Changing the soundtrack in your relationship to create intimacy!



It's hard enough at the best of times to stay in good control of our reactions when our partner is saying something we may find difficult to hear.

For those of us who have had traumatic experiences in relationship - especially early in life, in families who may have not been able to meet our emotional needs, it's even harder to do this. 

Although we may not remember exactly what it was like, all of us have learned automatic responses to things others do. This is natural and inevitable - and a very efficient way to learn how things work! An example of this might be - as a little one, when I cried, my mother would tell me to stop crying and do what I was told. Over and over, I learned that crying was 'bad' and 'weak', and a sign that I was being naughty. Now, when my partner cries, I feel annoyed. In that moment I am not really there with my partner - I am having what neuroscience experts call a 'procedural memory' . Just like when I get on a bicycle and my body automatically remembes how to ride it, I am  remembering how to respond to crying. My feeling of annoyance effectively means that I cannot respond to my partner in the way she may need me to, or that the current situation demands. Afte all, she is not being 'bad' or 'naughty'. She may be crying because she needs me to comfort her after she has had a difficult experience.

Another way to think about this automatic or procedural memory ist like the soundtrack that plays when a certain scene is played out in your life. Therapists Bert Powell, Glen Cooper, Kent Hoffman and Bob Marvin (authors of "The Circle of Security Intervention") invite us to think about this like 'shark music'. Imagine you are watching a scene on television - the camera pans slowly along a sandy path going down to a beach. You hear the peaceful sounds of the Pachelbel canon. You feel happy, ready to enjoy time outside in nature. Now imagine the same scene again. This time though, the soundtrack is the theme music from 'Jaws'! You feel a sense of dread, an impending sense of doom! Better not go swimming - danger is lurking!!!

In the example above, my 'shark music' is what starts to play when I see my partner crying. It prevents me from being able to comfort her and meet her needs, in the same way that my mother was not able to comfort me and meet my needs when I was little. To change my response I need to 'change the soundtrack' - not an easy task.

Although many of us would not consider we have had a traumatic or difficult start in life, often we have had experiences where our needs were responded to with punishment or withdrawal by a parent, rather than with comfort and support. It may be important to consider what sets off your shark music in your relationship - with your kids, with your partner.

You may think about:-

What does my partner or child do that makes me feel uncomfortable or uneasy, without really knowing why?

How do I 'automatically' respond to my partner's/child's tears/anger/distress? To her need to spend separate time from me? To his need for intimacy and closeness? Do any of these activate my 'shark music'? Why?

Once we've identified those moments, it becomes possible to 'change the soundtrack' and expand our capacity to respond differently to our loved one.





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