I’m writing on a subject I’ve not addressed before because there’s a lot of suffering these days in the domain of intimate relationships.
In the last few years, I’m working more and more with couples as intimacy issues come to a head. Some believe that a cosmological shift happened in 2012 that is to credit for this, but it really doesn’t matter because the change is experienceable.
It seems that Life Itself supports less and less the repression of emotion that has dominated the human experience for thousands of years. This is the “cosmic” root, you could say, of the divisiveness and culture wars that truly have been here all along, but are suddenly foregrounded in our reality.
We’re no longer able to pretend to get along in ways that we never really have. What is inside us comes out whether we like it or not. This is making a mess, but it can be a productive one.
People are more and more trusting that what they feel to be true, must be the truth, and the decline of critical thinking accelerates. Critical thinking is no longer part of public discourse. Government officials and news outlets, which are supposed to be our sources of truth have never been more untrustworthy.
Changing society, however, is a fool’s errand because we can only change ourselves, and that’s where you come in. If you’re in an intimate relationship during this tumultuous time, you’re likely finding it chaotic.
One way of talking about the 2012 shift is that the bar has been raised for authenticity. The lessened ability to repress emotions affects women more strongly as they have more yin essence and emotion is yin.
In many women this leads to increased “flooding” where they become what they feel. These excesses trigger men who are more “successful” at repressing their emotions, especially if they were invasively made responsible for their mother’s feelings as a child, which is a common but rarely appreciated wound. It’s one of the key ingredients of the origin of the patriarchy.
The man, then, cannot tolerate the woman’s intense emotional expression (which may or may not be healthy), leading to withdrawal of love that punishes the woman for feelings she cannot help, and/or demands for self-control that she cannot yet have. This patriarchal call for emotional repression is exactly what the 2012 shift is undoing and women are increasingly, and healthily, unwilling to submit.
Women, then, understandably (but not healthily) resist that oppression, ratchet up their emotional expression to get through the patriarchal wall, and the cycle increases in intensity.
Does this sound familiar at all to you?
No one is to blame here, both sides have a responsibility and something to learn. Here’s what you can do to help this:
Stop blaming any “other” for your triggers.
No one can make you feel anything that isn’t already somewhere in you. Your intimate partner can be a trigger, but is never the “cause” of any strong emotion in you. Many fights happen when each person triggers the other, and each blames the other for the trigger, which creates a negative feedback loop (like when a mic is in front of a speaker) that quickly explodes.
If you’re in a fight with your partner, the high road is to realize you must be triggered and take responsibility for it: that inevitably must include how the situation reminded you of your childhood in some way. This takes the trigger-blame off your partner and brings it back to be between you and you.
This also invites your partner to do the same, but…
Don’t demand anything of your partner
A healthy adult relationship includes negotiation of needs and reality, but demands are the hallmark of unmet childhood needs that can’t be met inside an adult relationship. Stay on your side and trust that if you’re with the right person, they’ll come around if you do your side of the work.
Attempts to control your partner just drive them further away. If you’re not getting what you need, your job is to feel the pain of that and vulnerably share it. You also ought to consider it may not be a healthy need and be willing to talk about that. That’s the negotiation part.
Generally, what you’ll find is that the truth is somewhere in the middle. Men generally need to better feel, trust, and reveal their emotions, which is critical for intimacy, and embrace their yin through expressing what they feel instead of repressing it.
Women generally need to find space between themselves and their feelings, learning more to feel and “have” their emotions without becoming them, allowing them to take ownership of their feelings and triggers, so they no longer need the man to make things safe. They then no longer feel overwhelmed by the flood of feelings and they trust the truth will arise without having to emotionally demand it.
If both partners work their sides in this way, the trust grows; men trust their feelings and intuitions and women trust that their feelings won’t be discounted, alleviating the pressure, demand, and expectation that often leads to conflict.
This can be particularly challenging for women, because on the outside, it looks and feels like what the patriarchy has done: forced us all to ignore our feelings and intuitions, in men and women both. This makes that leap of trust that whatever they feel will be addressed and heard without becoming the feeling.
