Have you ever felt not important or invisible to your partner? Have you ever felt that no matter what you do or say it will never be good enough?
Most couples have experienced moments of disconnection, moments of feeling invisible or that our efforts to connect are dismissed and not taken into account. As mammals, we are wired to connect. We need to connect, feel part of, feel loved and special to someone. Close ties with others is a key element for our health and wellbeing: both physical and emotional. There are several studies that show the importance of emotional closeness with others and physical health.
A study conducted by the University of Chicago shows how loneliness is a factor that in increased blood pressure to a degree where the risk of heart failure and stroke is doubled. The quality of the ties we have with others is crucial, not only having ties with others. Much stress in relationships also affects health in a negative way. There is a study conducted by the Case Western University University studied men with angina and high blood pressure. Men with low marital satisfaction suffered twice as many angina episodes than men with high marital satisfaction. Much stress within the relationship also affects our immune system.
Here is one interesting research from Ohio State University. The researchers used a vacuum pump to produce small blisters on the hands of female volunteers. These women then had a fight with their husbands. The more intense and stressful the fight, the longer it took for the skin to heal.
Of course, the quality of our relationship also affects our emotional and psychological health. Anxiety and depression are the most common effects of distress in the relationship. Increased conflict and hostile criticism from our partner increases a sense of vulnerability, self-doubt, and helplessness which lead to depression.
There are intense effects on our health due to stress in our relationships. This is because we need to connect. We need to feel loved. When we don’t we go to our protection mode, which actually gets us more in trouble and is part of the physical and psychological effects we mentioned.
What happens when we go to our protection Mode?
When our relationship is threatened, we tend to go to our fight and flight mode. Some of us fight while some of us withdraw. These protective reactions lead us to the creation of cycles. In relationships we establish cycles which are circular interactions where one reaction trigger the reaction from the other partner which triggers the reaction of the first partner, and so on… We find ourselves reacting and reacting, going in circles that don’t lead anywhere. We feel not heard, misunderstood, powerless, and disconnected.
Usually, while we are in this cycle, the last thing we will do is to express our true feelings. Our pain and hurt of feeling disconnected from you. Instead, we show either frustration and anger or indifference, nothing. We cannot connect with either indifference or anger. Both actually trigger a protective response on the other partner which in turn shows us indifference or anger with which we cannot connect and triggers our own need to protect ourselves.
This cycle starts small. Sometimes even almost invisible. If we are not aware of it, or if we dismiss it, it grows bigger and bigger. With time it can reach a point where it seems that it’s all there is in the relationship. We stop being able to connect and have fun. The smallest thing sparks our protective mechanism and there we go, spiraling out of control into this cycle that seems to have gained a life of its own… apparently unstoppable, overwhelming, exhausting, powerful.
What does your cycle look like?
Usually, there are two broad ways in which partners experience a disconnection. Some feel not cared for and abandoned. They might feel things like “I am invisible, I am alone”. While others feel rejected and criticized constantly and defined as failing, inadequate, or not wanted. As a response to these feelings, some become critical and judgmental while others numb out and protect themselves by distancing. What happens inside of you when you get into a fight or feel triggered? Do you shut down or do you want to fix it right now? How does your partner respond when you feel triggered and either shut down or go out there? How does your partner’s response make you feel? How does it fuel you? How do you respond?
Perfect! Now you have your cycle mapped out, next, we need to figure out what to do to stop this cycle becoming your relationship.