What often happens is people get together using insecure attachment styles because that’s how they learned they could get connection initially. And it feels like connection for awhile until one or both people manage to get in touch with wanting something more genuine (life shifts seem to cause this; like getting married, having children or career shifts, etc.). When that happens it often feels like the rules change and both partners are left frustrated and confused of what to do. Let’s take just one possible combination for example:
Often a couple will come in and talk about a fight they're having. The problem usually is, they are talking about the issue but they're also not talking about the issue. Our fights, I mean our repetitive deeply felt fights, are about more than what's one the surface (unloading the dishwasher, helping with the kids, making plans, cleaning the house, sex, in-laws, etc.). The surface issues are really houses for the core issues. They do matter, otherwise you wouldn't be triggered by them, however just talking about the surface issues will never solve the problem.
All of these styles are not good or bad, they are amoral and simply the ways that our young minds devised was the best way to get our needs met in our initial environments. Problem is, these schemas (attachment theory calls them, Inner Working Models), become outdated as we grow up and encounter new environments but because we operate out of them unconsciously we continue to react to our world as if it was the same as the one we grew up in (an act that tends to turn our current environments into our initial ones).
While fighting is inevitable and can even be a healthy thing in a relationship, bitter or habitual fighting is indicative of something deeper, something older. We all have a past and that past impacts our present thoughts/feelings and behavior. If someone hurt us in the past it primes us to (before we think) quickly put on our fighting gloves or hide behind our protective walls when someone in the present does something that reminds us of that hurt. Often these ways of relating ("gloves on" or "retreating") become so ingrained that we don't even know the patterns that are there.
To talk about empathy and our ability to grow in empathy we have to first define it. Empathy is NOT sympathy, kindness, compassion or the like. Empathy is a neutral skill that can be used for good or bad or both. Heinz Kohut (the father of one of the major contemporary fields of psychoanalysis called, Self Psychology) put it simply when he said...
Our most repetitive experiences of fighting or conflict point to not just whatever it is we're fighting about but something else that's deeper, older and more important. Learn how to identify and meet those deeper needs in order to stop the repetitive, bitter fighting or deafening silence.
Is fighting bad? Not necessarily, fighting can actually be a sign of life, showing we still care enough to try and get the other person to see what we need from them. In fact, according to John Gottman (the field's foremost couples researcher) conflict is required for building intimacy. However, because of all the clever ways we learn to protect ourselves from being hurt emotionally growing up (often these protective ways are actually unconscious to us) being super vulnerable with someone (even the one you love) can be really hard. In this post and next we will look at two tools that will help you start to get off the merry-go-round of destructive conflict.
Are you ever confused at why your spouse or partner can show more emotion with their favorite sports teams than with you? Often boys and sometimes girls are subtly told to ditch their vulnerable feelings except for in the confines of sports. Leaving dullness on the inside save for sports, sex and alcohol. Let me explain.