"They Just Don't Get Me!!" - Rupture and Repair in Relationships
Different Responses to Stress
One of the most powerful and useful things that I ever learnt about myself is that in times of stress, worry or overwhelm, my nervous system goes into overdrive. I respond by moving into a 'Fight or Flight' state of nervous energy, this means that my body releases hormones that mobilise me, I need to DO something. In these moments of high stress, being passive isn't an option.
Sometimes this energy that courses through my body makes me want to scream, sometimes I want to cry, or even throw things. There are times when I want to talk all night about a problem. Other times I want to do something practical in the moment to solve the problem. It can make me impulsive, and in this fight or flight nervous system state, rational thinking isn't always possible.
In comparison, my partner is somebody who has a higher tolerance to stress than me, but when overwhelm does hit him, his nervous system goes into a 'Shutdown' state. For him, everything slows down. He needs time to think about things, he is far from impulsive or energised in these moments. He is quiet. He doesn't speak, he goes into himself. Sometimes he 'hides' in a separate room, other times he watches videos or plays computer games. In these moments, it feels like he's lost to me.
How these Differences can create Ruptures in Relationships
I asked my husband for permission to share this about him, about us, and how it has created challenges in our relationship over the years.
For me there have been times when I've felt very alone. I've felt frustrated at his lack of energy to fight or resolve a situation. However, now that I realise that he and I process stress differently, I am able to imagine how difficult it must have been for him over the years when I scream and demand action! I can acknowledge that this simply added to his stress and made him shutdown more.
I can imagine that he witnessed me running around, trying to fix things in such a heightened emotional state with complete confusion, especially when my solutions weren't helpful! Little did he know that simply doing something was all that I needed!
Knowledge is Power
Now that I know that I tend towards this active, sometimes quite angry energy at times of stress, I can manage it better. Knowing that my partner responds differently to stress has also allowed me to understand his responses better too. It's easier for me not to take his apparent apathy personally. It isn't apathy, and it isn't about me at all, it's how he copes.
Having this insight has helped me to understand these ruptures in our relationship as differences in coping. However, this doesn't stop me from being frustrated. It doesn't mean that I don't shout, that I don't lose my temper, that I don't get frustrated with my partner. But it does mean that I can recognise this energy, and direct it elsewhere. I can go for a walk or a run, I can tidy the kitchen, I can DO something with the energy. I don't have to direct it at my partner. I no longer think that I'm right and he's wrong, we are just different.
A rupture in a relationships happens when we take out our frustrations on those that we love. This is inevitable, after all, they are the people that we turn to when we are hurting. We all do it sometimes. We are human. But what is important to remember is that these ruptures can be repaired. We can apologise, we can go back to our partners, our parents, our children and explain to them that we are sorry, we can explain that it wasn't about them, it was about our own frustration.
The ruptures in relationship are less important than the repairs. When we have too many ruptures which go unrepaired, relationships flounder. As individuals we don't feel seen or understood, we feel accused and blamed.
Going to relationship counselling can really help you to understand each other better. It can help you to repair some of those inevitable ruptures before they become unmanageable. It's not a magic wand. It won't change your natural response to stress over night, but it might just allow you to see things more clearly, to own what's yours and to find a way forward.