A Cautiously Optimistic Look at the Energy Flow in Marriage and Relationships. By Gabrielle Anderson, lmft
During the meditative process of my yoga class today, the instructor talked about fear. "What if instead of using the word fear you instead choose to be cautiously optimistic? What would this change? How would you view the world and your own life differently"?
To be cautiously optimistic. What would this cost? What could be gained? My thoughts immediately go to the balancing act in which many couples find themselves engaged, in order to create equilibrium and peace in their relationship.
As a family therapist, I see many couples throughout the week. Quite often I find myself talking about the negative cycle and faux balance that couples attempt to create within their relationships. This concept is based on a pursue/withdraw theory.
The Complimentary Puzzle Pieces of Marriage
Think about your significant other. Contemplate his/her temperament, likes, dislikes, conflict style, etc. Chances are you are similar in some ways yet very different in others. We tend to marry our compliment. Someone who fits us enough to be able to puzzle piece with us, yet different enough to be able to fill in some of the gaps that our own style and personalities leave.
In the beginning of a relationship, this difference creates wonder and excitement and can feel safe and well rounding. As couples develop negativity and begin to grow distant and cold or passionately conflictual, these differences cease to feel complimentary and begin to breed disappointment, anger and often resentment.
The Negative Cycle
In an attempt to bridge the gap of distance, couples often develop a negative cycle. The most classic of them all is a pursue/withdraw cycle; wherein both roles have a duty to perform in the marriage. The pursuer's job is to draw out problems in an attempt to purge, resolve and heal. The withdrawer's job is to protect and keep the couple from creating any more damage and distance.
So one pushes and the other backs away. One may be called a "nag" while the other may "have no feeling". Both are designed to help, yet neither extreme method does.
To Be Cautiously Optimistic in Marriage
Here is where the mediation of today meets the couples therapy of tomorrow. What might it cost a "pursuer" to give up fear? To stop fearing the worst, to stop shining a light on the dark corners of the relationship? To let go and hope that the relationship will find it's way back to closeness?
If you are a pursuer and are yourself in a negative cycle, you know the answer. IT"S TOO DANGEROUS TO GIVE UP FEAR. What a quandary. It seems logical to try to find that path of optimism. Even cautious optimism. Letting go of fear, not to wander blindly but to be cautiously optimistic.
Still. It feels dangerous... Because it is.
Changing the Flow of the Relationship
One of the beginning goals of couple's therapy is to close the gap in the negative cycle and attempt to get the energy to flow BOTH WAYS. In order for the pursuer to back off and allow peace to creep into the relationship, there must first be trust. Trust that the protector will engage, no longer withdraw and begin to pursue.
If both parties back off, stop fighting and pursuing, the marriage can die. One of the most dangerous marital dynamics is the relationship where NO ONE is pursuing or fighting for closeness.
The Rising Withdrawer and Shrinking Pursuer
How can one be cautisoluy optimistic in a dynamic as such? The first person to understand in a withdraw/pursue dynamic is the one who withdraws to protect. What would need to happen in order for the protector to come out and not withdraw? Sometimes the pursuer needs to learn to communicate safer, other times it is due to past pain and hurt, maybe the withdrawer is depressed.
Whatever the needs, it is important that the pursuer hears them so that s/he knows how to help the protecting partner get what is needed to allow energy to flow from him/her into the relationship.
Next it is the pursers job to then learn to ALLOW the withdrawer to complain or create tension. To allow this equal flow of energy enables the couple to live more within the boundaries of equilibrium and less in the dark lonely corners of extreme. This means the pursuer must create self discipline to then begin to complain less and tread on negative topics more carefully and mindfully as to keep the protector engaged.
Now You Can be Cautiously Optimistic in Your Relationship
Now it feels safe enough to let go of fear and embrace cautious optimism. Fear is often present for a reason. Learn to listen to it's voice, hear it and grow through it. When we embrace fear too long, it can be crippling to our emotional and physical health and can create many chronic problems that can take years to resolve and heal. Fear can be a helper if we respect it's power and then yield to cautious optimism as soon the opportunity arises.
Fear and Optimism in a Marriage
Listen to the voice of fear in your marriage. What is it trying to tell you? Do you trust enough in your partner and the dynamic or relationship to complain from a cautiously optimistic stance? Can you use what is not working to help you move to a closer place all the while remaining a team of equilibrium?
All good relationships have troubling times. If your relationship feels as if it is struggling too much and it is becoming too difficult to find your way back to each other, get an appointment for couples therapy today. Don't wait until tomorrow, reach out today.
Gabrielle is a licensed family therapist in Northern Virginia. She is a married mother of two and is in constant search of peace, balance and new growth.
These blog entries are written by our very own clinicians. When inspiration hits, another entry will be logged.
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