather than stuckness.

There are times in relationships where a partners past actions were linked to an experience of betrayal and breach of trust. In EFT terms these events are considered Attachment Injuries.

Attachment injuries can appear as relational traumas that affect a couples on-going relationship. It is the impact the action has had on the injured partner and what the action represents ie. abandonment or rejection.

Couples fail to develop deeper trust or risk vulnerability until these attachment injuries have been addressed. Attachment injuries create obstacles that block trust and connection and need to be worked through.

Working with an EFT therapist can help couples identify how their behaviours trigger each others emotions and change the course of negative patterns into positive relationship affirming connections which make for feelings of safety and security.

The stuckness that you and your partner may be feeling shouldn’t me ignored or minimised. As Dr Nicastro points out “stuckness is a source of information that can help you and your partner come together and work for the good of the relationship.

Dawn Kaffel

Resilience in the Couple Relationship

Couple therapist Esther Perel writes that ‘we each come out of childhood with a greater need for either separateness or togetherness’ and, as a result, managing our adult relationships is a constant challenge. Very often a close couple relationship is one of our principal sources of emotional sustenance, reassurance and intimacy, but a difference in our levels of need can be disconcerting and frightening. Feelings of abandonment from what seems like a lack of concern can create panic. Feeling engulfed by what seems clingy over-dependence can feel smothering. At the start, balancing is not seen as a problem, but major life-events, stresses, and crises can cause ripples in the smooth surface and a once-stable relationship can suddenly feel unsafe. Each partner’s response to a feeling of disconnection will be individually shaped by past experience, but the differences can cause both a worrying confusion and insecurity: ‘I feel I don’t know you anymore!

Disagreement can flare into destructive conflict and anger. Repetitive, stuck behaviour patterns begin to emerge with downward spirals of protest and defensiveness. The couple can feel helpless and lost and come into counselling fearing their relationship is broken. The concept of the relationship as a safe haven has been challenged and they are wary, reluctant to trust. Suspicion has replaced good will.

Counselling, however, can offer a restorative healing experience. If a couple can be ‘brave-hearted’ and engage with the process of discovery and understanding, they can find the motivation needed to turn a stressful experience into an opportunity for growth. Transformational coping-strategies- such as working to change ‘Automatic Negative Thoughts’ (ANTs) into ‘Positive Alternative Thoughts’ (PATs) – allow for a discovery of powerful emotional resilience.

From the brain’s perspective, it is usually safer to stick to what is familiar, deeply ingrained, how we always react (even though we also know it does not serve us well) rather than risk the vulnerability and uncertainty of doing something different. Change is uncomfortable. So, resilience is a quality that needs to be developed – it is not a fixed character trait.

In order to feel the confidence and safety to strike out for change we need to feel buffered against what we pessimistically see as potential disappointment. Counselling, then, gives the opportunity to set events into the required broader perspective. Optimism is not helpful unless it is realistic – and realism is the ability to assess the situation clearly and challenge negative distortions.

For those traumatised by past relationship wounds, trust can be difficult. However, significant gestures of reassurance and ‘turning towards’ make for a relaxation of tension. Renewed closeness has a soothing reparative effect that goes towards healing hurt. Shifts and accommodations are evident and a recognition of a partner’s love, care and concern allows for significant recovery and hope for the future.

