Linda: Pricilla and Zack are speaking to a young couple they know who has been struggling and they want to assist them by sharing their growth around a challenging issue from their past. They are proud that they have come so far.
Pricilla: We used to fight a lot. I like a lot of closeness and wanted Zack to be just like me. When I wanted to get close physically and emotionally, which was often, my overtures would activate Zack’s fierce independence. He would psychologically push back against my efforts. His stance would be “Nobody is going to control me! You’re not going to take me over!”
Zack: I thought of Pricilla as insecure, needy, and clingy. In our early years together, when the arguments would get really heated, these critical thoughts would come flinging out of my mouth. When I was anxious about being engulfed, my most mean-spirited, self-possessed me. I had a wonderful little pet name for Pricilla I called her “Bottomless Pit.” I thought that she could never be satisfied.
Pricilla: I gave it right back to him. I would accuse him of being cold and rejecting. Later, I added a more critical assessment; I would call him “narcissistic and counter-dependent.”
Zack: My effort to get Pricilla to fit the picture of how I thought she “should” be, it caused us both a lot of grief. It is not until we found a way to be with our differences and to honor them, that we found any peace.
Pricilla: With professional help, we began to identify that I was the connector and that Zack was the freedom fighter. Then we had a language to be able to discuss the challenge.
Zack: One of our strengths is that we are playful and theatrical, so we put together a small skit, exaggerating our two positions. We used humor to call attention to this dynamic and to blow it up large to make a caricature out of it so we could see it clearly.
Pricilla: In the skit, we traded roles. When I put myself in Zack’s position, I started yelling, “Give me some space, I can’t breathe. I’m going to suffocate.” I began to better understand his experience. We both began to share with each other what it feels like to be on either side.
Zack: When I was playing Pricilla in the skit, I was repeating, “please don’t leave me; please don’t leave me all alone.” I began to identify the work I needed to do to become more flexible. I didn’t have to have my walls up quite that high. It wasn’t truly a matter of life or death; Pricilla just wanted to be close to me.
Pricilla: I stepped out to the edge of my comfort zone to give Zack more space. I began to understand that what Zack embodied was a part of myself that I had disowned. He knew in the fibers of his being, the importance in life of being a separate individual. Some part of me knew that I had invited him into my life to learn about being self-sufficient. He did know more than I did about how to draw clear boundaries; how to say no; how to turn to himself to problem solve; and how to take good care of himself. I learned a great deal and incorporated it into my life.
Zack: I came to understand that Pricilla embodied some beautiful qualities that I needed to cultivate in myself. She took a stand for both of us to share on a feeling level. She modeled intimacy for me, an area with which I had little familiarity. That whole closeness thing scared me. I felt like a clumsy, bumbling idiot. I’m still the same introverted guy I’ve always been, but I can see the value of more heart connection.
As you can see through the growth of this couple in the story, when both partners practice discipline, resisting the impulse to react to the old triggers, their partnership improves substantially. Good professional counseling really moved their recovery process along. Assessing the harm done by continuing to play out old patterns strengthened their motivation to risk changing. A firm commitment to calm down the power struggle was replaced by periods of calm, and a growing sense of safety. In time, a new understanding and respect emerged.
The connector views themselves and their partner may see them as well, as having an unhealthy need for connection. And the freedom fighter is regarded as a more self-contained system. With both partners doing their own work, consistently using what the relationship offers them as the practice ground, they graduate to a point where they are healed from their limiting patterns.
Their newfound maturity is characterized by higher self-esteem on both parts, and the ability to set clear boundaries without rigid walls. When they both practice responsible self-care, they enjoy a new found intimacy and trust. The ugly fighting subsides to be replaced by harmony, co-operation, and an atmosphere of serenity.
Finally Secure Attachment
All that hard work of practicing self-discipline; rising to a high level of responsibility, the healing of past wounds is paying off with huge dividends of being deeply known by each other, and being loved as is. They have arrived at a point where they are securely attached. That’s the goal. Both partners have confidence that there is someone there for them, offering a high level of support to not only meet life’s many challenges but to deeply and thoroughly enjoy simply living life together.
When I saw Pricilla and Zack last, Pricilla said, “Thank goodness we got the help we needed to change the cycle. I take good care of myself now. And instead of acting out our fears, we’ve begun to speak openly about them, and that’s made all the difference. And Zack said, “I am no longer a man run by a fear of closeness and I am grateful to Pricilla for working with me and being patient while I learned about the joy of intimacy.”