Someone recently asked me what it means to "let people in". We often hear people talk about how they "put up walls" and "won't let others in". Never do I hear this more than in counselling sessions with couples. One partner gets frustrated because "he won't let me in - i want to have meaningful conversations, but we never get past surface topics". The other partner feels this onslaught of emotion coming at him that he doesn't know what to do with, so he "puts up a wall" to keep the hurricane at bay. This happens when emotional safety and deep connection are lacking in a relationship. It can be dangerous territory to put yourself out there and take a risk with your partner when your past experience tells you that you'll get hurt if you do that.
What does it really mean to let people in?
It means being vulnerable. Allowing yourself to rely on others. Taking the chance that someone will actually come through for you rather than letting you down. Letting someone help you. Sharing about something you're struggling with. Sharing your dreams for the future. When we do this, what we hope for in return is to feel validated, to hear "I'm with you. This is a hard thing, but we're going to do it together. I've got your back. I will catch you if you fall." This is the essence of a relationship in which partners feel deeply connected.
When you feel shut out by your partner
Take some time to reflect on what is going on when your partner shuts down. Is it about the same thing every time? Is it during the heat of an argument? What happens just before s/he does this? Reflect on what you were doing and how you were feeling just before the wall came up. We all have patterns in our relationships that often end up leaving us feeling isolated from each other. If we can identify the pattern, and the things we each do that triggers each other, we can stop the pattern in its tracks and try something different.
If you know that your partner shuts down as soon as you start venting about your frustrating day with the kids, consider how your approach is impacting him. How would an outsider see this interaction? How did you trigger each other in that moment? Instead of continuing to push to try to get a reaction, consider something different. Say, "It looks like we're doing this thing, where I'm upset about my long day with the kids, and I just want to talk to another adult when you come home. But when I start talking, you look like you want to run away. Maybe I'm coming across as angry?" Give your partner an opportunity to respond, and don't jump to conclusion about some underlying meaning (there likely isn't an underlying meaning!) Be open to listening to what he has to say, and be willing to take an honest look at yourself. It will be worth it!
When you want to run and hide from the onslaught
You're the one who sees the tornado coming, and so you look away, find a reason to leave the house, come home from work late... You'll do just about anything to avoid the confrontation that happens the moment you walk in the door. Take a moment and reflect on what that brings up for you. What do you feel deep inside when you're being asked why you came home late once again. What message are you receiving? You might feel angry or frustrated, which are surface emotions. But deeper down, you might feel like you just can't do anything right. You feel like a failure. So why come home on time when this is the message you're receiving. Take a moment to think about what messages your partner might be receiving from you when you work late instead of coming home. Open up a dialogue about it. Say, "I can see that you get really frustrated when I come home late. What does it mean to you when I come home late? What is it about me coming home that is a trigger for you? How can I help you with that?" Let her talk about how this makes her feel. Really listen, and be open to taking an honest look at yourself. It will be worth it!
When lovers feel disconnected from each other, our attachment radar is on high-alert. We are looking for ways to connect, but keep missing each other. One person pushes, the other retreats. Both are doing this to try and find safety, a sense of reassurance that the other is still there. It's a risk to let someone in, but give it a try. It will be worth it!
If you need help starting the conversation, contact me today to schedule an appointment.