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Couple relationships: 7 steps to becoming open in a deadlocked space

It’s a place most couples find themselves in. So much could be different in the relationship if only the other one would just open out a little bit more. Why can’t they? What stops them? It often feels like a deadlocked space; both partners are keeping their ground, they either can’t or won’t take that step forward.

Taking a step back it often appears to be a situation where both partners keep their defences up - their shields are raised - and though they want to say more and move into that “space between us” where they will feel more connected, they just can’t.

So, they sit/we sit for it’s an experience we all share in complex 21st Century relationships, deadlocked, waiting for the other to make the first move.

It’s often a problem of vulnerability as much as anything else. Each partner appearing to recognise that if they open out and express themselves they might leave themselves open to hurt. It produces a profound crisis in the relationship over time, and in a sense it is illustrative of patterns of relating that couples enact during the whole course of their time together: how to balance togetherness and separateness, privacy and sharing, the territory of a shared bedroom being very different from a snug of our own. There is a sense of culture at work here: males often being (still) socialised into a traditional masculine minimal use of expression, females deploying a more nuanced use of language and complexity of emotions. The space between us freezes up.

Yet for both perhaps (and culturally invariant) it’s also about our reptilian brain in its fight of fight activation and it, too becoming deadlocked into preference; i.e. preferring my style of defensive relating.

We have to cross that bridge without becoming a porcupine who reacts with his or her defences effectively projecting out and pricking the other.

But how?

Perhaps it’s by going back to the space between us and taking the time to explore it where we can gain some traction here.

Here are 7 steps that might take couples into a more connected place when they feel deadlocked:

  1. Recognise: recognising what’s actually happening is the first step. This is bringing mindfulness to the relationship, allowing us to see what’s happening without suppressing: the full catastrophe as it were. In this instance, it is bound up in a sense of “I want to connect/I can’t connect”
  2. Empathise: we need to know that both of us are in the same boat, even though we might be playing by different socialised rules, whether that be women who are more language oriented or men who are not, or both who are caught up in fight and flight and effectively “amygdala hijacked”
  3. Process: there needs to be a mutual understanding of what’s happening, bringing both of us into the centre space between us, and it needs to be gradual so both us of feel safe in this space
  4. Discharge: the space between us needs to be shared now as a safe space to release how this has felt and how it feels now, allowing emotions to rise to the surface and be let go of
  5. Soothe: this is what I often call the “care necessities” where each partner exchanges care to self and each other
  6. Savour: each partner needs to explore how this feels for them and, using the empathy from stage 2, how this might feel for their partner, and how the relationship now feels
  7. Maintain: each partner, having spoken, felt and empathised with each other reflects over time on any growth between them, resolving to go back to stage one and keep building

This is a mindful pause in the deadlocked dynamic that couples sometimes inhabit and live in for years. It can bridge the “space between us” by using the same deadlocked space to explore, connect and live and love differently within it.

Counselling Directory is not responsible for the articles published by members. The views expressed are those of the member who wrote the article.

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Written by Graeme Armstrong MBACP

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Written by Graeme Armstrong MBACP

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