The Stress of Relationship Disruptions

The Need for Connection

Awareness of the depth of the need for connection with others is being made more and more apparent each day by the explosion of social networks. In the past our needs for connection have been viewed as the bi-products of instinctive and biological drives that have kept our species going.

Attachment theory is based primarily in the biological need for proximity. More recently ego psychology and inter-subjectivity have explained how the Self grows in relationship, focusing more on psychological development than the needs of the body. Because of the emphasis on these needs for connection and relationship in human life, the other side of the coin, the impact of disconnection is simultaneously brought into focus.

Disconnection-the Other Side of the Coin

Relationship disruption comes in many forms, from the extreme disruption of death of a loved one, through divorce, conflicts, broken or angry hearts, to simply waiting for someone to call back. Our reactions are as varied as the circumstances, i.e., there are individual differences in tolerance for loss.

Emotional Reactions to Relationship Disruptions

There are a full range of emotional reactions, e.g., we grieve, we feel depressed, we feel isolated, we get angry, we withdraw, sometimes we feel shame or guilt. We can become caught in obsessive thinking about the loss. What could we have done wrong? Was there something that would have changed the outcome? We can be filled with anger, resentment, and blame for varying time periods. Some people hold on to negative feelings for years after a disruption.

Skills are needed for Reconnecting

In some of these situations the disconnect is permanent and grieving the loss is an important part of accepting the disconnect. However in many of these situations there is a desire and a possibility for reconnection, but often we are unskilled in this department. Unfortunately if we have not had training through life experience to find an easy way to reaffirm the connection, we suffer even more. Both the loss of connection and the problems with reconnection have a physical as well as the emotional impact on us, i.e., STRESS.

Stress is Produced by Relationship Disruptions

There is the obvious stress of traumatic loss, but not so obvious is the stress of milder forms of disruption such as conflict or other forms of emotional or physical disconnection. In each of these situations we suffer stress from being disconnected from a person who we typically rely on to meet our relational needs. It is this aspect of the disconnect that produces a stress response.

Learning to Repair Disruptions Reduces Stress

Even small babies have a stress response when they are confronted with a non-responsive parent who does not respond to their needs. If the baby and parent can easily reconnect the stress response is moderated. With more understanding of the early origins of the stress response, i.e., what behaviors between the parent and infant produce stress and what type of responses are needed to alleviate stress, we can also learn how to diminish the stress responses caused by relationship disruptions in later life.

For more about reconnecting when you are experiencing disconnection, provides an web-based communication process to guide interactions that support reconnection and reduce stress.

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