Let me start off by saying that no relationship is easy. Some are more difficult than others usually because of the very real differences of the two people in the relationship, however it is these differences which although create the challenges, also offer opportunities for healing, personal development and self-awareness. Easier relationships are usually easy because one person in the relationship might be a pushover, OR the two people in the relationship have SO MUCH in common there is literally nothing to argue about, but I’m thinking who needs more of what you’ve already got? How do you grow from that?
Difficulties in our relationships occur because of our separate emotional triggers. A trigger is when you feel an intense emotion when your partner does or says something which rattles you. These powerful, almost overwhelming emotions are felt in the pit of your stomach, the soul place, where your inner child resides. Feeling it in the pit of your stomach is the indicator that it is a feeling from the past which needs to be worked on in order to move on from it. These feelings come in so fast and without warning, it’s like being ambushed by your past!
My own trigger is definitely a fear of aloneness, this more than abandonment. I think they’re separate things. Abandonment is about being left, whereas aloneness is about survival. My core belief is that I can survive the abandonment but not the aloneness. It literally means (in my psyche) that I will die. This of course goes back to my 3 year old self when my mother died very suddenly, the shock and terror I must have experienced then is now part of my core, and whilst I understand this because I have worked on it, I can still be triggered.
Spiritually speaking, I may have chosen my partner to work on this, because his emotional trigger is about feeling not good enough. When he reacts to this, it triggers MY emotional triggers because I think I’m about to be left when he’s annoyed! For him I think his triggers stem from his father’s behaviour. If he got 95% in an exam his father would question why he hadn’t got 100%. When he got a 2.1 for his undergrad at Uni, his father asked why he hadn’t got a 1st. When he was racially bullied at school, his father laughed at him. Whatever he did, he was always made to feel that he wasn’t good enough and that he had failed his father.
So now, when anyone or anything makes him feel not good enough, his emotional trigger of failure slams into him. When this happens he transfers his anger on to the person who pulled the trigger or me because I’m the one in a relationship with him, because he can’t direct the anger at his father who caused the pain and shame in the first place. This toxic shame of not feeling good enough and failing is too painful to feel, so it needs to be transferred, offloaded to stop the feeling. Then I feel the pain FOR him when he gets angry, because his anger triggers my fear of aloneness, I subconsciously believe I am about to be abandoned and I won’t be able to survive the aloneness. Do you see how these old emotional triggers take us right back? And they don’t belong in the present because I HAVE survived! I’m 54! I survived my aloneness when mum died, and I would survive it again. It’s the feeling – the emotional trigger which has been kept alive NOT the reality. The reality is that I DID survive, and I AM surviving.
For my partner, he too goes back to the past, to a time where he believed his father, and he believed that he wasn’t good enough and that he had failed his father. As children and adolescents we DO believe our parents! Their word is gospel! However, his reality is far from this. He has had a successful career, he looked after his mother successfully when she was terribly ill, he was an absolute hero during this time, and did everything for her. He has been a successful financial trader and investor as well as a successful financial analysis. Hell! Jeremy Paxman once interviewed him on BBC Breakfast! He’s a good tennis player, he is so intelligent and so self-educated as well as qualified. Not many people pass the CFA exams (Chartered Financial Analyst), deemed to be the hardest exams in the world. But HE passed all of them! So, do you see how his fear of failure and his sense of failure is wrapped up in his past? The pain of ‘failing’ his father is a real driver for him to avoid this pain, so in a sense can be turned into a positive emotion in the here and now, to drive him forward. However, when things are not going well, depression can set in for him and his pain can become internalised. At these times, he needs to work through the pain and power on through, but it isn’t easy, because this is precisely when he will be triggered – he’ll lose a tennis match,
I’ll make some wistful comment like ‘I want to do this – I wish we had that!’ And that can be enough to emotionally catapult him into ‘I’m failing. I’m not providing, I’m not enough.’ But he ISN’T failing and he is MORE than enough, he is simply being challenged and life is a bitch sometimes. And I’m just being girly and wistful and drifting off into a fantasy!
