Updated: Nov 14, 2019
Connection. Intimacy. Acceptance. Being Known. When speaking to couple’s, so often these are the words that are used to describe what they envision for their relationship. It is a core need of ours to feel attached, connected and known. And we often seek to meet that need in our romantic relationships. So if both partners want the same thing, want connection, why can it so often elude us? There are several blockers that can hinder us from experiencing the connection we desire, and cause us to turn away from our partner instead of towards.
The Expectation Blocker:
We all enter our relationships with dreams, desires and expectations. But what happens when an expectation isn’t met? What happens when things don’t go the way we had envisioned? Frequently, we can find ourselves feeling alone, disappointed and resentful when our expectations aren’t met, and when our dreams for our relationship don’t come true. But, it can be helpful to honestly evaluate our expectations and make sure they are realistic. For example: there are many times I have heard a partner say, “Well, it should have been obvious that I needed this,” or “She/he should have known that this is what I wanted.” Sometimes we can have the expectation that our partner knows us so well we shouldn’t have to tell them what we need, want or desire. They should just do it automatically. And, while that sounds very romantic, and as couples grow closer often there are times they can “just know,” this is not a realistic expectation. Our partners are not mind readers. They can only know if we communicate our needs. No matter how “obvious” it may seem to us, or how “clear” it may be, our partner is not us and has no way of seeing things the same way we do or innately knowing something just because we do. When we have unrealistic expectations, we set our self up to be disappointed over and over again. And over time we begin to devalue our partner and grow resentful.
The Assumption Blocker:
Oftentimes, we assume we know what our partner is thinking and/or the motive behind why they did or did not do something. We then react according to that assumption and often find ourselves in a pattern of conflict. Assumptions are especially detrimental because of confirmation bias. Confirmation bias is when we look for and interpret information in a way that confirms our assumptions and preconceived notions. So what does that look like in a relationship? Let’s take the kitchen trash as an example. Partner A notices that Partner B threw something away in the kitchen trash can and also notices that the trash is completely full, and perhaps even over-flowing. Partner B does not take the trash out but walks away. That is the “neutral” observation. Now there could be many reasonable explanations to why Partner B did not take the trash out at that time. Perhaps Partner B thought, “Oh, the trash is getting full, I should take it out soon,” or “Oh, the trash is full, I will make a note to myself to do it after I finish ‘X’,” or maybe even Partner B was preoccupied with something else and just didn’t notice how full the trash was. However, Partner A sees this and assumes, “of course my partner didn’t take out the trash, they are so selfish, this is typical, they expect me to do everything around here and do not appreciate everything that I already do.” That’s the assumption. Now comes the confirmation bias. Partner A begins to notices anything else around the house that that supports this assumption. There’s a glass left on the table, a towel is left on the floor, the garage light is left on, there are bags left on the floor… All of these observations are interpreted to support the assumption, and then the assumption becomes absolute truth. And a very negative one at that. We end up building a rock solid case against our partner in our mind; we become so angry and automatically pull away and/or attack. And our partner has no idea what has gone down. When we are in this place, the last thing we want is to be close to our partner.
The Differences Blocker:
When we first partner with someone, we generally love their differences. They are intriguing, interesting, and exciting. The differences can vitalize us and draw us closer, wanting to know more. However, over time, we begin to experience them very differently, especially if the difference is regarding something we feel strongly about. The differences can suddenly be experienced as irritating, threatening and just plain wrong. In general, we like our beliefs, our opinions, and our thoughts to be consistent with the world around us, especially with our spouse. When we are confronted with these differences, it creates a lot of discomfort and we automatically try to eliminate the discomfort and “correct” our environment by minimizing or dismissing the differing belief/opinion and arguing our point/opinion even stronger. This often places us in a “one up,” “one down” position against our partner, which is a killer for connection.
These are some areas that can really hinder the connection with our partner. When we find ourselves in a pattern of feeling disconnected, angry, discouraged and critical of our partner, it can be helpful to do a check-in with ourselves and see if any of these blockers are in the way of us turning towards rather than away from our partner.