So what do we do when tension, stress or conflict is a part of our relationships with a significant person in our lives? You know, that special relationship that gets your heart racing. That partner that you spent Saturday together going to the apple orchard. Or that spouse who sits with you on the sofa with your eyes closed watching t.v. because you two are so worn out. You know! Those relationships! What do we do in those relationships when inevitable tension, overwhelming demands and conflict enter those relationships?
Frequently we cope with this tension or conflict by trying to find, “Whose fault is it?” that we are so stressed or at odds with one another. Finding “fault” makes sense because we believe that if we can find who is at fault we can find who is to blame, and if we can find who is to blame we can decrease the stress. Right? However, blaming or finger pointing seldom leads to less tension or conflict. How about criticizing the other person? Criticizing those around us also makes sense because it makes us feel better. We let the other person know just how frustrated and angry we are for them ignoring our stress or trying to lessen our conflict with their lofty “suggestions” or “solutions”. For others, what do we often find ourselves doing? We attempt to not rock the “relationship boat” by sucking it up, clamming up and sitting alone at Starbucks wondering, “How did we get here?” So what do we do?
We have, here, at least 2 choices. One choice is continue to find fault, criticize, or clam up. The second choice we have is to address the reason why you are reading this blog in the first place. As you read this blog post, I am wondering if there is a part of you that longs for a closer connection with that someone special. You know that deeper connection that tells you that you two are more than just roommates or two people hanging out at the mall. I am wondering if there is a part of you that desires to share with that someone special the difficulties you are having at work or frustrations with friends without your partner ignoring you by offering quick fix solutions. I am also wondering if there is a part of you that tenses when you sense a lack of closeness as your partner misses your gestures to stay close to you when you were anxious at a gathering, now stuck with a hurt and a grudge because your partner downplayed your needs. That second thing that I am talking about is the desire to acknowledge that you have these longings to be heard and understood by someone who you consider important to you. That is natural. So what do we do?
Acknowledge that you have these desires and longings to be close, emotionally close to that someone special. After that, acknowledge to yourself that it may be difficult for you to ask for that closeness from the other person. Then take a risk, a big risk and drop the blaming, the criticizing and clamming up that you have been using to maintain your so called closeness and say to your partner, “I don’t need you to fix things right now, I just need you to listen to how frustrated I am at work.” Or, “When you went with your friends at the party the other night, I felt alone.” So what do you think? I know, I know! Saying that may lead to an argument. I know that you have already tried this and your partner did not understand what you were saying! I know that your partner is not that mushy, mushy person. I know I get that and that is why the two of you went back to blaming, criticizing and clamming up. What I am suggesting is just a start to doing something different and getting what you really want, closeness! So what do you think?
I want to encourage you to consider getting out of the old blame game, criticizing circus and pretend calm of clamming up and consider Dr. Sue Johnson’s “Hold Me Tight!” idea of getting closer to your significant other without losing who the two of you are as unique and special people. Dr. Johnson’s guidance can be found in her book entitled, “Hold Me Tight”. It is a book that addresses your longing for closeness and understanding by addressing what you are doing right now to get that closeness and understanding that is currently not working. If you find yourself interested in working on this further, I invite you to join me at PrairieCare. As a licensed marital and family therapist, I can work with you through outpatient clinic appointments, alongside your significant other, using “Hold Me Tight” ideas and more to identify what you are doing now, discuss how the two of you want to address what you are doing that is currently not getting what you want, and do it all without blaming, criticizing or clamming up.
So what do we do? Reading this blog was the first step. The second step is not stopping or giving up the hope that things can be different no matter how small different may be. Even a little bit of different is better that the same old thing. So while you are sitting at Starbucks, pick up the phone and get started by calling our PrairieCare Chaska clinic 952-903-1383. What are you waiting for? There is no better time than right now. Both of you deserve this gift!
Gerald Schwanke is a licensed marriage and family therapist at PrairieCare in Chaska, MN, who is working toward certification in Emotion Focused Couples Therapy by Dr. Sue Johnson. He has also completed levels I and II of Sensorimotor Psychotherapy that addresses trauma that occurs within various relationships by addressing the symptoms that continue to live on in the person long after the trauma is over. He also serves as Assistant Pastor at St. Paul Lutheran Church in Watertown. You may contact him to discuss your therapy needs at 952-903-1383.