When two people reach an impasse in their relationship, neither person knows how to move forward. Both people feel overwhelmed, flooded with difficult feelings or cut off from any feelings. What can we do when we find ourselves in an impasse?
Unfortunately the most common outcome of an impasse is ending the relationship. Separating seems to be one way of trying to handle the difficult and conflicting emotions we often feel trapped by. Being confronted with having to construct a separate life takes center stage and we leave this other set of uncomfortable feelings, conveniently, underground.
Seeking help through counseling or therapy can help. A therapist can help us recognize and express our own needs, so that the relationship can begin to take care of us in a different way. We can identify unproductive patterns of relating or relational dynamics that have developed within our relationships. Being stuck in an unproductive dynamic can cause feelings and behaviors to repeat until we become conscious and recognize what is going on.
There are a few things we can do on our own. The first thing we can do is to look at our own feelings and behaviors and see if we can identify what roles we are playing out in our relationship. What ways are typical and repetitive? What feelings and behaviors have come up over and over again during the course of this relationship?
The second thing we can do is to sit with ourselves and figure out what emotional needs we are having that are not being met. Focusing on and imagining how we would like to be related to, asking ourselves what would that look and feel like? We can investigate our fears, and ask why we are not expressing our feelings and needs? Are we afraid the other person does not care or does not want to hear our feelings? Are we uncomfortable with these needs? What do we know about ourselves that could help us understand this discomfort?
Here is an example of transforming a negative dynamic. Every time Mary did not call John when she was going to be late, or simply when he had not spoken to her for an extended period of time, he had the same set of negative emotions. He called these feelings "boredom". John was severely neglected as a child and when Mary did not call he associated to old feelings of abandonment and became frightened. He felt angry, neglected, and disrespected.
John sat with himself and imagined what would relieve his "boredom". He realized that calling Mary was what he wanted to do, to talk to her and to hear her voice. He felt uncomfortable realizing this need, and when she came home he was unable to say to her that he needed to hear her voice.
Usually in this situation, Mary would come home and find John withdrawn and angry. She had come to believe that she was the cause of his feelings, so she became guilty, and then got angry to avoid feeling the guilt. When Mary got angry, John withdrew even more. Their two sets of feelings, formed a negative dynamic in their relationship.
One night, John interrupted this dynamic by telling Mary that he had figured out that when she did not call, he got upset. He let her know that he got upset because he needed to hear her voice.
Upon hearing him say that, Mary's defensive anger fell away. She was happy to respond to his needs when he expressed them directly and they were both able to figure out a way of taking care of this need.
Talking about John's need relieved its intensity and together they figured a way to work on his feelings of anxiety and boredom. By expressing the need, they both could work on a way of meeting the needs instead of getting stuck in their repetitive dynamic that frequently lead them into an impasse.
To get help in resolving an everyday conflict by getting in touch with and expressing your feelings and needs, please visit Truceworks.com., a free online conflict resolution web site.
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