Todd and Emily fought about almost everything. They argued about their work schedules and household chores. They fought about visits with their families. They clashed over paying bills, taking the dog for a walk and watching programs on television.
Todd and Emily each felt unappreciated and unrecognized in their relationship. Whenever an opportunity arose to complain about the other they grabbed it – making accusations, dismissing their partner’s efforts as inadequate, and demanding to have their way. Conflict was the name of the game.
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For a brief moment both Todd and Emily felt powerful and assertive as they scolded one another. But it was the briefest of moments.
When the shouting was over Todd and Emily felt bad. When the cold shoulder treatment took over they felt alone, and cut off from each other. All their energy spent trying to get the upper hand was used up and now they were both depleted, flattened and uncertain as to how, if ever, they were going to get the relationship back on track.
Neither of them wanted to be the first to speak.
Neither of them wanted to be the first to make up.
Emily was longing for Todd to see that she was upset and apologize to her.
Todd ached for Emily to initiate contact so he could finally express his feelings without the threat of dismissal or rejection.
The longer the tension lasted the more Todd and Emily felt wound up and anxious like a pressure cooker about to burst with a loud hiss of boiling hot scalding steam.
Both just wanted to rush to the other, hug, kiss and pretend the fight never happened. But they had to save face and hold out to test the other person’s love. They were at an impasse each waiting for the other to give in.
Waiting and hoping for capitulation was stressful. Sometimes Todd and Emily coped with the stress by becoming defensive. They didn’t want to feel or act weak, so each of them put up walls and pretended not to care, not to need the other, not to want to be back in the warmth of intimacy.
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When Todd and Emily put their defensive walls up and pretended to be fine - all alone and disconnected, they held onto their bad feelings as suits of armor. After all if they allowed themselves to feel soft feelings for their partner that would make them weak and needy. So those bad feelings of anger, resentment and stubbornness persisted. Those bad feelings triggered a slew of stress hormones into their blood stream making them even more anxious and stressed.
At other times Todd or Emily would shut down after a fight. They would make themselves invisible and lick their emotional wounds. Their shut down modes made them feel isolated but safe from any more impending attacks from one another – you know the ones where everything from the past gets dredged up and heaped onto the current fight.