Have you ever found yourself thinking, “If I go to my partner with this issue or concern they won’t handle it well?”
I think we all have thought that at some point. But what happens after that initial hesitation is what matters a lot.
How do you handle these tough situations? Do you still go to them and weather the stormy conversation or do you hold back? Why? What are we afraid of happening?
How we answer this says a lot about us and our upbringing. It also tells us a lot about what your children will do when they grow up too.
How Do Our Simple Actions (Or Inactions) Influence Our Kid’s Marriages?
Well the most obvious answer is you’re modeling for them how relationships should be. They don’t know what it shouldn’t be…yet.
That doesn’t come until later on in life when they’ve experienced failures, set backs, and disappointments. If they eventually realize mom and dad aren’t all knowing and wise…which for a large majority of their young life they believe…then they can learn to change course in their relationship.
The less obvious answer to this is something researchers refer to as Intergenerational Transference of Attachment. In a short nutshell this means that we pass down our attachment styles….or ways of relating to others….to our children and they pass it on to their children for generations and generations into the future until someone decides to change it.
Do you see how your actions or inactions impact more than just you? The responsibility can feel so overwhelming! We can even begin to lament the pain we’ve caused our loved ones in our ignorance. But I want you to be encouraged….there’s ALWAYS hope!
You can always choose a different path. You can always make changes. The longer you wait the harder it will be…but hard doesn’t mean impossible. It just means hurry up and get started. A year from now you will wish you had started today!
Why Communication Techniques Don’t Help
When we find ourselves struggling to connect with each other, like in the scenario I mentioned earlier, many people turn to communication techniques.
We assume the problem is with communication….”if they could just hear me” or “if I could just help them understand” or “if they could just not get so angry” we would be better off.
There is some truth to the feeling that better communication is important. But it’s only a surface level solution. It doesn’t get to the heart of it. The surface says, “I want them to hear me this time”….but we need to ask “why?” We want them to hear us this time because deep down we want them to know us….to care about us….to feel desired….wanted…we want intimacy.
Reading from a script to make sure you take turns stating your opposing side is not romantic. Maybe you get junk off your mind but it’s best suited for a courtroom, not the bedroom.
There are so many books out there that talk about bits and pieces of things we need…but fail to get to the root of the issue.
Books like Men Are From Mars and Women Are From Venus and The Five Love Languages have some positives…but they miss a greater deeper more meaningful aspect to communication.
They miss the concepts of attachment needs, trauma, and primary/secondary emotion. For those of us who did not grow up with great marriage role models, when we read books like these and try to implement the techniques we learn, we’re often left disappointed.
Partly, because we only have a portion of the picture of health…the other part is that we are such complex humans. A marriage is a complex organism made up of complex individuals.
There’s not a one size fits all template for personal or relationship happiness. We each have our own definition AND we all have unique life experiences that influence how we view ourselves and our partners. These differences are what make relationships so exciting, intriguing, mysterious, and terrifying.
This seems obvious to some of you…you might say, “my situation is unique so yeah…there’s no template”….but why do we insist on “communication techniques”, talking with friends, ignoring our problems, and other seemingly simple solutions to complex issues?
Enter Emotional Blindness
One of the biggest reasons these techniques don’t help is because of a term we coined called "emotional blindness".
Many of us think we’re experiencing intimacy because our definition is “well we don’t fight…or we get along” or “we make great parents together” or “we have sex once a week”. But we miss a greater sense of intimacy.
Because of our hangups, our relationship wounds, and what we’ve been taught about human connection from peers, parents, and popular culture we miss out on a deeper human connection.
Most of our clients come to us after a significant hurt happens in their relationship. Sometimes it’s a long period of hurts they don’t know how to resolve so they seek marriage counseling.
In our counseling sessions we help couples to break out of old patterns keeping them stuck so they can finally open up with each other.
There was a point where one client finally understood where his wife was coming from and made a profound comment he said, “I’m color blind…but until today I never realized how emotionally blind I’ve been.”
We don’t realize what we’re missing until we discover it. That is especially true in intimate love relationships. We think we have it….until we really have it…and then it’s magic. Once you have it, you’ll want to shout about it from the mountain tops!
What Keeps Us Emotionally Blind?
So what keeps us from healthy communication and maintains our emotional blindness? The answer is trauma. What keeps us from being able to be good parents? Preoccupation with our trauma and not learning new ways of relating. In other words, not working to heal our hurts so we can be present for others.
So many people think “trauma” is only what abuse survivors or soldiers experience. But they (and most relationship books) forget or ignore the fact that trauma impacts how we relate to each other.
It not only prevents healthy communication…it keeps us from having a deeper more meaningful intimate relationship. We have to heal from the trauma wounds. Not only will we feel free of the problems…but we will have better relationships with everyone in our lives.
How Do We Heal From Relationship Trauma?
How we heal from these relationship traumas is with, “current emotional sustenance, and social support, without repeated exposure to more traumatic stress” (Brewin et al. 2000). What does this look like….
We have to learn to stop traumatizing each other. That’s important. Why do we traumatize each other to begin with? It starts then we learn flawed ways of relating from our parents. We have to learn new ways to relate. Great news….ANYONE can learn this.
We have to have self-reflection and self-development. At this point you might be thinking, “my spouse will never do this…they can’t self-reflect their way out of a paper bag”.
Please be aware that your spouse has their own relationship traumas and those traumas cause shame and feelings of inadequacy. They may not be able to do this reflection without help.
Great news! With help it can happen. Bad news…many people stay in this fear of inadequacy and being seen as lacking in some way…that keeps them stuck without self-reflection and development.
“Current emotional sustenance”. Just like our bodies need food to sustain our physical well-being our minds need sustenance as well.
Part of this sustenance is we need to know that we are safe and cared for by those closest to us. When the researcher says “current” emotional sustenance it implies that it’s an ongoing sustenance.
I’ve heard a spouse say, “I told her I loved her at the altar what more does she need from me?” This thought process tells us a lot. But the main thing I want you to see here is his spouse was not happy because she needed ongoing emotional sustenance.
Social support is so important. Who are you surrounding yourself and your relationship with on a regular basis?
Brian Tracy, a businessman and motivational speaker Brad and I listen to religiously has said that the five people you spend the most time with is who you will begin to become like.
That is why it’s so demoralizing when one of our couple friends or someone in our community files for divorce. We might feel afraid for our own relationship’s health because, if they can divorce, and we spend our time with them, could we be next?
You want to understand healthy attachment and surround yourself with other couples who share the desire for this deeper kind of health. Also, you want to know their attitude about marriage. Are they level-headed and pro-healthy marriage?
This list is not exhaustive…there is so much we can say about this topic of healing after relationship traumas. But this is a good start!
In A Nut Shell
Ultimately, it boils down to healing. We can’t give what we don’t have. We have to off load our own baggage so we can feel healthy and do our job as parents. But it starts with our marital relationship.
Many people think that they need to go and get individual counseling or help before working on the relationship…that is sometimes true. But more often it’s not true.
John Bowlby in a 1988 study emphasized that “positive experiences in a partner relationship can bring about the reconstruction of an originally insecure attachment working model; a partner or therapist can provide a “secure base” for exploring and dealing with early attachment experiences.”
That means the best and most complete healing happens in the arms of your spouse or secure healthy relationship. As you gain healing you can change the course of your family tree for generations and generations to come. You have the power.
Unlike color blindness, emotional blindness is only hereditary If you choose to pass it on.