"Stuff" that gets in the way of romance
Couples who fail to fully communicate their emotions to each other as they stumble through the daily trials of parenthood will find it impossible to get romantic when they finally get some time alone together. The "stuff" from their everyday life gets in the way.
"It's so disappointing," says Linda D of Agoura Hills, California. "John and I get to the restaurant and before the dinner is served we are rehashing the latest fight I had with our daughter Christina or the way I baby our other daughter Jennifer. The mood of the evening gets spoiled by his anger or annoyance that is a carry over from our home life."
Walter E. Brackelmanns, MD, a psychiatrist and director of the couples therapy clinic at UCLA's Neuropsychiatric Institute in Los Angeles, says all of a couple's problems are shared equally, it's a 50/50 split. So you can't blame your mate for bringing the wet blanket on the date. The "stuff" from your everyday life has to be put away every day. Neither partner can be allowed to "stuff" his or her feelings in situations and carry on stoically as if it doesn't really matter or as if it was nothing. Letting "stuff" go, blocks true communication and intimacy. No emotional intimacy equals no romance.
Block? What block?
Mental blocks or dysfunction are usually based in childhood issues, residual emotional fears that carry over into our adult lives. These fears are not something one thinks about or is aware of, usually, but we all have them at some level or another. "In all of my 25 years of practice I have never had a married couple come in to see me that didn't have both partners presenting equal levels of mental health or dysfunction," says Brackelmanns. The most common pattern of blocking that occurs between couples, Brackelmanns says, is one in which one partner suffers from fears of abandonment or powerlessness and the other partner has fears of envelopment or losing of self. This manifests in a pattern of the partner who suffers the fear of abandonment being volatile whenever he or she is in a position of powerlessness. Volatile being, prone to anger, criticizing, making judgments and giving orders. The partner with the fears of envelopment will block, and build walls against this volatile behavior to protect his/herself and then carry on stoically.
An everyday example of this pattern would be when a family's two year old refuses to put on his/her clothes just as the family is late for an event that is very important to the "fear of abandonment" prone spouse. In an angry tone he/she orders the other parent to get control of the child and hurry up. Then he/she proceeds to stomp outside to the car, start the engine and wait, maybe even honk the horn in anger a few times. Finally, the family emerges, gets into the car and nothing is said. They drive off and "stuff" the scene, no big deal. The partner who was ordered to handle the two year old lets it all go, understandably, given the situation. At the same time, he or she is also going to build a little wall inside that the angry partner cannot help but feel.
Add two to three scenes like this a week to the scenario. Things like, the toilet is stopped up, the baby gets a high fever, the dog has diarrhea and won't get off the couch, the electric bill doubled this month. It doesn't take long before it will be impossible for the couple to go out together and just enjoy each other's company; there will be too much left unsaid and unfelt.
The work: keeping the "stuff" from blocking
The first thing that has to be done, Brackelmanns says, is get both partners on the same page. Too often partners don't want to see that the problem is one in which they share equal responsibility. It is easy for the stoic partner to blame the angry partner for the problem. At the same time the angry partner, can blame the stoic partner for not being emotionally available, for not caring about his/her needs. Each partner has to learn about and recognize the roots of their own as well as each other's fears and behaviors.
The work has to do with being mindful every moment. For example: when the impatient, angry partner orders his/her mate to take over the situation, in the case of the two year old who won't put on his/her clothes. The responding partner has to call attention to the "hit" he or she is experiencing. This can be done with compassion once the anger is recognized for what it is "fear of abandonment or powerlessness." These mindful moments, once mastered, keep intimacy alive and well.
Many couples find it difficult to master each moment. For them it is easier to tear down the walls each night as an ending to their day. The key is, each partner being secure in the fact that they are equally responsible for every situation and that the work is about sharing and respecting emotions. For couples who do the work, a rare but well deserved night out without the kids will always prove romantic and fun.
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