“The power of vulnerability.” I talk about it. I see it. I feel it. I know that being vulnerable is essential for me to fully connect with people. Even still, it often feels unnatural for me to be voluntarily vulnerable. It takes a great deal of courage to share important experiences and raw feelings.
My husband and I have been married for 32 years. During these years, there have been moments of defeat and difficulty, and moments of true connection and love. We have felt stuck in moments of difficulty and sought out couples counseling, which helped temporarily but did not bring the lasting ‘cure’ we needed. The effects of the professional help did not last because when we tried to discuss the ‘hard stuff’ on our own, we would get stuck again.
‘Getting stuck’ often looked like this: either my husband or I would become frustrated, get confused or feel unheard. Emotions would inflate. I would become increasingly frustrated, and my husband would become increasingly quiet. More often than not, he would leave, and after he left I would get upset first with him, and then at myself. We would always come back together—sometimes after a few hours, and sometimes after a few days. Most importantly, we would never reflect on the situation and repair. Life would go on, as usual, until we got stuck again.
I began to feel like I was crazy—that I needed to learn how to not care so much, how it must be horrible to live with me . . . the list could go on. Then, I read a short article that described exactly how I felt. It was like a little drop of hope sent straight from heaven to me. After this piece of hope landed on me, I went full speed ahead, diving into every resource I could find that discussed Emotionally Focused Therapy—including books, advanced trainings, seminars, etc.
Here is what has been most helpful in my own marriage and what I experience with the couples I work with in couples counseling:
1. What my husband and I were experiencing was normal. I wasn’t crazy. He wasn’t uncaring. Every couple has a cycle they get caught in when they are disconnected. When we get stuck, we are in a place of reactivity and panic, causing our brains to go offline and our primitive survival skills to kick in. There is a primal response to fight, flight or freeze. We have these feelings because our partners matter so much and the threat of losing each other is too great.
2. When we learn to fight against our “negative cycle,” we are able to fully see the other person in his/her place of pain and fear. We can slow down and share with one another how both hate being in this disconnected place. Most importantly, being able to truly see one another is what moves us to stop blaming and attacking.
3. It’s important to learn what each other’s “raw spots” are. These are the sensitivities that get triggered based on our personality and our own history. This helps to understand why couples continue to get stuck and what those triggers are about (it’s almost always more than the topic you are arguing about). As you understand the raw spots each of you have, you can validate each other’s experiences. We all want to be seen, heard and loved by the person who matters the most.
4. The human need for acceptance, belonging and comfort is universal. Everyone wants to feel accepted, comforted, and like they belong. It’s so important to find ways to be each other’s safe haven-to know how lonely it feels when you feel like no one has your back.
Do my husband and I still get stuck? Absolutely. However, I have learned that my old pattern, where I would get frustrated and subsequently resist the process of reconnection was inhibiting me from learning from ‘the hard stuff.’ I now know that only by trekking through the difficult process of repair can my emotions calm, my relationship be at peace, and my knowledge that my husband is there for me exist.
I hope that as I share my own experience, there may be someone reading this who feels like I did when I read the article that dropped hope back into my life. I hope this gives a little insight into why I choose to work with couples in their “stuck places.” I have seen the change that has come into my life and my relationships as I continue to show up and be vulnerable. I have seen couples in therapy create deeper connection and intimacy in their lives. If you feel like you need help in your “stuck places,” please reach out.
This Post Written By:
Michelle Hildt, LAMFT – Therapy With Heart
8737 E. Via De Commercio, Suite 200
Scottsdale, Arizona 85258
Phone: (480) 888-5380
Fax: (480) 203-2881