The challenge for men is they need to be heartfully present with a woman’s emotions without fusing to their own mother-projection-based fear that would cause them to caretake/fix on one side or push away on the other.
If that does happen, women need to not punish the man for it, which feeds into the inadequacy that mothers put into sons for not meeting their needs.
But if women do that, men need to feel the pain of inadequacy from childhood and not blame the woman for “making” him feel that.
You see how it works? Your gears can mesh to turn the wheel of codependence further, or you can unmesh the gears at any moment.
This is what we can learn from each other. So men: when a woman becomes her emotion and it turns your stomach and makes you want to run, stay engaged and curious. Be in awe of her ability to feel so deeply and wonder what it would be like for you to do the same. Also be curious of where in your childhood that kind of expression was scary for you. Realize the woman in front of you can’t hurt you like your mother did.
And women: when your man seems emotionally distant or you feel something in him that he doesn’t, and it “makes” you feel alone and angry, stay engaged and curious. Ask yourself why that’s so difficult for you and why you need him to feel so much. Be curious about what it would be like to be more like him and not so easily overtaken by what you feel because that’s a lesson for you. Be curious where in your childhood a man’s disconnection from his feelings hurt you, and realize this isn’t the man who did it, nor are you still a child.
This is far easier to say than to embody. It takes practice, courage, and fortitude to put these ideas into practice, but they do work. Furthermore, it usually takes working directly with a helper who’s familiar with these dynamics and help you get connected to the terrain of the triggers, so you can learn to bear the pain that lashing out at the other is designed to distract you from.
I wish it were easier. The structural fact is that our protection mechanisms act out because they guard pain. The only way to truly change is to find and feel that pain. I often use this metaphor: if you want the guard at the bank to retire, empty the vault so they have nothing left to protect.
This why vulnerability is so powerful. Vulnerability shows our protection mechanisms they’re not needed anymore and change happens by itself. But this can’t be done alone because we all begin adulthood more defended than vulnerable.
Of course I’m biased, but I think everyone ought to have a therapist. It’s a resource for your internal world. But your partner is also a resource. Try to remember that you’re both on the same team. You’re there to help each other meet in the middle. After raising children, it’s the most difficult thing in the world, but the rewards are well worth it.
For any of this to be usable, however, you have to have some sense of what you didn’t get from your parents, which is off-the-radar for most people. Almost all relationship challenges come from when we bring unmet, dependent needs inappropriately to our intimate partners, which we would only do if we had imperfect parents.
So to put these ideas into practice, you need at least a basic awareness of where your parents didn’t see and feel you, and this often requires 1-1 work with a skilled helper who can help you see what actually happened in your childhood. This is not to blame parents, who always do their best, but because their parents were limited, and so on, for generations before.
It’s a challenging time to be alive, folks. The United States (at least) is a civilization in decline. It’s observable I think, not debatable. That creates a pressure in the collective unconscious that sensitive people feel. Maybe you feel it, too. When it’s hard, I return to the idea that I must have chosen to be alive during this time, and contemplate why. What am I supposed to learn?
That’s a question for all occasions.
When the Catholic Church pushed its authority too far and the gap between the clergy/aristocracy and the commoners became unbearable, the Protestant Reformation fomented hundreds of years of revolution until the “Divine Right of Kings” gave way to democracy in the western world. The celebration of the individual gave us the art, music, philosophy, architecture, science, etc. of The Renaissance.
Now, as humans always do, we take that learning too far, and the pendulum swings to the other extreme: the individual experience above all else, what I call “extreme subjectivism.”
The good news is that individual rights and opinions have never been more important. The bad news is that too often those individual perspectives are more important than objective truth. That’s why philosophers called this the “post-truth era.”
Lying between objectivism and subjectivism is what we could call metajectivism: a healthy balance of individual perspective, which includes emotion, and the facts at hand. This would be a dance of yin and yang the world has not yet seen.
Do you want to change the world? I’m sorry, you can’t. You can only change your world. And if you’re in a relationship, learning this dance of yin and yang is your opportunity to do your part. You serve the world by serving yourself in this way.
When you need help with this, because you will, perhaps I can be of service.