Why don’t you two just love each other!
I found myself saying this to intentionally interrupt a couple who regularly got into a rapid machine gun fire of words so intense that the first time I said this they didn’t notice. I had to stand up walk around the back of the sofa and put one hand on each of their shoulders so I was right between them to be noticed and heard.
They stopped bickering exclaiming, “But… we do!”
This couple were showing me what they do, with frequent and automatic regularity, that we all agreed had nothing to do with loving each other, was pointless, and was getting them nowhere fast.
Such fighting seems to be emotionally triggered and certainly is habitual rather than intentional. It’s irrational as it doesn’t solve anything or go anywhere and often couples can’t recall what started their fight to begin with.
A couple fight takes on a life of it’s own once it’s underway. It’s like a free flowing game of table tennis... fast moving with plenty of backspin returns before the deadly SLAM.
Such exchanges may not need words alone to be set off, but often a complex and uniquely targeted swipe to their partners underbelly in the way they say their words with a specific tone or emphasis on particular words combined with a facial expression, look in their eye and even body posturing. All aimed at your partner’s self worth.
So why do couples do it?
One thing to notice is that couples do this far less frequently when they are in a positive and loved-up place in their relationship. This of course is usually in the early stages or ‘The Romantic Stage’.
However couples that consciously work on nurturing, after the moonlight has lost its dewy magic, fall foul of triggering this negative habitual pattern far less often.
As time goes by the couple relaxes, and more of the character traits of each become apparent. The couple feels connected and flourishes until disillusionment creeps in when each notices unwelcome traits of the other.
Disillusionment can present as:
Boredom… resentment… frustration… feeling unappreciated…
Feeling invisible… ignored… lonely… feeling detached/distant…
Feeling blamed as the problem… feeling suffocated…
Feeling undesirable… unimportant… inconvenient…
Feeling unprotected… feeling uninteresting… not delighted in…
Feeling manipulated… coerced… betrayed… deceived.
All these experiences create a sense of disconnection and isolation in a relationship. Each of the couple takes up different corners arguing from different beliefs/values and expectations. Assuming their partner knows what they need, and if they truly loved them, why would they not provide that need.
Underneath their disillusionments lurk unmet needs from long ago that each hopes to be met by the other, and where each assumes the other will know just what they need.
If you don’t consciously acknowledge the unmet need triggering your part of the habitual emotional reactions in your game of ping pong, then you will continue to be imprisoned by your own fears.
Habitual negative cycles perpetrate cries of hope and fear, often falling on defensive ears and resulting in pain and hurt that is corrosive of love.
How can couple therapy help?
Couple therapy helps to uncover your habitual and negative pattern that destroys your positive love for each other. Together we explore in detail and depth this pattern of intricate steps, jointly performed, as an attempt to meet your needs in relationship.
Couple therapy, through curious enquiry and challenge helps you to take a look at yourself, your partner and your relationship and see the expectations you cling to, and how they are out-dated solutions to situations that no longer exist.
You’ll free yourself up to choose your responses to your partner rather than using reactive black and white choices.
You’ll start taking more responsibility for yourself in your relationship and remain more emotionally neutral. This keeps each out of attacking criticism and judgement.
All of this develops our ability and capacity to find opportunities for new growth in our relationship out of our embedded and entrenched longed for old hopes.
With emotions high, when the negative habitual cycle is triggered, couple therapy provides a space to slow down and challenge the logic of each persons thinking.
When your partner can understand what lies behind your reactions, they and you can change, re-frame each others reference and respond differently. It is in this re-framing and responding that vulnerability is felt and a place for new growth and real hope is restored.
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About Fiona Brewin
I'm a qualified and experienced psychotherapist working with adults and couples. I'm accredited and registered member of BACP and a registered member of UKATA, UK Association of Transactional Analysis.
In my work I use and teach the skill of mindfulness through body awareness for stress reduction, relief from depression and emotional regulation.