Relationships: "I'm Open, You're Closed"By Dr. Margaret Paul
October 12, 2010
Are you in a relationship where you believe that you are open and your partner is closed? Read on!
Married for 7 years with three children, they loved each other deeply, and were both distressed when they were disconnected due to their inability to work through conflict.
"Rianna," I said in our conjoint phone session, "I'd like to hear about the issue from your point of view."
"Whenever we have a difference of opinion about something, I experience Joel getting angry and shutting down. I know I must be doing something to contribute to our communication problems, but I don't know what I'm doing. I think I'm open and caring and then I feel just awful when he closes and shuts down.
"So you think you are open and he is closed?"
"Yes, that is my experience."
"Joel, how do you see it?"
"I don't experience Rianna open at all. It feels like she is trying to control me and just have things her way. She doesn't listen to me or hear me."
"Honey," said Rianna, "I love you so much and I just want what is best for you and for us. I feel so sad when you think I'm trying to control you."
This was the dynamic that was a problem - happening right here in the moment. Having worked with couples for so many years, I'm very tuned in to intent, and it was clear to me that Rianna's intent in that moment was to talk Joel out of his feelings. Her intent to control was masked behind her soft voice.
"Joel, how are you feeling right now?"
"Frustrated. Pulled at. Manipulated. I want to shut down. She is not hearing me, not listening to me, but she is ACTING open."
"Rianna, you said you wanted to know your end of the system between you and Joel. You said you thought you were open in these conflicts, but right now you are not open. Even though your voice is soft and you are telling Joel you love him, you are explaining and defending instead of trying to understand what he is saying to you. This makes him feel pulled on and controlled. See if you can move into your heart, with curiosity about why Joel feels pulled at and controlled by you right now."
Rianna was silent for a moment. Then, from a truly open place, she said, "I just got it. I've been using my soft voice and caring words to convince him, but I haven't been trying to really understand his point of view about things. Wow, I never saw this before! I think I've been doing this our whole marriage!"
"Joel, how are you feeling right now?"
"Joel, see if you can tune into what you feel inside when Rianna doesn't hear you and tries to talk you out of your feelings."
"I feel…I don’t know what the word is. Sad."
"Do you feel lonely? Does your heart ache?"
"Yes, that's it!"
"Joel, most of us have never learned to manage these deep core feelings of loneliness and heartache. I'm sure you learned to withdraw early in your life as a way of managing these feelings."
"Yes. My mom died when I was young and I think that is when I started to shut down."
"So your challenge is to tune into the loneliness and heartache, and let Rianna know that this is what you are feeling when she tries to talk you out of your feelings. She loves you and wants to know how you feel and what she is doing that causes these feelings. Are you willing to practice speaking up rather than shutting down?"
"Yes. I really want to learn to do that. I don't feel good when I shut down."
I could feel Joel and Rianna smiling at each other, relieved to finally articulate the problem between them.
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Today, try an experiment. Focus all day on everything you are grateful for, and choose to have compassion rather than judgment for yourself and others. At the end of the day, notice how terrific you feel!
By Dr. Margaret Paul