Avoiding Your Feelings by Focusing on Your PartnerBy Dr. Margaret Paul
November 23, 2009
Addictions can take many forms. One fairly common yet subtle form is to start a conversation to get your partner involved with you so that you don't have to feel and take responsibility for your feelings.
Leon often struggled with feeling empty inside. Inner emptiness is a symptom of a lack of love inside, and Leon frequently created this inner lack of love with his self-judgments and staying in his head - ignoring his feelings. Sometimes he would fill the emptiness with food, work or TV. But other times he would act out addictively by bringing up issues - generally the same issues over and over - with his wife Susan.
The major issue he focused on was how they spent money. He would start the conversation by stating, "We really need to talk about the money situation." Susan would feel a knot in her stomach, knowing that Leon was aching for an endless discussion about money that would likely end in a fight and distance. She felt like she was in a no-win: if she talked about money, it would go on for hours and end in anger. If she didn't, she would be accused of withdrawing and running away from problems. There seemed to be no good way out for Susan.
Eventually, Susan learned to trust her feelings and say to Leon, "I will be happy to talk with you about anything when you are open, but right now your energy feels closed. Let me know when you are feeling really great and then we can talk about it." Not surprisingly, Leon never approaches her to talk about money when he is feeling good!
Carole periodically says to Rick, "We need to talk about our lack of communication." Rick immediately knows that Carole is feeling badly and is trying to feel better by getting in to a long and drawn-out conversation about their lack of communication. If he engages, he ends up angry. If he doesn't, he gets blamed for not communicating. Rick has learned to disengage just as Susan has, saying, "I'd love to communicate with you about anything when you are open, but right now my experience of you is that you are angry, and we are not going to get anywhere. Let me know when you are feeling good and then we can talk about anything you want." Again, when Carole is feeling happy, she never brings up their lack of communication!
The subject can be anything - child raising, how time is spend, how much TV kids watch, health, nutrition, how clean or dirty the house is, chores that need to be done. It is not that these things don't need to be discussed - they often do. But there is a huge difference between approaching your partner from a true desire to learn and resolve issues, or a desire to avoid your anxiety, emptiness, loneliness, heartache, or helplessness.
If you are the partner at the other end of what may feel like an attack - even though it is couched as a question or a statement of wanting to talk - your best bet is to trust your stomach! If your stomach gets tight when your partner comes to you to talk, trust it. Learn to take loving care of yourself by refusing to talk when you are picking up your partner's needy, abandoned, or angry energy. Recognize that your partner is acting out addictively to avoid responsibility for his or her own feelings, and that trying to talk will only create more conflict.
However, it is most important when you disengage, that you do not withdraw your love. It might even be helpful if you give your partner a sincere hug, coming from your compassion at knowing that your partner is hurting. Let your partner know that when he or she is open to learning, you will be there - to talk about an issue or to be of help with whatever your partner is feeling.
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Pain and joy are in the same place in the heart. You cannot put a lid on pain without putting a lid on your joy as well. Are you opting for the flatness of the illusion of safety, or are you willing to experience both the lows and the highs of life? Today, cry and laugh with your whole heart.
By Dr. Margaret Paul