Saturday, March 23, 2013

I Can’t Breathe - Constrictive Relationships

Have you ever had one of those nightmares where you wake up in a cold sweat, heart pounding, gasping for air, like something heavy is pressing on your chest? It’s a really unpleasant experience. I have had several of those in recent memory, but I’m not going to go into dream analysis here. I just want you to connect with the feeling.

Sometimes relationships can feel a bit like my dream.

One of the more pleasant tasks of counseling is helping couples decide whether they should move forward towards engagement and marriage. We use assessments and other materials to evaluate the relationship, but often the feedback we give a couple is based on our intuition or perception.

With many couples the exchanges between them are easy and lighthearted. They listen well and respond appropriately. You can feel the love and respect. They act as cheerleaders for each other. These are the couples where it is easy for us to recommend going ahead with marriage.

But for some couples the atmosphere feels more like my nightmares – constricted and difficult. In marriage it usually only intensifies. What I mostly find at the root of the problem is a lack of trust resulting in attempts to control everything possible in the relationship. You may put pressure on your partner to account for their whereabouts at all times. You may require your partner to think like you, and never disagree. Your conversations feel more like interrogations to your partner. Your partner walks on eggshells around you or around certain subjects. In short, they want to run away.

Why might you lack trust?

·         Earlier abandonment – you have experienced emotional or physical withdrawal from people who should have remained steady and supportive for you. As a result you feel unsafe.

·         Your partner really isn’t trustworthy – they have proved time and again that their promises can’t be relied upon. Or perhaps they have been unfaithful and you have not fully dealt with the issue.

·         Anxiety and fear – often the byproduct of abandonment is insecurity and a heightened anxiety in relationships. Even when there are no indicators that you should mistrust your partner, fear drives you to try to control them. This usually results in your partner trying to pull away to get some breathing room.

·         Disorders – when you suffer from a more extreme form of anxiety such as OCD, or a personality disorder such as OCPD or Narcissistic Personality Disorder you may have a particularly tough time restraining your need to control. These are issues that must be dealt with professionally.

·         You have not been trustworthy and are projecting your feelings onto your partner. You have not confessed and repented of the sin in your life and been forgiven. Perhaps you haven’t forgiven yourself, either.

The solution is to work on your issues before you destroy a relationship that you care about. Optimally this should be done before entering into marriage. But some things crop up during marriage and the quicker you recognize and deal with them the sooner you will experience health and happiness.

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