I'm extremely honored to know several amazing women who have come through their own battles with being abused and/or the affects of abuse on a loved one. Kari Lanigan is one such friend. She will be guest blogging about her exprience with the cycle of abuse as it relates to relationships. Kari, it's truly an honor to have you as a guest blogger. Your wisdom and experience will help so many!
As a survivor of two marriages compromised by emotional abuse, trauma and neglect spanning a total of 25 years and over half my life, I am constantly surprised at being constantly surprised by the endless manifestations of trauma and abuse and their impacts on relationships. Within the context of romantic relationships of all types and variations the potential for abusive/traumatic patterns to play out becomes exponential in scope and opportunity.
I’m not a professional or even very well educated when it comes to psychology. But if experience and the School of Hard Knocks counts for anything, I have gained some valuable insight into some common patterns and pitfalls that set the stage for dysfunctional relationships and their subsequent traumatic effects on the individuals caught therein.
Romantic relationship is the perfect setup for dysfunctional patterns to play out, as the very nature of romance is to lay ourselves vulnerable to the quirks and personality traits of another human in an attempt to navigate reality in a kind of three-legged race where at least part of life and part of our psyche is joined to another. We will be forced to work together to achieve success as a team. Even if that teamwork is minimal, it is a base requirement nonetheless. If your partner is injured or dealing with a handicap, you will find out as it plays into your version of the three-legged race. You will be required to acknowledge all injuries and handicaps as you move forward, making constant adjustments to your combined efforts. You will likely stumble, fall and even get hurt in the process from time to time.
Perhaps the biggest common mistake in setting forth is in the assumption that our own strength and potential for success will remain in tact and uncompromised while tethered to our chosen partner. So, the first time we stumble, we are inclined toward irritation and blame, rather than to see it as the nature of the game of romance, which as long as we’re in it will require acknowledgement and acceptance of our partner’s limitations and their effects on our own potential as we attempt to move forward together.
That being said, communication is our biggest asset as a team. Without it we can only guess at what each of us requires to optimize our movements. We remain individuals, yet our movements are felt by our partner as long as we remain connected through relationship. If we can’t accept this, then we must be willing to go it alone. It’s that simple, but not necessarily easy. As sometimes communication itself becomes a stumbling point, where often one of the participants decides to stop communicating as a strategy for personal pain relief leaving their partner struggling alone with the weight of the relationship firmly tied to them.
To put it bluntly, “I don’t want to talk about it.”, (meaning, “I REFUSE to talk about it.”), is not a fair option as long a you are part of a team. Period. Opting out of communication in any relationship is at best the equivalent of slamming a door in your partner’s face and at worst is like cutting off their oxygen supply while expecting them to continue the race with you.
Talking about it LATER is a valid option, as is setting up perimeters to help make communication easier. It might even be helpful or necessary to enlist the help of a qualified third party, such as a mediator or therapist, to keep communication on track. The variations as to HOW and WHEN communication will take place are negotiable. But just because one of the parties has trouble communicating, or doesn’t feel comfortable (or even SAFE) communicating, does not afford the option to clam up and avoid communication altogether. Whenever this happens, the connection is broken and the *relationship* is over until communication can be reestablished. You can continue moving around under the label of *relationship*, but by definition this is a pretense and will ultimately expose itself as such, giving way to visible breakup as soon as the person stuck on the other end of “I don’t want to talk about it.” has had enough of carrying the emotional responsibility for both parties.
Along with “I don’t want to talk about it.” goes “I’m not good at dealing with emotions.” and “I’m not into drama.” And that’s fine, as long as there is some willingness and effort to continue to communicate in spite of these viewpoints/limitations/preferences. They cannot be used as excuses from the responsibility of communication, however they are legitimate factors of consideration when negotiating communication styles in the interest of conflict resolution.
There is plenty of information online and through any good therapist about negotiating conflicts with respect to communication styles. Successful navigation of life in the context of romantic relationship, regardless of he level of commitment be it casual sex and dating, to friends with benefits or long term commitment such as marriage, WILL require the ability to discuss emotional issues as well as logistic ones. This truth cannot be avoided. So, if you are one of those who is inclined to say, “I don’t want to talk about it.”, for the sake of yourself, your partner and your shared romantic interests, start by figuring out what you need to address your own style of communication and work with your partner in advance of conflict to form strategies to allow a clear pathway to resolution. Likewise, if you want to talk about it, but are constantly met with hostility or avoidance, you will likely need to involve a therapist to facilitate healthy and safe communication practices. There is no way around it.
The variety of obstacles with regard to communication styles is seemingly endless, as almost everyone has *triggers* related to emotional trauma or limitations with regard to experience. It is extremely helpful to the success of any relationship to be open and honest about even the most subtle twinges of discomfort with respect to communication in an effort to overcome them together, rather than ovoid them. Avoidance is only ever a temporary solution to conflict and tends to compound issues over time until eventually the conflict can no longer be avoided by at least one of the parties. And maybe this is one of he inherent dynamics of romantic relationship: true healing of our emotional bodies. For if we can’t heal, we can’t feel fulfilled in a relationship. And only in solitude can we maintain avoidant behaviors without direct conflict.
Much of the way we prefer to communicate is based on attachment styles formed in early childhood based on our experience with our prominent caregivers.
For instance, a child raised by overly indulgent and responsive parents will learn to rely on others for a significant amount of emotional support and outreach, often to the exasperation of their adult romantic partners.
Where a child raised by abusive or neglectful parents may learn to withhold emotional outreach and avoid communication during conflict to the point of being unavailable to their adult romantic partner’s emotional needs.
And if by chance, a person is raised in an environment which provided a healthy balance to their emotional requirements, demonstrating both availability as well as advocating for independence in resolving conflicts, there may be limited understanding with regard to their adult romantic partner if they should fall into one of the above mentioned categories.
The point is we are all uniquely wired and subject to our individual experiences and perspectives. So when we engage in romantic relationship it is crucial that we are willing to bring that experience to the table with an open mind and a willingness to share, grow and expand rather than avoid, stagnate and hold fast to our crutches and survival tools. We have gained a third leg! The challenge is to learn how to mobilize it effectively rather than blame it for slowing us down. And always remember to HAVE FUN!! After all, isn’t that the point of romance?