Here’s the thing though, when he responds to his pain by offloading his anger on to me, I then feel triggered because he’s annoyed with me, and I’m catapulted into MY stuff from the past, ‘I’m going to be abandoned, I won’t be able to survive being alone!!!’ The past is haunting both of us, and we’ve left the present moment and regressed. At times like these, I have to rise to the challenge and know that I have survived, and I CAN survive, and then step back, and just stand by my man. When he cannot see the bright side of life, I need to sit with him in the dark. All things pass, especially moods and phases. His mood will pass, so will mine, and closeness will resume, as long as we can communicate.
A successful relationship needs communication because one cannot feel close if your partner cannot open up, but both partners have to open up with themselves first, with a real intent to self-discover about what lies beneath the painful feelings, to go a bit deeper and get in touch with the feeling and where it came from. To understand that this was done to you, and that you’ve been left with a legacy of fear or pain or shame and to discover how it holds you back, from success and from a loving relationship.
We always know when our partners have emotionally withdrawn, we can feel the distance like an emotional chasm. Sharing the problem will help to partially close the gap between you both, with whatever communication you can manage at the time. We need to allow ourselves to be vulnerable, because it’s authentic. We need to tell each other what’s in our hearts, as well as what’s on our mind, because to successfully connect we need to get out of our heads and back into our hearts, relationships don’t belong in our heads, its home is in our hearts.
I always know when I have disconnected because I feel bored. Boredom for me is my indicator that emotional work needs to be done, and communication needs to happen. Of course I appreciate that men and women are very different, that Mars/Venus thing, women tend to be more emotionally aware and expressive. Men prefer to solve problems using their thinking brain rather than their emotional brain. By understanding why this happens women can help their men become more emotionally aware, and then we can improve the closeness of our relationships.
Men strive to be successful in life, they want to be the hero in any situation, either at work or at home. They want to save people, fix things and make things better. We women LOVE this, we admire this, it makes us feel protected! But sometimes when men act like this – they appear to be strong and in control of their emotions, but might actually be avoiding them, the bravado is often a way of avoiding deeper, negative feelings. Society raises boys to be strong, to be super resilient and resourceful, but society doesn’t teach men so well with their inner feelings and vulnerability. As human beings though NONE of us are immune to fear and insecurity. A sense of failure and inadequacy lurks in all of us, usually stemming from damaged relationships in our original families which can result in feelings of guilt and shame for having let those people down and failed to help our parents and siblings. Rather than feel this guilt and failure, most men will subdue their feelings and pretend that they don’t have them!
But listen up!! It’s a HUGE mistake to assume that men are lacking in emotions. Men DO feel, and their women need to understand this and stand by them when they’re not ready to talk rather than take it personally that we are being emotionally abandoned. (HELLO – GUILTY!!!) The sad thing is though that by avoiding our emotions we create the exact same feelings of fear, pain or failure that we’re trying to avoid because our emotional withdrawal from our partner damages the relationship. Relationships don’t fail because of what is said, they fail because of what is NOT said. So if we suppress our emotions, we put our most important relationships at risk of – guess what?…FAILURE!
We all have masculine and feminine sides to our personality. Like I said women are more emotionally expressive, and we’re more in our hearts. Men are thinkers, and fixers and more in their heads, but within intimate relationships we need a bit of both – a balance -to nurture the relationship and bring out the best in each other.
So, word up ladies! It’s OK for men to cry and be supported by us if that is what they need to release their pent-up emotions. As women we then need to step up to the plate and really appreciate their openness, because it takes immense emotional courage to open up. In relationships we BOTH need to communicate our own fears and insecurities. Emotional honesty with each other is what makes a relationship grow, and allows the closeness we both need to develop. And for women this emotional honesty from her man is one hell of an aphrodisiac! Emotional authenticity is the foundation for the best relationships because it’s the authenticity which creates the closeness.
The challenging truth is that we cannot connect with another until we connect with ourselves. This means that we need to open our hearts to feeling and learning from all of our painful feelings – the wounded feelings we create (when we’re triggered!) and the core existential feelings of painful life experiences.
When you learn to fully embrace all of your painful feelings – with a compassionate intent to learn – you will be able to keep your heart open with your partner. When your partner is also able to keep his heart open, the two of you will connect making the relationship meaningful, fun and exciting, loving and fulfilling.