“I love my partner. Why is it so hard sometimes?”
Sometimes it’s the person we love the most who can get to us like nobody else can. It’s precisely because our partners are so important to us that they push our buttons. Underneath almost every difficult conflict are three fundamental qualities every person needs from their partner:
- Accessibility: We need to know that we can reach our spouses and feel connected and open to them.
- Responsiveness: Every one of us longs to be able to count on our partner to attune to our emotional cues, especially when we’re upset.
- Engagement: We want to feel special and cherished by our significant other.
When we don’t know in our hearts that our partner is accessible, responsive, and engaged with us, we get stuck. We have a wired-in need to feel connected to another person, and when the connection is in doubt, it can feel like a life or death matter.
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“Oh no. Here we go again.”
Does this sound familiar? Everyone has conflict in their relationships. The problem comes when couples find themselves having the same argument over and over again. You and your partner can learn to slow down your negative patterns so that you can really hear and share with each other. When partners get stuck, fear of becoming disconnected usually lurks underneath the frustration, but in the heat of the moment you can’t do anything other than get upset. Therapy can help you and your partner slow things down so you can get to what’s really going on and feel like you’re on the same team instead of adversaries. When we humans can’t allow ourselves to trust our most important teammate, we feel alone, helpless, scared, and overwhelmed. No wonder we get stuck!
“Why does she nag me so much? Why is he so shut down?”
Often couples get stuck in a pursue-withdraw pattern. Each partner is doing his or her best to manage the difficult feelings that arise when they feel disconnected from their loved one. As human beings, we have a fundamental, hard-wired need to connect with another. When our connection feels threatened, we really only have a limited number of choices. Most people have one of these default positions:
- We pursue or criticize. We get louder and more clingy to make our partner hear us because we’re afraid that if we stop reaching or criticizing, we’ll be all alone. Often we’ll do anything we can to get some response, because even anger is better than feeling ignored.
- We withdraw or go numb. The anxiety about being misunderstood gets so overwhelming that we act as if we don’t have any needs for emotional closeness. We might withdraw into alcohol, computers, shopping, or work. But underneath, we often feel alone and worried about losing our partner.
Although these reactions happen automatically, therapy can help you recognize the underlying emotions so you can more clearly convey your needs to your partner so each of you can feel safe and secure.
“Is there hope for us?”
Yes! Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy, the approach I use, has been found to be successful with about 75% of couples. Most couples find their relationships continue to improve, even years after they have finished therapy! Learn more about EFT in these publications:
An Emotionally Focused Workbook for Couples: The Two of Us 1st Edition by Veronica Kallos-Lilly (Author), Jennifer Fitzgerald (Author).
Hold Me Tight: Seven conversations for a lifetime of love by Dr. Susan Johnson.
Start creating your loving bond today!
Many couples wait too long to start couples therapy. Don’t be one of them! Most American couples wait 6 years from the time they start having problems until they seek therapy. During that time, many hurts and frustrations can build up, creating more wounds to heal and more work to get things back on track. Don’t be a statistic! Start working with your partner before problems build up.
Think it’s too late? Think again!
On the other hand, if you think it’s too late for you, it really probably isn’t. If you still have love, commitment, and the willingness to work hard, you most likely can still create a happy and strong relationship. Isn’t it worth it to you and your partner to give it a try?