Movies only tell us half of the story when couple fall in love, then lose love and finally somehow reclaim love. In the movies there is usually some obvious logical explanation for each step. In real life it’s not so simple and usually the couples themselves don’t fully understand how their “dream lover” turns out to be “worst nightmare.” Couples typically convince themselves that the cause of the problem is sex, money, work, poor communication, extended family, etc; and to be sure in some situations this maybe the case. Certainly, this is the sort of explanation that is usually given in the movies; unfortunately this is not the whole truth.
We may glimpse at the truth if we start from our childhood or babyhood, when we learn from our caretakers a sense of safety and emotional availability in time of distress. It is this crucial interaction with our caregivers that organizes the experience of our inner state and this will stay with us for the rest of our lives. With positive experience from our caregivers, the inner state gives us sense of ourselves, teaches us how much we can count on others to keep us safe, we learn to accept ourselves as we are, without pretending to be someone we are not, just so we may receive their love and security. When there is an intense feeling we respond appropriately, we know when to get anxious, when to get angry and how to deal with our emotions. We know how to receive care and later how to give care.
However, our inner state goes wrong when there are repeated separations from our caregiver, prolonged stress, or traumatic experiences in our early beginnings. The young child then uses whatever defenses are available, including denial, dissociation, projection of emotions to others, and many other defenses designed to protect him or her from being overwhelmed by dangerous emotions. The emotions are particularly frightening and painful if there is no one present to understand or to give comfort. These defense circuits get stored in our subcortical region of the brain that is hidden from our consciousness and it gets triggered automatically in certain situations. The defense mechanism may show up as anxiety or acting out with a pathological anger. They usually cover hidden core emotions that are too primitive for words. Sometimes by triggering emotional arousal from the past person or situation and mixing it with the current person or current situation it becomes extremely confusing to understand how powerful emotions can be generated by trivial events. It does not mean we are crazy or we are abnormal, it just mean we were unlucky and our circumstances lay down circuits that do not serve us; but we can change them.
Couples generally seek therapy when they are caught in repetitive, bewildering, painful patterns of highly emotional interaction. They both have a narrative explanation of the problems between them each viewing the problem as lying within the other. Yet, as they describe their dissatisfaction and discomfort in the relationship, their account often reflects self- blame and inadequacy. When pressed to clarify, a partner may express numbness, bodily pain, or vague feeling of something wrong or may simply walk away from the interaction.
This cycle can be broken and YES there is hope of turning from intimate enemies to intimate lovers. There are studies indicating that with help, relationship can change from an insecure to secure attachment. So even if we missed out in our childhood there is hope in our adulthood with proper help. Start with simple self-compassion and self-forgiveness. Remember, most of this is not under our control. It takes a millisecond for the subcortical process to merge past and the present emotional reactions, giving rise to intense feeling that influences reasoning and decision-making ability.
The goal is to contain the feelings rather than try to get rid of them or defend in ways that elicit destructive reactions. With the therapist’s help, partners can learn (1) to ask themselves if their perceptions are accurate for the present situation; (2) to take time out when emotions are overwhelming; (3) to question whether their behavior is getting them what they want; (4) to honor/ understand the meaning of what is happening in terms of terms of what happened in the past; and (5) to try out new ways of responding.
The Healing Power of Emotion, Edited by Diana Fosha, Daniel J. Siegel and Marion F. Solomon