Kathy Rees

Addiction in a Couple

In couple therapy where one has an acknowledged addiction, there is a real challenge for them to see that this situation can only be changed by both partners adapting their behaviours.
Addictions are based on distorted thinking and this is underpinned by the co-dependency that often accompanies these complicated couples.
Therapy can be a safe place to unpick the misconceptions that form the fragile shell that appears to protect, but actually blocks, a healthy way forward.
Therapists should be wary of allowing the addiction to be the sole focus when it is actually both of them who are keeping the couple stuck.
It’s sometimes hard for the seemingly supportive partner to acknowledge that their enabling behaviour actually exacerbates the situation. It’s difficult to understand that kindness can be a block, but by caring and sheltering the other they are co-operating with the addiction.
Intimacy for some couples can be based on the concept of one persons drive to rescue and the others apparent inability to escape their dependency.
Addicts suffer from low self-esteem and drama keeps them attached to their partner by the attention they receive. Many ‘carers’ are terrified of abandonment so by becoming pivotal to the situation, they keep the other close and connected. One thinks they show love by nurturing while the other is kept safe by being looked after.  The dynamic is seen through the window of one person’s distress and the other ones hope of rescuing the problem.
In therapy, clients can begin to unravel this by looking at the early systems from childhood that may reinforce repeated patterns in adulthood.  They can examine what processes may have led each of them to seek the role they adopt. And by understanding some of the unconscious systems that they follow they can, together with the therapist, begin to explore a way to change the situation.
Shame is very close to addiction, and couples can benefit hugely from the safe space offered in therapy where they can begin to feel able to discuss their vulnerabilities. Self-compassion is so important, as without knowing and tolerating our own faults, it can be hard to believe that it’s possible for an other to accept us.
There can never be true intimacy without vulnerability, but in the counselling room people can gently begin to reveal their fears and allow themselves the risk of being accepted and can then see that they can also love the other completely in spite of both their flaws.
By taking responsibility for their current situation, many people can free themselves from the fear of repeating negative patterns.
Breaking a serious addiction is the work of a lifetime and requires specialist help, but by giving up the toxic control and trusting that there is a better life, many people can, and do, triumph over their dependencies.

Christina Fraser

Managing a Disagreement

Within a relationship there is the reassurance of feeling that there is someone with whom we can share life’s difficulties and satisfactions. It is consoling to think that there is a person who understands and on whom we can lean. There is a comfort in knowing a partner has the same values, shares the same outlook and interests, and has a familiar perspective on the world. The similarities are affirming and help us relax and feel trust. Even differences can be perceived as offering an opportunity to widen our horizons.
However, there are some differences which create a frisson of panic and appear to us to attack the secure base of the relationship. A certain difference of opinion seems to be the polar opposite of our own and we feel vulnerable and insecure – perhaps not taken into account. We make interpretations that, if s/he thinks that, or can do that, perhaps they are not the safe pair of hands that was imagined. Maybe s/he should not be trusted. Maybe s/he does not love as much as was hoped.
When this anxiety grips there is an unconscious rationalisation that a fault-line in the relationship has been revealed. Linked to the strength (or the precariousness) of the attachments in our childhoods, a fear of abandonment can be evoked. It leads us to be defensive and either withdraw or protest. We defend against the loss of the loved relationship – while making the loss dangerously possible. An angry exchange can quickly escalate into a bitter argument. Paradoxically, the fight is an attempt to reconnect and regain concordance. We are trying to deny, disprove, attack an opposing view and re-establish the cocoon of unity.
As an alternative, wonder why your own reaction is so strong. Are you overlaying a past experience onto the present? Don’t jump in too quickly. Avoid starting a sentence with ‘Yes, but…’ and LISTEN instead of contradicting. Try to be curious instead of dismissive. Without feeling you have to concede your own position, ask for more information. What is the underlying story? Wonder about the FEELINGS as much as the facts. Ask for time to give your own explanation. This should not be about attacking your partner but should be focussed on yourself. Use ‘I’ not ‘you’. Avoid finger-pointing and global statements that stress ‘always’ and ‘never’.
Find the common ground, even if it is just agreeing that there is an unresolved issue, and join forces as a couple to solve the problem. Brainstorm and ask for possible solutions and alternative suggestions. There may be room for small concessions on both sides. It is not about scorekeeping or tit-for-tat. See yourselves as collaborators once more.

Loss

It is not only the loss of a partner, or someone in our family, that can cause us to feel distressed and grief-stricken. Losing a close friendship can cause overwhelming feelings of sadness of bereavement.

