“You Matter to Me!”: Why Relationships Get Hard and What To Do About It

Relationships get hard.  After we fall in love our old conditioning around love emerges and we push away or smother or avoid the very person who matters most. For couples who are entering into couples therapy or any form of relationship counseling, the process of uprooting our patterns we learned in childhood for how love happens is what makes the couples therapy effective and lasting.
-Traci Ruble

Originally Published at Psyched in San Francisco

I left my house this week for work and me and my kids were in a nice flow together. I had told my youngest that I was going to work that day and he said “No, don’t leave me mama.” He whimpered a bit and back into the flow we went. When the sitter arrived and it was time to for me to go, he tragically fell into my arms and sobbed – his need and longing for me were primal and palpable and I felt like I was going to throw up, literally. We were able to transition to a goodbye after much holding of his feelings and inside I had to metabolize all these feelings for the both of us staying open to his grief and anger at me while also not becoming rejecting myself because his pain was causing me pain.

If you are in a relationship or are just getting out of one some of the agony of the separation dance above may stir some feelings up in you that feel familiar but you aren’t quite sure why. When I work with couples, I am going two steps beyond changing communication patterns but looking at the origins of those patterns and working with, as Tom said in a previous post, The Most True Thing, which is

You Matter to Me but for reasons outside my awareness that scares the shit out of me!

I mean, at its basest level, we fall in love and our partner matters so much to us that as time goes by our old let downs around love emerge and we either have to;

  • Pretend like our partner doesn’t matter and push them away through a whole host of conscious or unconscious behaviors,
  • Cling to them for dear life so the person we love so much and are terrified to lose doesn’t leave but in the process we almost suffocate them to death
  • We pretend that things are great or what we think great should look like because we don’t really know what intimacy is so we play the “keeping up with the Jone’s” stuff or “partying to our heart’s content” or “cheating with another person” because the intimacy is foreign and yet we long for excitement.

The cherry on top is that while one partner is clinging, the other is usually pulling away – we tend to do the opposite of our partner and become bewildered and conclude the problem is simply one of communication or bail on the relationship concluding we aren’t a good match. Chances are, if you leave the relationship you are in before you sort out how your patterns around loving are in the mix, you will often go do it all over again in the next relationship. Not at first, but as time goes by, more often than not, we find ourselves back where we started repeating the same dynamics, just a new person.

On the surface, things may be a petty argument, but often underneath there are patterns of relating and loving that we felt first hand in relationship to our parents or that we witnessed first hand between people in our family. You speak English, you are reading this blog post so you have tracks in your brain for the English language that got laid down before the age of four. You also have tracks in your brain for the ways in which you have learned loving and mattering that got laid down before the age of four. We all have “styles” of loving with very deep- rooted push, pull, grab themes much like a child has when his mother is getting ready to leave the house for work and does not want to part ways. Check out the book Wired for Love by Stan Tatkin, Psychotherapist and Neuroscientist out of UCLA for more and see one of his exercises below.

So if we know that loving is hard because wrapped into our “loving patterns” are good and bad things from childhood then changing the negative pattern means changing the brain and lots of research shows you have to do more than think and talk ABOUT the problem but actually get in there and start relating in a whole new way and feeling what you feel. I, no surprise to you, think a kick ass couples therapist can make a massive difference in shifting patterns. If you aren’t ready for that, pick up Stan’s book above and try some of the exercises below.

What to look for in a Couples Therapist: A couples therapist who knows how to work in an emotionally focused or “right brain” driven or attachment oriented way because just doing left brain “talking about solutions” often do not get at the roots of the loving style you are each bringing to your relationship.

If you do go to couples therapy: it doesn’t mean you are crazy. It means you are brave for undertaking the emotional work to liberate yourself from the old conditioning from your childhood.

Many just want to move on to another relationship – easier short term, harder long term. We all struggle in relationships to greater or lesser degrees, but we all do. Remember that when you pick up the phone to call a therapist. We are all are wired to play out the stuff we learned growing up and OUR ROMANTIC RELATIONSHIPS TEND TO BE WHERE WE PLAY OUT OUR OLD PSYCHOLOGICAL WOUNDS. In the end, then, being in a committed relationship is the ultimate personal growth journey – a heroes journey. Are you ready to be heroic?

Try a couple of these exercises below.
Get two chairs and place them face to face, about three feet apart.

  1. Both you and your partner sit down and make eye contact for a whole five minutes without talking. Notice what ideas you have about your partner, what sensations you feel in your body and how hard or easy it is to do this.
  2. Keep looking at your partner and without speaking see if you can just be curious “Who is this person sitting across from me?” and just be curious about the soul sitting across from you and leave behind all the previous experiences you have had with them.
  3. Now close your eyes and come back to yourself and feel your own heart and rest there for a minute just breathing into your chest.
  4. Open your eyes and look at your partner and say these words silently to yourself: “You Matter to Me Deeply” and then notice what sensations and emotions or even memories emerge for you in your body.
  5. Now, maintaining eye contact, silently complete the phrase, “I stop myself from feeling how much you matter to me by/when_________”.
  6. Close your eyes and come back to yourself for 20-30 seconds and then say Thank You to your partner.
Try Stan Tatkin’s Welcome Home Greeting