When couples come into my room, depending on the issue that is being brought forward, I will often ask them what their love story is. How did they meet? How did they know that they wanted a second, third, fortieth date? What was it about their partner that made them choose him or her? When did they know they loved each other? For some, answering these questions is manageable but for many this process proves quite challenging.
When injuries start to happen over and over again in relationships without a proper repair being done, we start to build armor around our heart and our emotions in order to buffer ourselves from the next fight, injury or missed connection. In time, all our partner experiences is our armor – or in my world what would be called defenses. These defenses serve a purpose. If we are exposed to pain too often and don’t learn to defend ourselves against them, the unconscious belief is that the pain will drown us and we will never recover. The challenge with defenses is that they protect a person from the very thing a relationship needs in order to have depth, and, arguably, to survive: vulnerability.
Living in a relationship that lacks vulnerability and emotional connection often is the beginning of the end of the relationship. I want to be clear when I say this that the end of a relationship does not always look like people going separate ways. Lots of people will stay together for years, decades or a lifetime in these situations. Instead what it looks like is two people living day to day and going through the motions (often with a lot of active or suppressed pain and disconnection involved) who don’t really know why they love each other. When the need to protect yourself becomes so great, our partner starts looking like a threat to our well being instead of a soft place to land.
It takes a lot to come back from this place – to be able to really remember why you love each other and to start connecting with your partner from an open and vulnerable place. In my opinion, you need a skilled relationship therapist to guide you because otherwise the defenses start running the show which prevent the very intimacy needed to feel close. It also takes being willing to put the relationship needs above all else, to come from a place of understanding your partner first, and protecting yourself second. It requires individuals to communicate about their emotions – the place vulnerability and true connection live – not just their thoughts, and also to connect with themselves on this level.
If you are struggling with this pattern in your relationship or find yourself single because you keep repeating this pattern in your relationships, be sure to reach out for help. The more you get to really know yourself – and your partner- the greater connection and joy you will have in your life.