Fight, Flight, Freeze or Flow

I watched Jennifer grow pale as her husband of three years—his third marriage—stonewalled her. Thirty-seven years old, vivacious and lively, she had suffered from a broken marriage once already. She hoped this marriage would go better, but, so far she had been bitterly disappointed.

“I want to believe that he won’t cheat on me like my ex-husband did, but I don’t know if I can trust him.”

Her husband Kevin, shrugged.

“I haven’t done anything wrong,” he spat defensively. “She’s comparing me to her ex and I don’t deserve that.”

“But, you don’t tell me where you’re going or when you’ll be back,” Jennifer said. “How do I know exactly what you’re doing? After all…..” he voice trailed off.

“After all, what?” I asked.

“Oh, I don’t know,” she said, looking down.

“I really don’t know,” she said again.

Jennifer looked very sad, but each time we had asked her during the Marriage Intensive if she was sad, she had denied it. She shared how her faith had helped her heal from the pain of her previous marriage, and disappointments in her current one.

Kevin was looking away as well. It seemed that both had learned how to fight, flee or freeze, but had never learned the art of flow.

Finding a New Way to Communicate

Flow:

The art of sharing feelings in a safe place, with someone who genuinely wants to know what you are feeling, and is willing to seek answers to problems together.

I noted her tendency to disappear before saying what she really wanted to say. I commented on how she seemed to withdraw into herself, only to come out fighting moments later. However, she lacked the ability to share from her core self, where she was calm, clear, compassionate and courageous.

“Kevin,” I asked, “do you encourage Jennifer to share her feelings? Do you encourage her to talk about what she needs and wants from this marriage? Do you know why she is so distrusting?”

“I have some ideas,” he said haltingly. “But, I don’t know for sure. We usually fight or withdraw from each other. We don’t often talk like we’re talking here.”

“I didn’t think so,” I said. “But, talking about your feelings and what you need from each other is the only way to real connection. How about if we practice that? I’d like to teach you more about flow.”

Learning How to Flow

First, flow can only occur when there is trust between people. Trust occurs when we are confident our mate has our best interests at heart. We know they will be faithful to us. They will never have an affair or participate in behaviors that might jeopardize our feeling of safety.

We want to tell our story. We want someone to care. Men are especially hungry for affirmation and acceptance. They seek to anesthetize their pain with drugs, alcohol, sex and work when they really want to be loved.

Next, we must explore what feelings have been neglected. Men (and women!) create a Protective Self to help keep hidden feelings hidden. Many have been told to not cry or feel sad. Many have been abandoned and neglected, and have never known true nurturing. They don’t know how to ask for or receive, true love.

Taking a Fearless Moral Inventory is critical to healing and helps men truly see and understand that living a duplicitous life, hiding parts of themselves that need to brought into the light is no way to live. “You can’t heal what you can’t feel,” a common psychological adage goes. Scripture tells us to “wash the inside of the cup, and the outside will become clean too.” (Matthew 23: 26) Taking care of his inner life would be a great beginning to having a wonderful marriage, family and work life, not to mention his relationship with God.

We know that we can have no righteousness apart from God, but with God we receive full forgiveness and acceptance. God loves all of us, even the hidden parts we’ve been ashamed to expose. Men, and women, who are willing to do the deep work of healing can find real freedom.

A Journey to Healing

Kevin left the Marriage Recovery Center with a much greater appreciation of his hidden emotions, the origins of his anger and more effective ways to communicate with his wife. Both Kevin and Jennifer had hope for their marriage for the first time in a long time, bolstered by a better understanding of how to communicate from their core selves. With these new tools, they were both ready to connect with each other in a deep and meaningful way, leaving the hurtful patterns behind.

Are you stuck in a pattern of miscommunication and lack of connection? Our team would love to help! Call us at 206.219.0145 or contact us here.