Do you relate to any of the following two scenarios for you or your partner?
“She never understands me. In the past, too, no one understood me.”
“No one ever paid attention to me.”
“He hasn’t spoken to me in days. Even when he doesn’t treat me well, I keep taking care of him.”
“I can do anything for her, but when she doesn’t get noticed, I get possessive.”
“They never acknowledge my effort. It’s always happened to me.”
“Someday, they will understand and appreciate me.”
“I can manage on my own. It’s my comfort zone.”
“I’m not a romantic person.”
“I don’t need any support. So I’m not asking for support.”
“I do not like the arguments. In callus. “
“I’m married to my job.”
“I lose my freedom in the relationship. I’d rather be alone.”
Tangle: “I exist because you do”
Scenario 1 represents the fit. A geared individual has no emotional identity. They usually start their sentences with “us”. They are too focused on the couple’s feelings / problems. It is a challenge to be in this place because it makes us feel needy and frustrated, as the emotions / actions of others are not under their control and over time can make them emotionally fragile. They are afraid to move towards autonomy as they have deep doubts about themselves and seek validation to boost self-esteem. It leads to blaming oneself or others, being selflessly present, and over-functioning as a partner, which only reinforces the fit. Emotional dependence increases vulnerability, and at the very least it can lead to anxiety and depression.
Featured: “I feel safe when I’m free”
Scenario 2 represents individuals separated at the opposite end of the spectrum. They are focused, driven by achievement, and rigid in emotional boundaries. Highlighted primarily as a workaholic, affectionate and kind person. However, their partner would call them “emotionally unavailable.” It seems as if emotions are not affecting them. They almost seem to be temporarily attached to everyone, including strangers, but they are emotionally missing out on their partners. They usually feel alone, as if no one really knows them, that they are there for everyone, but no one is there for them. They are good listeners, but they rarely share and keep an emotional distance from their partners to avoid rejection and pain.
In a bonded-detached relationship, the bonded partner continually seeks an emotional connection, and the separated couple is constantly estranged. The more the hooked couple tries, the farther away they avoid each other. If we think of individual and relationship spaces as two essential aspects of a person, there is no healthy 50-50 balance between the two. The first couple is more in the relationship space, while the second couple is happy in the individual area.
Both find it challenging to give and receive emotional support while retaining enough individuality. Instead, couples focus on each other’s mistakes and changing partners. They believe that their approach is normal and therefore resist change. Over time, they avoid talking and settle into a dysfunctional balance. The attached couple over-works emotionally for the other, but individually does not work, while the separated couple settles for the opposite. Couples are usually unaware of this pattern and sincerely believe that they are giving their best for the relationship. However, despite their good intentions, they experience emotional distress while maintaining superficial harmony. Although dysfunctional stability instills a temporary peace, it limits living a whole relationship and a life.
The status quo of an unhealthy balance does not last forever. There will be times when the balance is threatened. These can be life-changing events such as parenting, unemployment, loss of a parent, physical or mental health conditions such as illness or depression, etc., which highlight hidden stresses. Usually, when one of them feels vulnerable, the wounds open. Although dysfunctional stability instills a temporary peace, it limits living a whole relationship and a life.
Differentiation: I respect you, me and us
If one end of the spectrum is the fit and the other end is the detachment, the differentiation is halfway. Family therapy pioneer Murrary Bowen described differentiation as an evolutionary process fueled by two opposing forces: the need for belonging and separation. Differentiation refers to how an individual can define himself while in contact with feelings. A differentiated person accepts and discerns thoughts and emotions alike, manages reactivity, and makes meaningful decisions, aware of how others are affected. They take care of themselves and extend care to others.
Restore functional balance
Depending on the level of patterns, the length of the relationship, and the severity of the distressing circumstance that breaks the dysfunctional balance, restoring balance takes time and help. Here are some tips to help you get started with functional stability.
It regulates emotion
Drs. John and Julie Gottman suggest that learning about emotions is best when we are in the midst of experiencing them. When you or your partner is going through an emotional state, (1) listen, understand, and empathize with your partner’s emotions without prematurely focusing on solutions; (2) validate and normalize feelings with past experiences; (3) show acceptance of feelings and know that it is okay to feel it; (4) give security to the passing partner and seek / offer support; and (5) allow them to arrive at the solution itself.
Set emotional boundaries
Be aware of your emotional limits. You are not responsible for making your partner feel good. Breathe together and don’t get overwhelmed by your partner’s emotional state. Your partner can resolve their feelings on their own. All they need is your listening and understanding. Trust that they can work through this state and allow the emotional space to solve their problems.
Build your identity
Give yourself time to understand your beliefs, values, feelings, and who you are. Define yourself by setting boundaries, accepting and respecting yourself, practicing self-regulation, and staying connected. Express, share and be present with your partner. Align your goals with a purpose in line with your values and work towards it.
A functional balance involves partners building a healthy individual space, belonging to the relationship space, and keeping communication open.
Linkage: symptoms and causes. (2013, November 5). Fulsheartransition.
Gottman, J. and Gottman, J. (2000). Level 1 Clinical training Gottman method Couple therapy: uniting the couple’s abyss.
Peratsakis, D. (2017). Notes on the philosophy and practice of individual, couple and family therapy. Advanced Methods in Counseling and Psychotherapy.
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