The recent Covid-19 outbreak poses more than a threat to our immediate health. While stress from the pandemic and its impact on our normal daily living are difficult to bear, couple conflict or marital distress may feel like an impossible icing on the cake during this already challenging time. For those of you who feel trapped in negative conflict cycles with your significant other, this article is for you.
The first question we should all be asking ourselves when we find ourselves emotionally heightened is, "What is this about for me?"
Without knowledge and training on the emotional response system and/or corresponding behavioral psychology, we may have difficulty with this type of self-reflection on our own. However, I hope to help all individuals and couples identify the root of why we feel or act the way that we do and ultimately help bring healing from the inside out.
If you're having trouble understanding yours or your partner's emotional response, I've outlined below some tricks to identifying and decoding possible hidden meanings.
Protest Behaviors - These tactics (common amongst more anxiously attached individuals) are often confusing to our partner, but nonetheless are an attempt to re-establish connection or get the attention of our significant other. Common thoughts leading to protest behaviors include: "It takes so long to meet someone new, what if I end up alone," "If he/she leaves me, he/she will turn into a great person for someone else," "He can change," "All couples have problems, we are not unique in that way." Resulting protest behaviors may include: "psycho-calling/psycho-texting," ignoring and/or refusing to accept calls, keeping score (giving our partner a taste of their own medicine or only matching their apology), showing contempt (eye rolling, walking away during conversation), threatening to leave the relationship, manipulating (pretending to have plans when you don't), fostering jealousy (talking about an attractive co-worker, making plans with an ex). As mentioned above all of these behaviors (even the "push-away behaviors") are ironically intended to gain closeness, not distance in the relationship. ***If you find yourself initiating protests like those mentioned above, try, first, slowing down to better understand your intended goal and rather than acting in protest, speak clearly to your partner regarding what you would like to have happen in the relationship (in this case, letting your partner know you're in need of reassurance and that you would like to be close).
Dismissing & Defensive Behaviors - Opposite from those who attempt to re-engage their partner following disagreement, dismissing/defensive behaviors are utilized to distract, disengage, and/or minimize the need to be close to their partner or the need for intimate connection altogether. Common thoughts from those who engage in dismissive or defensive tactics may involve: "This is bogus," "Women will only try to trap you," "Why does he/she demand so much from you?" "You don't need this," "You don't deserve this," "There are other things more important than this relationship, including personal happiness," "You'd be better off without this nonsense," "She is just needy/crazy," "There's something wrong with him/her." Common dismissive & defensive behaviors are: becoming defensive at even the smallest slight, challenge, or criticism within the relationship; calling their partner childish or dramatic when any grievance or dissatisfaction is made known, distracting themselves from the issue or the discomfort of conflict, being unwilling and unmotivated to tend to their partner's needs, blatantly rejecting/dismissing their partner, isolating themselves or abandoning their partner, attempting to leave or get away from the difficult feelings sparked by conflict. Similar to the behaviors of those who protest, defensive behaviors are not aimed at harming their relationship as much as they are aimed at self preservation, which, to someone with an avoidant attachment, often means creating distance between themselves and the person they love. ***For those who find themselves with a stacked arsenal of the dismissive or defensive ammunition described above, digging deep to examine your softer emotion (perhaps in respect to feeling as if you've disappointed your partner or times where you feel criticized) can help you stay present and available during conflict in spite of having the urge to push them away.
If you find yourself in need of added support, do not wait for a better time to start counseling. Virtual appointments are available at 50% of regular price through the month of April. Take advantage of the opportunity to grow your relationship with the help of a specialized couples counselor today.