- Attachment turns us all into toddlers: The great John Bowlby pioneered research on attachment. He found that when people or animals are denied their primal need to be attached to their mother or father, they self destruct and go into a full on fit in protest. Sue Johnson later found in her research that humans are the same way with their husband/wife/partners. These relationships become just as imperative of a bond. People will self destruct and throw a full on tantrum to get their partners love. I see it all the time, the creative often ingenious scheming that individuals come up with to get their partners attention or love. People will cry, yell, give the silent treatment, or whatever it takes to try and reach their partner. To the other partner it may feel like an attack but it’s really a cry for help. Therapy can break this cycle and give couples the skills they need to talk about their needs and feelings in a new more productive way.
- Others are invested: I hear it often from clients, a friend or family member they want to talk to about their marriage wants them to stay together or get divorced. It happens. Close friends and family members can take sides or form their own option, leaving the person with the marriage problem feeling worse than before. Couples therapy is a neutral environment where both partners can speak freely about their relationship. In that environment couples can quickly start making necessary changes that produce results.
- Marriage struggles feel so isolating: Because of reason above, it can feel there is no one to talk to about your feelings or concerns. Your most valuable and intimate relationship is not something you want to just get opinions about, it is too important for that. It can feel so isolating when the person who knows you the best is the one person you feel you can’t talk to. Therapy creates a great space for feelings to be acknowledge without feeling threatened.
I saw this article titled, Why You Should Never Go Back To Someone Who’s Hurt You by Sophia Wu, from Huffington Post circulating through my Facebook feed. It’s a great example of a common pattern I see as a therapist. This describes what I would call, a pursue withdraw pattern. Both parties are participating in keeping this cycle going as the author points out. The pursuer so infatuated, continues to do so at all costs, and the other continues to withdraw at seemingly just the right moment. The result, sometimes for both parties, are feelings of depression, worthlessness, anxiety, and overall stress.
As a marriage and family therapist, I am most interested in the pattern and a little less interested in the symptoms. While some therapists may be quick to hone in on those difficult feelings of depression or anxiety and how to alleviate them, I see those symptoms as neon signs. They are pointing out to my client that he or she is stuck in a pattern that is not helpful or worse, harmful. Other important parts of themselves are being ignored in strong pursuit of this one person. LIfe is out of balance for this person and the effects are beginning to show.
What should the client do then? Well, I have seen some pretty extreme versions of this. I have seen whole marriages spent in this pattern. But it is never too late to try something different. Yes, it is that simple.
Patterns give therapists and clients many points to evaluate possibilities for change. Patterns can also offer a more playful way to look at these problems. For example, instead of deciding in this very moment whether a person should stay with the withdrawer or leave, what if they just decided not to answer the phone every time the person calls? How might that change the pattern? Or what if they began to fill their time with more people and activities that don’t magically disappear every time they need them?
Take an new art class, go out with some friends, do something to invest in oneself. All of these suggestions serve to change the pattern. They may not fix the pattern immediately, but they help to break up that obsessive focused feeling to do the same thing you have been doing. I firmly believe that though our minds may be inclined to get stuck in these patterns, our minds thrive on change and expanding our options. The small steps listed above could be enough for someone to gain back neglected relationships, self-respect, and give the courage needed to leave that relationship. I have also seen it go the other way, as the pursuer gains more self-respect and courage, the withdrawer feels attracted again. They feel the balance restored in the relationship.
When you tackle a pattern, you never know what can come of it. Sometimes it is far better than you ever imagined.