As we begin this journey together towards healing and protecting each of you and your intimate relationship, there are a few things I want you to know right off the bat. The tasks suggested here are NOT EASY but ESSENTIAL. We know that for many of you, it is not easy because others perpetrated the trauma you experienced. Trust and belief in relationships shattered; you feel it through your entire body and mind. Though they could be a source of joy and peace, navigating through relationships been the source of your pain. At the same time, we know that trauma healing takes place in a healing relationship. It is a “do-over.” You may not be able to accomplish these suggestions immediately, yet you must always keep them in mind as goals to which you aspire and guardrails that keep you on track towards healing.
Be aware of the tyranny of time
Most couples that come to work with me have been in their relationship for some time. They have been struggling, to one degree or another, with many different personal and relationship challenges. Every couple that I have worked with through the aftermath of trauma is both unique and, at the same time, share much with others facing the same challenges. While demonstrating great courage to show up to find healing pathways, their patience with themselves and their mate is often thin. If this is true for you, I encourage you to watch out for what I call “The Tyranny of Time.” It is the pressure that each of you might feel to feel safe, be heard, stop suffering from the pain of the conflicts you are facing, get rid of the fear of being abandoned, to feel loved and valued, and to envision a future of harmony and loving connection. To confront and defeat this tyranny, you must first recognize that it exists and commit to trying your best to breathe and look deeply for progress rather than failure. Following here are some other suggestions that will curb the pressure of time.
Make the Turn
Most people tend to see their relationships as a place to get their emotional, psychological, connection, sexual needs met. There is nothing wrong with this in itself. We all have wishes, hopes, and dreams that make us feel wanted, loved, and safe, among other things. We are learning each day about the powerful impact of our relationships to make us who we are and how we experience our lives. From birth, we are all profoundly affected by our relationships with our caregivers. Perhaps, the most profound way our relationships impact us is that they have the power to make us feel safe or not. In those early days, safety is about staying alive. I believe that deep feeling of, “I am going to die if he/she leaves me” is a deep connection to our fundamental vulnerability at birth that never leaves our consciousness. Several people have described this way of relating to our partner as a “Me” relationship.
We also need to be aware that this tendency to focus on the “Me” in our relationship can be a serious problem (particularly when struggling with painful issues). This attitude can put us in opposition with our mate. So to make our intimate relationships work, we need to “Make the Turn” into a “WE” relationship. In this kind of relationship, our joy and deep connection come from striving to care for our mate, to be curious about what pleases them, to help them feel safe in the relationship, to support them, and to help them succeed in their dreams whenever possible. All of this is a balancing act for sure. However, without this attitude, a sense of opposition will inevitably arise in any form of conflict. One of the most profound effects of conflict is the sense of loneliness that we can feel. This is not why we are in the relationship.
There is just one caution about this, “WE” relationship. It is not to be confused with a “co-dependent” relationship. In a co-dependent relationship, the tendency is to try to conform to the other person’s demands (either their behavioral or verbal demands) as a way to control them. Or at least think were are controlling them. We try to control them as a way of controlling our own distressing emotions. If they are calm, we are calm. For example, if a partner is in the habit of having raging outbreaks, a co-dependent response would be for the other person to try to placate them in whatever way they can. This placating is often at their own expense because they cannot be themselves and live in fear. This kind of giving is what my colleague, Jeri Marlowe, described as co-dependent giving. In the healthy, “WE” relationship partners give to each other, as Jeri would describe it, generously. That is, they give without the expectation of something in return. We choose to give, not forced to give out of fear. An important part of this generous giving is to be curious about every aspect of their mate. More on this later.
“WE” behaviors and attitudes
Making the Turn to a “WE” relationship requires attitudes and behaviors. These attitudes and behaviors are currently taught to therapists because we are increasingly aware that the healing from relational trauma takes place inside a safe relationship. Here I will list some of them, and in future blogs, describe them in more detail along with instructions as to how to ensure that they guide you in your actions and interactions. A “WE” relationship depends upon the desire to be warm, loving, attuned (aware of the other’s experience), non-shaming, supportive, mutual compassion, a desire to create safety, respect, and lots of patience. Perhaps equally important with how you treat your partner, is how you treat yourself. A willingness to study yourself with courage, self-compassion, and without shame is key to how you will be in your relationship. Not one of us that is unaffected by our past as it plays out in the present. What happened to you in the past and, more importantly, how you responded to it will impact your thought, emotions, physiology today. As the saying goes, “Yesterday’s solution can be today’s problem.”
You will notice as you explore the offerings on the CCP platform that the focus and strategies for healing and living lovingly are on the couple helping themselves. Included is a great deal of information and support for the survivors of trauma and their partners as individuals. However, the main focus is on what you can do together and for each other. You will learn to work together to heal and grow yourselves. Each of you must understand and be as fully committed as you can to working as a team recognizing that each brings their strengths and challenges that create the problems and successes in everyday life. The degree of difficulty that you will face as a couple in the healing process will vary from couple to couple, but invariably the outcome is decided by who you become as a couple. Making the Turn and refusing to submit to the tyranny of time will undoubtedly foster a soft landing over time.
While this advice was relatively easy to write, doing it IS NOT EASY. Part of the reason that it is not easy is that the trauma that each of you experienced was in a relationship(s) in the past. Because of this, on many different levels, being in a relationship is complicated, often filled with mistrust and fear. Please remember that building trust and a sense of safety is the first, and perhaps most difficult step.
As will be said over and over, we hope that you remember that no matter what happens, YOU ARE LOVED! Here we go!