Yes, resolving conflict is a worthy goal, and understanding “the problem” is also important. The biggest obstacles in couple communications, however, more often have to do with unlocking the heart and imagination of each partner to want to hear or listen to what the other says, to want to understand where each is coming from, and so on.
As discussed in Part 1, what you “see” subconsciously in your mind when you think of your partner and your relationship, or your “discussions” for that matter, may just be what you get.
There are are at least five prerequisites to unlocking your hearts — and subconscious minds — to break free of images and mindsets that keep each of you locked in reactive patterns, defensive showdowns, and the like. Essentially the prerequisites are all shifts in your perceptions, key freedoms each partner has, in any moment, to imagine new possibilities, and re-envision one another and their relationship.
Here are five prerequisite perceptions that can help you unlock your imagination and get out of stuck places that prevent you from empathically connecting in engaging in ways that build a healthy couple relationship:
1. See your commitment to heal as individuals as prerequisite to forming a healthy couple relationship.
A commitment to your own healing is a learned perception, a strong belief that: it is not only in your power to heal your self, but also that healing how you relate to your self is a prerequisite to healing your couple relationship.
This perception goes against the grain of cultural expectations that associate strength, status, even self-worth, with an ability to shut down rather than feel certain vulnerable emotions of one or both partners. This speaks to the question of whether you have permission to feeling certain emotions without getting triggered, defensive … it’s worthy subject to explore.
Truly, the biggest obstacle to cultivating the authentic intimacy you desire with the special person in your life has to do with the part(s) of your self that you do not love, accept, value, and that, as a result, stays hidden, disowned, rejected out of fear, shame.
Most of us hold beliefs, for example, that automatically blame events or others when we feel painful emotions (whether outwardly expressed, or kept hidden inside!). After all, as children, we’ve often heard parents or adults say things such as, “You make me so angry/sad/upset/disappointed, etc.” These limiting beliefs (perceptions) have taught us to hold others hostage in our mind, to take what others do personally, among other desperate (punitive, defensive) behaviors, such as using verbal attacks or withdrawal, for example, to get partner cooperate or calm down, etc.
Learning to feel your own flow of love energy inside, without detaching or exploding, is critical to your own healing journey.
This is where your own self-love makes a difference.
Unless you feel safe and secure enough to feel vulnerable without activating your defenses, you will likely either avoid (reject) feeling your own painful emotions, or your partners, or both. You need your own love, especially in challenging moments, to ensure your “open loop emotional system” avoids getting drained by negative energies of others — and remains open and engaged instead of defensively detached.
(Note! Giving in to sensual pleasures, i.e., food, sex, alcohol, etc., without regard to the impact on emotional, physical and mental health, is often mistaken for “self-love”; it is not. It is instead the path to one or more addictions, and the formation of a toxic addictive relationship.)
A healing relationship with your self, instead, allows you to break the first fear barrier to feeling safe enough to love, and that is, your dependency on another’s love for survival (imprinted in early survival-love maps).
You may always prefer to be loved and valued by your partner around the clock, for example, and that’s fine. At the same time you must understand, or “get,” that you do not have to have their love exactly the way you want it, when you want it, etc., in order for you to stay connected (committed) to your own growth processes inside.
Like the physical need for oxygen, the fulfillment of your hard-wired yearnings for a meaningful connection with your partner is an emotional need, a core-drive, not a want.
Breaking your dependency allows you to stop wasting energy on patterns of blaming, reactivity or conflict avoidance. At some point, you may also realize how your own defensive actions are simply decreasing the chances of getting the desired response from your partner. (Once you unlock your imagination, rest assured, you will find more effective ways to reach your partner’s heart, in fact, you’ve likely used several of these at the start of your relationship!).
To truly love and care for yourself is to learn to protect your happiness regardless what goes on around you, instead of taking things your partner does personally. It’s more helpful to perceive your partner’s actions as information about them (i.e., their wounds, their journey, what they need to grow to become ever better versions of themselves, and so on); similarly, your response to events is about you.
It is a key responsibility, and a lifelong commitment to work on, if you want to find true and lasting personal and relational joy and happiness.
2. See your ability to remain open and aware to feel and understand vulnerable emotions as a strength.
To remain aware and open to feel emotions of vulnerability is an essential perception that: you not only have a hard-wired capacity to do so, it is also a critical ability to cultivate that ensures you grow the confidence and courage you need to stay connected (conscious mind) to your body (subconscious mind) in triggering moments.
This key perceptual shift in your couple relationship is, ultimately, a recognition that it’s not possible to form an empathic connection between you and your partner without coming to compassionately understand that your partner’s pain is as meaningful as our own — and vice versa.
Like you, your partner is human. Even as you work together to more thoughtfully connect, you are two different people, and nature loves to bring partners together who are polar opposites across several dimensions. At every level, human brains and bodies, mentally, emotionally and physically, seem to be wired to either continually grow, progress and conquer challenges — or atrophy.
Painful emotions are intimacy fears, in the form of fear of rejection, inadequacy and abandonment, etc. Essentially, your intimacy fears are reminders that you’re wired to do more than physically survive, to also thrive, to fulfill hardwired yearnings to matter and find meaning in life. Thus, painful emotions are also reminders that you care, that you want to matter, and that you cannot love yourself by simply giving in to whatever your senses desire, i.e., more stuff, cars, sex, food, etc. (When it comes to sensory pleasures, it’s critical that your conscious mind is in charge, and not your body. In conditions where the body is flooded with intoxicating hormones, it’s safe to say that, sadly, it cannot be trusted.)
In contrast, when you’re open to embrace your emotions as actions signals, you are engaged, aware and fully present, and like a student, eager to learn and increase your understanding of the subject at hand, in this case, the emotion signals of your own body. This knowledge allows you to eventually get comfortable with stretching out of old comfort zones, which may have served you for a period of time … until this stopped being the case.
It’s a given that your timing will be off at times. It’s also neither possible nor helpful to always get the loving response you expect or hope for.
In challenging moments, fears surface. Courage is not the absence of fear, rather the willingness to feel your fear and do what you know is aligned to your highest goals for your relationship—anyway! Consistent steps, relentless courage is what transforms and heals you.
It is precisely in challenging moments that you have a power opportunity to literally rewire “old” imprinted neural patterns of your brain, and strengthen your capacity to remain aware and open, to stay connected and present from within. The “lesson” here seems to be that: “resolving” any issues you have with each other is incomparably of lesser value to you than “learning” how to treat one another with compassion and dignity in the process (which paradoxically, makes solving problems easier, faster…).
Your mental and emotional strength and resiliency is governed by the same “use it or lose it” rule as your physical body. In the same way that you cannot avoid the gym and proudly exclaim you are fit, you cannot expect to grow a healthy couple relationship without getting comfortable with uncomfortable feelings. In the same way that it’s a strength to accept that your body requires regular efforts on your part to stay fit and healthy, so it is with your emotional and mental wellbeing!
This means the sooner you learn to benefit from and accept challenges in your relationship as part of the package (likely the case in successful areas of your life, i.e., your career, physical fitness, etc.), the sooner you can relax, grow confidence and enjoy the process and the benefits.
In Part 3, the third prerequisite shift.