Most couples who come to me clearly appear to struggle with emotional regulation and emotional connection. But what exactly is this and how does it manifest? And how can couples start to recognise and validate what it is that is really going on in each other’s inner words?
Our survival strategy is the behavioural patterns and cycles we subconsciously exercise to being able to function with someone in a relationship. It has a lot to do with our past story, including the one with our parents, and things we have learned some time ago because it was working very well to protect us from feeling exposed, hurt or vulnerable.
Now although every one of my clients has a right to their own survival strategy and I do recognise that, I find it key to challenge them to look beyond it if it doesn’t work for them anymore. It is like a fluid dance between two lost souls which tends to often turn into a toxic vicious cycle where ineffective habits repeat over and over again.
Let me give you a specific example: His survival is about distracting himself with 14 hours of office work daily, being away from home as often as he can, and being so bottled up his wife sees him like a stranger in their home. He suffers from chronic scrutinising. He becomes very defensive when she criticises him. And she does that every day- it is something she is very good at. She feels unprotected, overburdened and she went to someone else to provide empathy- like her friend, therapist or her grounded yoga teacher. He was her rock. Today he is a cold stone. Instead of blaming each (and they must be really good at that), I would invite them to take a closer look at their dance, their regular interactions, the way they bounce of each other- in other words the way they rock their boat.
So in a nutshell. it is about rewriting their story about themselves as a unit. Between every stimulus and response they get the choice every day to choose their response, to regulate their emotions. Because it is those little daily decisions which determine where they go as an individual as well as a couple. And it is not about difficulties, but how they handle them. The way they solve their problems will teach their children how to do it.
“Alright, I’m feeling too angry to keep talking about this. Can we please take a break and come back to it in a bit? It’ll be easier to work through this after I’ve calmed down.”
Make a relational claim today. Sit down with your beloved one and renegotiate the terms or your co-existence. And where there is no more patience left to open your hearts and truly listen to each other; that’s where a mediator, a highly skilled and talented coach can become a life-changing asset. It is truly liberating to feel that someone validates your voice and the right to your own, unique survival strategy whilst holding the space for both you and your partner.
Now… What is your survival strategy?
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