Friends form part of the jigsaw which makes up the secure base of our lives. We feel safer and more confident when we create links and have a circle (no matter how tiny or how large) of people with whom we have understanding and on whom we can rely.

The reality of a friend moving away, or travelling, or even emigrating, will be hard to bear but can be rationalised. It will be painful, we will be sad, but the idea can be borne.

However, when the friend is focussed on another person, when they seem so preoccupied with another and there seems no room for us, uncomfortable anxiety can grow.

All-encompassing emotional life events like the birth of a child, or falling in love, can give the impression that there is no longer room for the friendship. It is very hard to cope with being suddenly demoted, side-lined and not the priority. We have thoughts of betrayal.

Although the rational, thinking, part of us explains that the friend is in a whirlwind of enrapture, we feel the cold wind of panic. The situation recalls, and resonates with, any abandonment or rejection we have suffered in our past.

If we have previously experienced traumatic relationship losses or break-ups, the re-opening of a painful wound is keenly felt.

Psychologically there has been a break in one of the attachment bonds which we wrap around ourselves. We feel displaced and insecure as the emotional ground we stand on has shifted. Our world seems changed and the kaleidoscope has been reconfigured.

We need time to assimilate the different patterns. Our other primary relationships become even more important by offering stability and reassurance.  We can be soothed when these other important attachment figures remind us that we are loved.

It may help to remember that our friend has been overtaken by a tsunami of emotion. It was not their intention to weaken the links between you both. Sadly they are no longer on the same track that you thought would continue forever, but their motive was not to hurt or be unkind. They might not even comprehend the impact on you.

 

Divorce and Separation in Later Years

Divorce and separation in later years.
Recently there have been articles and discussions highlighting a new issue arising in families which happens more frequently than in previous generations. This could be due to increased levels of energy in later years gained from better diets and attention to health and well being. It could also be due to wider discussion bringing issues into the open, which were hitherto either taboo or only mentioned behind closed doors.

It will take years of research, discussion and theory to know why this is but we are beginning to see older couples separating and divorcing. In previous years they might have battled on and stuck together for fear of social disapproval and exclusion if they took a different route.

Psychologically, the families of the older generation making this choice also bear the brunt of the split. Middle generation couples today take on stresses and lives, which fill their existence to the brim and the added responsibility of visiting and caring for parents who now live apart becomes yet another strain and anxiety.

The decision to part and go their separate ways often only suits one member of the couple. This leaves the other one with loss, failure and abandonment issues, sometimes with a sense of ‘what is the point’? This in turn causes worry and concern for the adult children and when older, the grandchildren.

There are so many difficult issues, which will arise from this new pattern, and it would be helpful to have more input from people with experience of this family dynamic.

Clare Ireland

A Twin in a relationship with a non twin

With the likelihood that there will be more twins born now and in the future, due in part to Medical Intervention, there are relatively few books on the subject of a twin entering into a lifelong duo with a single birth partner.

With the myriad interactions of couple life, it would be interesting to see if there are shared issues within these types of couplings.

When any couple comes together there are many more people in the couple than is immediately apparent. One may be that each person has a fantasy twin whom they bring to the partnership. A twin also fantasies about a perfect twin in the same way as the non twin.

What does emerge from research already published is that the partner born alone may need to be someone who is able to feel at one with him/self. Someone who is comfortable in the knowledge that their loved other may turn to their twin in times of emotional or physical need. The twin may need to spend more time with their twin than would otherwise be acceptable in a mature sexual couple.

There are people who are seduced by this facility the twin offers and feel at ease with separateness and occasional detachment without feelings of resentment, rejection, abandonment and loss. This way of being can also be found when a twin partners another twin. The other twin understands.

Whether this possibility occurs with all types of twins or just with identical twins has not yet been established. Twins adopted at birth by different families often unconsciously yearn for their partner in the womb even when they have not been told they had one.

In a future blog I shall look at other issues twins may face, which differ from those born alone.

Clare Ireland