I Want You Close...So Watch Me Push You Away
If you took Psychology 101 in college, you likely heard about an experiment in which a researcher studied baby monkeys--would they choose to be with a wire "mother" who gave them food and water or a cloth "mother" who gave them comfort?
What they found is that, despite needing food and water, they always chose the cloth "mother" who gave them comfort!
From this and other research we learned that emotional comfort and connection is a primal human need--sometimes even on par with food and water.
What does this mean for conflict? Interestingly enough, it's everything. Remember that emotional connection our baby monkeys were looking for? Well, humans look for it too--in adulthood, we usually find it in our mate.
But, then what happens when that emotional connection is threatened? To use our monkey analogy - we go bananas!
Here's what I try to help my couples understand during our sessions: When we suspect the emotional connection with our mate is threatened or disconnecting, we "protest," usually by picking fights, criticizing, or demanding things. But, that behavior actually PUSHES our mate away and forces him/her to get defensive. Who wants to be married to someone who's always criticizing?
What we often fail to realize is that our partner actually wants to be close again - but doesn't know how to say it.
So, it's as if he/she is saying, "I want you close...so watch me push you away."
When a couple comes in with conflict, it's nearly always this dynamic at play - which makes our sessions quite emotional and explosive. But, when they "get it," the closeness the couple feels is well worth the struggle.