I am a licensed mental health counselor who has worked with couples for years. We focus on relationship dynamics, communication, intimacy, and patterns of behavior regularly. Often couples discover much about themselves, their stories, and how their entire lives play a part in their marriage.
During this pandemic, I have seen how all of these factors and more are being squeezed together in the winepress of social distancing and stay-at-home orders. Of course, it’s just physics. Bodies in motion, especially those that are in close proximity, will cause friction! Sparks will fly, and the closer human beings are forced to interact with one another, for more extended periods, the larger the sparks!
I learned an important distinction from a good friend and mentor who has worked with couples, which is this: healthy marriages (and all relationships really) are not ones that avoid conflict (or sparks) but rather ones that learn how to conflict (handle the sparks) well together!
If the first observation of physics in relationships is true, and the second truth about relationships is true, then ‘coupling’ (the act of being together) in tight quarters, for an extended time will produce sparks that can either lead to connection OR division.
In my work with couples, I use a framework that identifies patterns of internal postures towards the other person. I call them red (protective, defensive) and green (connecting).
Red internal postures are where we go when we are ‘triggered’ in some way, some threat is perceived, regardless of its validity. Our amygdala (the protective system responsible for the fight, flight, freeze, or fawn) takes over. This shuts down our executive function (decision making) found in the pre-frontal cortex, and we think/act in ways that don’t make sense. We may win from this posture, but we are left divided and alone.
Green internal posturing notices the lights on the dashboard signaling threat, but calm the amygdala down, retaining access to executive function, and moves toward the other person in curiosity. It fuels the desire to understand what it might be like to be them right now, and invites them to do the same. Green postures move through a series of interactions that lead to the mutual pursuit of one another’s hearts (internal worlds) in a mutually beneficial dance. The goal shifts from ‘winning’ to ‘connecting’ and understanding, regardless of resolution.
This framework is called “Invitational Language” and is more deeply discussed in this two-part blog.
This work is challenging and will become even more so when put into the pressure cooker of constant contact, but it can be done. A couple can move toward one another and find a connection rather than division and isolation. Our present reality is creating all kinds of energy in relationships, especially in marriages and families.
1. Notice what is going on inside of myself and the other.
2. Be curious about why, how this has happened.
3. Choose a path toward the other, seeking to understand.
Read Jeremy Jobson’s bio here.
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