My friend is being divorced.
No one else is involved, they have just reached a place of terrible weariness with each other that they found impossible to overcome. It’s her idea to split, and he has agreed as he sees no hope in continuing.
I asked him what he had done that hadn’t helped the marriage, or in other words, what was his contribution to the erosion of love and trust to bring them both to this point? After thinking for a long time he told me that he was fairly quiet about his inner world, not saying much about work, feelings or frustrations; and that his wife had interpreted this as him being emotionally numb and horribly distant.
She said he was like an island that she swam around, avoiding accidentally touching him because he always looked the same on the outside and she didn’t know what he was feeling inside.
He said that he had just switched off emotionally at home and let her do the emotions, as she had plenty to share around.
So she emotionally withdrew from him, engaging with the children, and occasionally with him.
He was fairly ok with this as he is fairly self contained, although there was a nagging idea that all was not as it should be. Ignoring this, he said emphatically, had been a mistake!
So, if you sometimes find yourselves on ‘separate islands’, not connecting through your communication how do you disclose emotions in a measured way?
I’m not suggesting weeping over your coco-pops or crying as you watch the Bronte sisters do their thing! My tip would be to try telling stories from your day and including emotional responses.
So you might say: “there’s this guy at work who is driving me mad because he just talks all the time, literally non stop.”
And then tell your partner your emotional response, and what makes you feel that way: “it makes me feel so cross, because in doing so he prohibits me from saying anything. After he had gone I recognised that I felt really sad and also angry for quite a while, but I’m ok now”.
Another example is: “I saw a homeless person today on Waterloo Bridge and I just didn’t know what to do, I wanted to help, but didn’t have time and also wondered if they were really homeless or just begging as a profession? I felt pretty useless to be honest”.
When we show our partner who we really are, it really helps them to feel connected.
Vulnerable disclosure, where we reveal our weaknesses as well as strengths, is a key part in people feeling that they know who we are, like we are not a remote and immovable object. It helps our partner to understand us and feel closer. It means acknowledging that I have bad days, bad feelings and bad experiences from time to time. But it’s not just about bad things, try sharing about difficulties you have overcome and how you felt about it.
When we do this, when we show our partner who we really are, it really helps them to feel connected.
Lots of people do this automatically, but for many others, myself included, we have to deliberately choose to do vulnerable disclosure. I recognise that with my family I have to be intentional in doing this, as I’m always seen as the strong one. I tell my family stories from my day and include my feelings about incidents, just so they can hear me expressing emotions and so they know what’s going on inside. Why do I do this? Because I don’t want my wife and kids ‘swimming around me’, not knowing whether it’s safe to climb aboard for support and love.
I want to be ‘an island with a jetty’, to make a safe way for us to connect.
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