By: Dr. Barbara Cunningham, MFT
One of my clients complains that it is almost
predictable that when she and her husband have had a weekend that
has been unusually close and harmonious, he will invariable start a
fight or put up walls to push her away. She recalls how wonderfully
he surprised her with a phenomenal anniversary staycation. She was
so impressed with his efforts, so touched by his many acts of
tenderness and affection-indeed, the weekend was full of positive
and unforgettable memories. Then, BOOM! He started a fight with her
over some trivial issue that neither of them could remember in
session. When one thinks about this phenomenon, it seems
contradictory that problems would develop right after good times.
Yet I hear similar stories frequently in my practice! So what gives?
I believe that safe and secure bonds make for an intimacy that can
stand the test of time. One area of unsafety for one partner may set
up a mirror opposite area of unsafety for the other partner. For
example, I have a married client who is pursuer. She is always going
after her partner for "more." He becomes reactive to her hot pursuit
and then distances even more. And herein lies their troublesome
sequence, which escalates the second one partner either makes a
further move "toward" or the other partner makes a further move
"away." In terms of unsafety, the pursuer has fears of being "left,"
of being unimportant, unneeded, and maybe even being abandoned. The
distancer has fears of being swallowed up by the relationship
demands, feeling incorporated into the being of his wife, and of
losing self. He begins to wonder where he stops and she begins. As
Harriet Lerner insightfully notes, "Many of our problems…occur when
we choose between having a relationship and having a self."
There is hope for couples who get "stuck" in this unhelpful
sequence. To be able to know how to remain, at times, separate from
an intimate other while, at other times, remaining connected to an
intimate other is, from my theoretical practice perspective, the
stuff of healthy relationship dynamics that can stand the test of
time. The effort to master this challenging but rewarding relational
dance takes time and a commitment to practicing theory between
sessions. Please visit me at my web site to learn more about my
model of practice and get some free tips just for stopping: Just go
http://www.Cunninghamtherapy.com and look around!
I welcome the opportunity to talk to you!