How often people say they are afraid to be themselves in their intimate relationship. They anticipate rejection. They remember that the last fight was too hurtful. The physical and emotional turn away following it felt devastating. There remains little energy to try again. And, they remember the pain of earlier experiences, maybe even before this relationship began that were fraught with anticipated rejection, no room for self-expression and no place for repair.
Yet the feeling persists of wanting to reach out. But so does the fear. Back and forth goes the pendulum. The spontaneous action used to be there. It was wrapped in kindness and concern and a certain trust of being received. Now it is cautious, fear based and sad. There is a cloud of loss and abandonment. It is just too much and one and then the other stops moving forward. This stop is not a regular stop but becomes a wall and then a way of life predicated on distance and emotional upset that bothers both partners.
How do partners learn to follow the natural movement that used to be there? How to take the step towards rather than back off?
There are many opportunities to break into this dance that is not a dance at all but rather an enactment of old fears and rejections that have since gone underground. Now they are up again as the issues from previous times were obviously not fully addressed.
What happens when one person changes and the other is left seemingly in the same old space? This is not an unusual occurrence. Both no doubt need the change and yet one is the overt agent. The other has to catch up. Their world is unsteady and what was formerly secured is no longer. The old ways of being went by the wayside. The energy and attention has shifted. The question in both partners is how to shift it back–not to the same way but to something that is now differently shared.
And, this brings up how to communicate now. You see, there has been a rift. Both are hurt by each other. Each has needs that are the same and intense but also altered from before.
Basically, they each need to sit down and listen, talk, not interrupt and be as clear as possible in telling their stories to each other. These are the old but new stories that reveal where each one is at this point, what each partner needs, and how they can verify and support each other. No assumptions. No accusations. But being present in the moment and to the pain with each other.
Yes, it will take something to get through this. It is not easy. It will require new parameters. The old places, even for going out together, may now not fit. No way to take each other and the relationship for granted. It will not work. In other words, playing it easy is not possible.
What can occur are a sharpening and a re-focus on self and other. As each partner makes even a small move they can perceive themselves and each other through wider and deeper lenses.
Susan E. Schwartz, Ph.D.