She Said He Said: Contemplating divorce?
She Said, He Said
The new year begins a surge of energy for fresh beginnings, redefining oneself, and closing chapters that no longer serve us. And in this light, it may not be surprising that for the last several years, January has been dubbed divorce month. Some couples considering ending their relationship choose to push through one last holiday season “for the family.” Others decide they just can’t go through one more year of being unhappy with their partners.
January isn’t the true catalyst for these marriages ending. Most of these relationships have been slowly eroding, with one tiny thread of connection breaking after another. This column may feel in stark contrast to the jubilant fireworks of closing out 2022, but we’d be remiss not to talk about this important phenomenon. For some of these marriages coming to end, the partners have fundamentally grown apart, and their needs can no longer be met by the relationship. But for many, divorce, and more importantly, an unfulfilling relationship, could have been avoided through small efforts by both partners along the way.
A happy, healthy relationship requires connection to yourself and a living, growing bond with your partner. Couples can become so enmeshed over time that each partner experiences a deep and profound loss of their own identity and vitality (commonly referred to as codependence or what we call over-attaching). Others become so complacent in the relationship that over time they drift worlds apart (known as independence or under-attaching). The balance point in the middle is interdependence, the place from which you can truly thrive and be loved for who you are. As you step into the new year, explore for yourself which connections feel strong and which could use a little TLC.
Connection with yourself:
Interdependence is realized when each of you is capable of regulating your own emotions — being able to soothe your own discomfort and adapt to situations that might bring more tension and stress. The path to getting there is truly knowing, understanding and appreciating yourself, your authentic being and your true essence. This comes from developing a deeper awareness of these three key elements:
- Protective Patterns: These are behaviors you developed when you needed to cope with emotionally challenging experiences throughout your childhood. These patterns don’t reflect your true self but you can get stuck in repeating them over and over, especially when you don’t feel emotionally safe or validated. They tend to be reactive and defensive, leaving little room for healthy communication and resolution. One of the best ways to understand your protective patterns is by identifying your attachment style. To find out if you are more of an over-connecter (anxious attacher) or an under-connector (avoidant attacher), you can take the free assessment here: http://www.web-research-design.net/cgi-bin/crq/crq.pl
- Emotional Intelligence: The five elements of EI are Self Awareness, Self Regulation, Empathy, Motivation and Social Skills, with the first two being most important for relationships. When you know the places you tend to get stuck, you can work towards acting with more kindness and compassion. Higher emotional intelligence helps you own your mistakes and allows for a deeper connection even when you’re upset or wanting something to be different. Use these assessments to find out more about your emotional intelligence:
Short assessment: https://www.mindtools.com/axbwm3m/how-emotionally-intelligent-are-you
- Values: When you operate according to your deeply held personal values, you can remain anchored in your individuality and identity while maintaining connection to your partner. Knowing your strengths, beliefs and convictions helps enhance a higher sense of purpose and meaning that you can bring to a relationship. This process also includes setting your own goals, but that’s often difficult to do until you’re clear on your values. We’ve developed a values exercise to help establish what these may be. You can find it on our website here: https://aspenrelationship.com/values
Relationship with your partner
Where is there life and vibrancy in your relationship? Which aspects of your bond feel solid? Which are weak or stressed? Here are a few concepts and tools to strengthen your relationship this year:
- Five types of intimacy: Healthy connections require partners to co-create intimacy. If there are challenges in any of these areas, make the effort to explore with your partner what each of you believes is getting in the way, and commit to working together to find a path forward. Not every couple values these types of intimacy in the same way, but every relationship can benefit from exploring the needs, wants and expectations of each.
- Emotional Intimacy is born from the willingness to share your feelings, fears, vulnerabilities and dreams and hold safe space for each other. The key to strengthening emotional connection (and resolving conflicts) is being willing to hear and validate your partner’s felt experience.
- Physical and sexual intimacy has no single standard. The key is understanding each partner’s needs and collaborating to fulfill them. Couples who talk about sex have healthier, more rewarding sex lives.
- Playful intimacy exists in moments of embracing curiosity, humor, awe, spontaneity and child-like freedom. Playing together reminds us there is safety and trust with one another and adds vibrancy to the connection.
- Intellectual intimacy is the collaborative fostering of new ideas, views and philosophies and supporting growth and exploration in these areas.
- Spiritual intimacy is fostered through conversations, shared practices and support of each partner’s higher path. It broadly encompasses religion, spirituality, higher-consciousness, values, meaning of life and growing into one’s best self.
- Love languages: We often show love in the ways in which we want to receive it. But our efforts can fall flat when our partner’s love language is different. Learn what each other’s top two love languages are and commit to making efforts daily or weekly to love them in those ways. You can take a free quiz at: https://5lovelanguages.com/quizzes/love-language
- Date again: You’re not the same person you were when you met, and neither is your partner. Over time, we begin to believe we know everything there is to know about each other, but we’re always evolving. As you explore your relationship with yourself more, be curious about how your partner is growing and evolving in life as well. Date again with the intention of discovering these new aspects of each other for the first time.
Lori and Jeff are married, licensed psychotherapists and couple-to-couple coaches at Aspen Relationship Institute. Visit http://www.aspenrelationshipcoaching.com/blog-1 for all previous She Said, He Said columns.