BY RUTH L. SCHWARTZ, Ph.D.
We are both in our late 30’s. We dated for a few months about two years ago, and then reconnected last year. I am very much in love with her and have never been more willing to do the work, more eager to learn, more vulnerable. I am devastated by our steady decline. I struggle with PEP, and she struggles with PAP. We trigger each other quite a bit in different ways. There are major trust issues and we bicker constantly.
We just started therapy because we realized that we just don’t have the tools to communicate effectively and lovingly on our own and neither one of wants to walk away. We both want to succeed in this and to be in a happy and healthy relationship with one another. Is it too late? Has too much damage already been done? Do you have any tips on trust building?
– J.G. in Los Angeles
Thank you for your heartfelt message. I can really feel both your pain, and the depth of your desire for happy, healthy love. I’m so glad to hear that both you and your partner are open to couples therapy — that’s a very good sign! And it’s also great that you can clearly see your own PAP and her PEP. It’s so helpful to be able to recognize and name these things. (Readers who don’t yet know about PAP and PEP, check out our Video #2 )
So, I’d say you have a lot of positive things going for you. But, it sounds like you have a hard time in the day-to-day with what you describe as the “constant bickering.” I agree with you, that’s a major cause for concern, because it’s almost impossible to build intimacy and trust in an atmosphere of constant bickering. I don’t know exactly what your bickering involves, but in general, bickering emerges from people blaming or criticizing each other. Of course that originates with some place inside of you that feels hurt, disappointed, scared, unseen, unheard, or perhaps blamed and criticized yourself. But, the problem is that by responding to those feelings in a bickering manner, you’re creating a vicious cycle, a negative momentum, which it sounds like you’re well aware of, since it shows up as the steady decline you mention.
1. Commit yourself to stopping the bickering. Right now. Immediately. It takes two to bicker, so if you stop doing it on your end, the pattern between the two of you WILL transform.
2. Use the SCORE Process, which we go into in detail in Video 1, and also in the eBook available from our website (just go to www.consciousgirlfriend.com, enter your email address and you’ll get an email with the link, so you can download it). When you follow the SCORE steps, you can learn a lot more about whichever feelings are behind your own part of the habitual bickering, look into them more deeply, recognize their origins in other times and places in your life, and take responsibility for them.
3. Once you do that, you won’t have to bicker any more. As you SCORE, you can move from experiencing your feelings as anger, frustration, disappointment, etc. with your partner, to seeing the real, deeper, older source of the anger, frustration, disappointment, fear or hurt in yourself. Then you can work with those feelings on your own, or with the help of a therapist or healer, and when the time is right, you can share them with your partner as part of the process that you are working through. This will help you get to a much deeper level of connection.
4. The way to build trust and intimacy is by doing the opposite of criticizing and blaming: pouring out a lot of acceptance and appreciation toward both yourself and your partner. Obviously each of you is doing a lot of hard work to hang in there despite all the triggers. So there is plenty to appreciate there!
Acknowledge and thank your partner for everything you possibly can, as often as you possibly can. And acknowledge and thank yourself, too, and appreciate yourself, for how hard it may feel to do that… and for doing it anyway.
5. If your partner is on board to try to follow this same program (SCORE and accepting/appreciating) then so much the better. It will certainly be even more powerful if both of you are taking on these new ways of being. But, even if she isn’t up for it, you have a lot of power. Your own withdrawal from the bickering and negative-emotion cycle will make a huge difference.
I know this can feel really challenging. For some of us, taking full self-responsibility for our feelings can at first feel like “giving up,” “giving in,” making ourselves into doormats, resigning ourselves to never getting what we want, etc. It can feel that way if we’re used to being in power-struggle mode, and are holding a default belief that the only way we can possibly have what we want is to try to exert it from our partners by force. I speak from experience — I’ve been there! Again, do read the eBook, where I detail my journey from being a blaming, power-struggling partner who felt chronically emotionally deprived, to being a self-responsible partner in a joyful relationship. You can do it too, I promise. But it does start with making the commitment to SCOREing with your own feelings.
I hope this helps!
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