“Let go of your story. You just don’t need it” – so ended our last blog
We know that often, with the help of a positive attitude, a little self-reflection and some emotional intelligence we can understand the parts of our story that are having an impact on our life and relationships and take steps to change things.
This week I’ve been reading John Humphry’s new book, ‘A Day Like Today’, in which he reveals some of the stories he had to let go of in order to be an impartial BBC journalist for over 50 years. He records a number of incidents from his childhood and says that by the time he was working as a journalist, ‘the various chips on my shoulder had been firmly welded into place’.
In one example, he recalls as a 6-year-old, returning home one lunchtime to find that his baby sister who had been admitted to hospital the day before with gastroenteritis, had died. This is not a disease that usually kills people, but she had been put in the wrong ward where no-one spotted how ill she was. In those days, his poverty-stricken parents had not been allowed to visit their daughter in hospital; if they had been middle-class, they would have been allowed to see her and would have immediately seen how ill she was.
His fathers’ anger and resentment towards the ruling classes grew stronger after this and Humphrys says he took his lead from him. At 13, he was treated by a hospital consultant who was surrounded by a posse of trainee doctors, for a cyst at the base of his spine. He was mortified and cringing with shame and embarrassment as the doctor announced ‘the trouble with this boy is that he doesn’t bathe regularly’. Humphrys says, ‘it wouldn’t have occurred to him that families like mine didn’t even have an indoor lavatory’.
Yet, at least in public, he seems to have succeeded in letting go of these difficult parts of his story.
The idea that we could all be independent individuals without the need for others used to be widespread, yet today we understand the importance of close relationships and our need to have significant others to share times of joy and challenge.
After a swim in the outdoor pool at my local gym each morning which wakes me up and focuses my mind, I spend my days supporting families with children who had difficult and traumatic early experiences.
We may talk together about the ‘Internal Working Model’, the idea that our first relationship with our main carer provides the template for all future relationships. So, if our early experiences were good, the chances of forming positive relationships in the future is strong; but if we only knew abuse, neglect, disinterest and pain these are what subconsciously, we’ll expect from our future close adult relationships.
Recently, I’ve been reading ‘Hold me Tight’ by Dr Sue Johnson which unpacks her Emotionally Focussed Therapy (EFT) . Rather than advising couples to learn how to argue better, experiment with new sexual positions or make grand romantic gestures to each other, important as these may be, she believes the way to enhance or save a relationship is to establish a secure emotional attachment.
EFT focusses on creating and strengthening the emotional bond between partners and being open, attuned and responsive to each other. You can find out more here. She believes that just as children need a secure bond with their attachment figure and a safe place to explore the world from, as adults, we need the same.
For couples who feel that they’ve reached the end of the road and believe that despite trying everything, there’s no hope, the EFT approach offers a positive way forward.
The book includes a section entitled, ‘7 Transforming Conversations’ and in the interests of research, my partner and I have just worked through these and been amazed at what they’ve revealed! It’s certainly enhanced our relationship after decades together.
The first conversation, ‘Recognising the Demon Dialogues’, revealed some real attachment themes which we can both revert to when we’re tired or stressed. We found that we really do return to the ways of coping we used when we were children!
We knew what our ‘Raw Spots’ were, which was the second conversation but taking time to identify our triggers for these and seeing that there were ‘ghosts standing behind the lover’ was illuminating.
It was helpful to spend time ‘Revisiting a Rocky Moment’ and unpacking our reactions to a specific incident (conversation 3) and then in conversation 4 – ‘Engaging and Connecting’, really thinking about what each of us needs most from the other and sharing this as we went through the various exercises.
For us, this linked into the ‘5 Love Languages‘ and it was good to revisit our different needs and remember the practical ways we can show love in the ways that mean most to our partner.
Conversation 5 focussed on ‘Forgiving Injuries’ and by then it was easy to appreciate and accept that this means understanding attachment injuries which can run very deep.
Research apparently shows that those in happy relationships, only attribute 15-20% of this to a good sex life, whereas in unhappy relationships 50-70% of the problem is blamed on sexual problems. It seems a couple’s sexual relationship is the first thing that’s affected when they’re struggling. So, conversation 6 looks at ‘Bonding through Sex and Touch’ and gives a series of practical exercises and conversations. Keeping the sexual relationship open, responsive and engaged helps to keep a couple’s emotional connection strong.
‘Keeping your Love Alive’ is the final conversation. In our busy lives there’s rarely time to take an in-depth look at ourselves and our relationships – it’s difficult enough staying on track with work, health and fitness, children, friends and all the other important things that fill our days. So, we really appreciated the opportunity to reassess our relationship and make some positive changes.
‘The Emotionally Focussed Workbook for Couples – The Two of Us’ by Veronica Kallos-Lilly and Jennifer Fitzgerald gives more practical suggestions and understanding for couples who really want to improve and enrich their relationship
Discussion / Reflection for you and your partner
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