Couple relationships and microfrictions: what is it, what can be done about it?
There probably does not exist a couple relationship that has not experienced some kind of conflict; in fact, conflict resolution might be a key component in maintaining a healthy couple relationship. But conflict takes many forms, some of overt, some of it a little more covert, and some downright habitual. It’s this last form that this post concerns itself with, specifically the expression of microfrictions in couple relationships.
What are microfrictions?
These are low-level forms of behaviour, negative relating that, over time become habitual patterns in a couple relationship, they effectively appear to become stitched into the relationship.
For example, Betty and Sue had been living together for 5 years. They had a strong, passionate start to their relationship, but over the past 18 months, things have changed. Betty felt cornered by Sue as if she was perpetually in the wrong. Sue felt at a distance from Betty, and at times was quite confused as to how to cross this intimacy gap that had opened up; she longed for the mornings when they would wake up and be in each other’s arms. A typical conversation between them might go this way:
Betty: I was wondering if we might go to-
Sue: Where? Not the park again?
Sue: I don’t need to hear this. (firmly) I’m not going to that skanky park.
Betty: (annoyed) so come up with something better!
This had been going on for some time.
Microfrictions sneak up on couples; at first, they are minimised, by (e.g.) oh Mr Snotty’s at home today type of comments, but gradually they can become habitual, the negative strokes taking the place of more positive, affirming and loving ones.
They create small yet significant distancing in couple relationships, over time producing “silo couple relationships” where remoteness and a certain wariness around intimacy proliferate as if the couple are now two individuals living under the same roof. Sex is habitual, either performed on a kind of automatic pilot or a safe routine, a kind of “recycled sex”.
After time the couple relationship turns into a kind of threat saturated relationship (these low-level conflicts and frictions add up) and since the human autonomic nervous system only knows one way to respond to this-by flight, fight or freeze the relationship itself feels soaked in threat. It becomes difficult for the couple to respond in a truly intimate way, yet intimate connection is what we all hunger for, so often one person finds it in the arms (or bed) of another.
What can we do about microfrictions?
Microfrictions can’t be wished away. They require an alert and proactive response. Here are six steps to reducing microfrictions in your couple relationship:
1. Pause: try not to throw petrol on the fire by getting stuck in a vicious cycle of tit for tat.
2. Acknowledge what’s happening here, call the communication what it is, and don’t deny or distort the impact.
3. You have three choices now, to turn away from each other, to turn against each other (which will ramp up the microfrictions further) or turn towards each other. Turn towards each other.
4. Be empathic: ask, what is this like for my partner, it can’t be easy.
5. Create the good: make a decision to foster greater connection in the relationship, e.g. make a date night and stick to it.
6. Take in the good: savour the (e.g.) date night by taking pictures, making an album of memories.
Don’t let microfrictions take over your relationship!