An Excerpt from Love Cycles by Linda Carroll
When we feel disappointed in love or worried in life, most of us move in one of two directions: either we shut down and push away, or we move closer to seek comfort and care. In our most intimate relationships, our instinctual response is often the opposite of what our partner needs, and it’s here that our willingness to make a new, counter-instinctual move is needed.
Ted thrived on social contact. Ellen was private and needed a lot of time by herself, especially when she was upset. When the couple suffered any kind of misunderstanding, Ted wanted to talk about it immediately, which made Ellen more anxious and apt to back away. Her distancing only increased Ted’s distress, because he wanted to fix the problem immediately so that they could reconnect.
“Are you asleep?” Ted asked Ellen.
Earlier in the evening they’d had a stressful argument about a possible job switch that would require the couple to relocate.
“I need to sleep,” Ellen said. “I don’t want to talk now.”
Ted couldn’t understand how Ellen could sleep after they’d just had a fight — not if she really cared about the relationship. He got up and began to pace at the foot of the bed. “Come on, Ellen, you can sleep later. Right now we need to talk this problem through.”
“Ted, can’t you see I’m exhausted?” Ellen burrowed deeper under the covers to show him how much she wanted to go to sleep.
“That’s insulting — don’t you know that? — to turn your back on me when we’re in the middle of something we need to resolve.” Ted walked over and gave his wife’s shoulder a gentle touch.
As soon as he touched her, she shot up in the bed and exploded. “Leave me alone,” she screamed. “Just back off!” She jumped out of bed and went off to another room to sleep.
Ted was devastated. He wondered whether the marriage was over.
Ellen, meanwhile, felt great relief once she crawled into bed in their guest room down the hall. She fell asleep almost instantly.
This couple came to a class of mine with the knowledge that they had to change this pattern but with no clear idea how. It took them a short while to understand the concept of the counterinstinctual move, and with practice they were able to change their dynamic.
Still, whenever they have an argument, Ted’s first instinct remains the same. If they are in bed he still wants to say, “Ellen, are you asleep? I’m feeling a need to talk about what happened between us.”
Then he remembers that she is wired differently than he is. Instead of trying to initiate a conversation, he lies still and silently soothes himself. Just because Ellen is different from him doesn’t mean she doesn’t care about him and their marriage, he reminds himself. He breathes slowly until he can relax and not personalize her need for sleep before they talk again.
Occasionally, of course, Ted can’t resist trying to reconnect quickly. Ellen will hear him ask, “Hey, you asleep?” But she no longer snaps, “I was until you woke me!” Although it’s not her first instinct, she usually remembers to gently reach out and touch her husband’s arm before saying, “Ted, I’m not ready to talk. How about we discuss this after work tomorrow?”
Each of them made a move that was counter to what came naturally: Ellen moved a little closer, and Ted moved away. As a result, the couple gradually managed to loosen and finally exit the endless loop they had been caught in so miserably. Each learned to see that the other’s behavior wasn’t wrong — just different — and both learned to stretch beyond their own comfort zone.
Linda Carroll is the author of Love Cycles. A couple’s therapist for over thirty years, she is certified in Transpersonal Psychology and Imago Therapy and is a master teacher in Pairs Therapy. She lives in Corvallis, OR, offers workshops across the country, and is a frequent speaker at Rancho La Puerta in Tecate, Mexico. Visit her online at www.lindaacarroll.com.
Adapted from the book Love Cycles: The Five Essential Stages of Wholehearted Love ©2014 by Linda Carroll. Published with permission of New World Library www.newworldlibrary.com.