We story our lives around the characters in them. And of all the characters in our stories, we refer most often to our partners, spouses, lovers, and soul mates. Disconnection from our lovers makes up the bulk of what we say to our therapists, our best friends, and our mentors. Disconnection drives our stories and our symptoms.
He won’t talk . . . I don’t know if I can ever forgive her . . . It must be my fault . . . I miss him . . . I’ve been a jerk to her . . . I can never tell him about my true feelings . . .
Here are some signs of relationship fracture.
- You feel gloomy most of the time, but you’re not sure why.
- You’ve lost interest in sex with your partner.
- You dread having to go home to your partner – or having her/him return home to you.
- You blame yourself for the things that have gone wrong in your relationship; or you feel chronic guilt about failing your partner in some way.
- You find yourself overeating or eating too many sweets; or you find yourself drinking more heavily than you should.
- You’re afraid to tell your partner you’re angry with her/him about something.
- You feel attracted to someone else – for more than a short period of time, or to a degree that interferes with your experience of your relationship.
- You have panic attacks for no identifiable reason.
- You believe your partner finds you unattractive – or you worry that he/she will in the future.
- You feel you need to protect your partner from having to hear difficult things.
I borrow the term, “relationship disconnection,” from Relational Cultural Theory. It’s a fracture in the felt connection between two people and it happens at some point in every relationship. It’s normal, but it feels horrible.
Disconnection happens when we feel invalidated – when someone indicates through words or nonverbal behavior that they don’t understand us . . . or that maybe we’d be hard for anybody to understand because we’re just unreasonable, weird, or too needy. Invalidation happens through intentional or unintentional behavior and may even be the result of events that happened long before we even knew our mate.
- Your emotions are out of bounds.
- Your needs are excessive.
- Your perceptions are “off.”
What to do about a fractured relationship:
- Tag the Emotion: This may seem like a no-brainer, but it’s important to first identify the emotion you feel when you’re in a disconnect. Is it more sad or more afraid? When you know this piece, you can more readily talk about it with your partner.
- Approach the Zone: Ask your partner for a few minutes to talk. Or ask them for an evening away from the kids if you feel you need more time. Share your emotion first. I feel sad because it seems like we’re on different planets these days.
- Watch for the Response: If your partner seems open and receptive, is willing to listen and at least try to understand, then yay! Just talking about the gap may help you two bridge it. If your partner seems defensive or uninterested, you have a number of options . . .
- Ask for Information: Let her/him know you’re interested in their whole reaction (thoughts, feelings, experiences). Then sit and breathe and listen. Just let them talk without trying to argue or fix things. This is hard, but it invites your partner onto the playing field with you.
- Call a Professional: You may find there are complicated issues that require a witness to be discussed productively. If you get stuck and can’t find a way into productive conversation, you may need a little coaching.
- Reach Out: . . . Or, you may just need to back away from the Zone for now and talk to a friend. Sometimes our partners feel blindsided by our feelings and may need time to incorporate what they’ve heard. In the meantime, call someone you trust who will understand and tell you you’re not crazy.
This last point deserves emphasis. We need validation – it’s not just a nice perk of relationship life. Validation says:
- Your thoughts and feelings are worth hearing.
- You make sense.
- Your needs are valid and real.
- We need validation for the health and well being of our bodies.
So if your soul mate can’t validate your feelings right now, you owe it to yourself to make contact with a therapist, a mentor, a coach, or a dear friend . . . . preferably someone who loves you unconditionally and sees your good heart. Getting good contact with someone will help you preserve your sense of worth as a human being – and give the you energy you need to continue inviting your partner back into connection with you.
Keep trying. It’s worth it.