All relationships can be very difficult at times. They can bring struggles, emotional pain and disappointments. But they can also bring great joy, comfort, excitement and can be a source of encouragement and peace. We can’t avoid relationships because we constantly interact with people, whether they be our parents, siblings, friends, significant others, or colleagues. But how do we overcome the difficult times in our relationships – those times of struggle and emotional pain. The answer is both simple and complex at the same time. It is to “Stay Connected.”
Staying connected does not mean that you should stick around if your partner is abusing you or taking advantage of you. Staying connected means that if you want joy and happiness from any relationship, you must be willing to stay connected to get there. When relationships become difficult, one of the first things we say to ourselves is “I don’t need him”, or, “why am I with her?” “Why was I born into this family”, or “I just won’t call my siblings this week because they are getting on my nerves.” We use distance as a pacifier for pain, hurt, fear or anything else that we don’t like. But what we fail to realize is that distance cannot heal or help you to work out the situation, and will not allow you to develop new understanding within the relationship. Creating distance may feel good, may feel safe, but in the long-run it damages your relationship.
We say that we want the benefits of relationship. We desire close relationships with our mother or with our brother, but are we really willing to work for it? Often we are not willing to work through the difficulties, and in our effort to find an easy way out, we choose distance. Now, choosing distance is completely human. Our natural human process of fight or flight is what we use in emotional situations. As humans, we biologically assess situations that increase our anxiety or fear, and are usually faced with two options: Stay Connected and fight through it, or turn to what we think is safety and run away.
So let me explain what “staying connected” really means. Difficulty in a relationship of any kind can bring heaviness. Sometimes, you can get into an argument or dispute with someone over petty things, like disagreeing over the meaning of one particular word. As you continue to argue, however, you may realize that you are both trying to say the same thing but describing it differently. And, as you both try to explain your side, you start to take what the other person is saying personally. You then become offended or hurt and try to defend yourself. One word – one disagreement – just took you through a roller coaster of emotions. At that moment, you are left with a choice. You can press your way through and try to come to an understanding, or you can give up and leave it unresolved. Unfortunately, we often give up and leave the matter unresolved, saying to ourselves, “I don’t feel like going through it right now,” or “she always wants to talk, why can’t we leave it alone” or “he never listens to me, so why bother?”
It is through these crucial moments that it is imperative that we stay connected (and I do realize this is easier said than done). Yes, staying connected could possibly mean a half-hour conversation. Staying connected could mean arguing or debating before you reach an agreement or understanding. Staying connected takes practice, growth, willingness to press on, and ever-increasing communication skills. And I can promise you – it is worth it in the long run. Staying connected is hard and sometimes contrary to our human process and natural defenses. But it can be done.
When we stay connected, we resolve issues now instead of never. We work out the recurring problem with our parents, siblings, friends, and partners, instead of allowing it to become overbearing. We tear down the walls that surround our hearts, instead of building new walls to keep the people we love away.
George James, Jr., is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist who works extensively with adolescent and adult men on various issues. He also specializes in helping couples improve the quality of their relationship, reconcile conflicts and overcome intense situations such as affairs, parenting struggles and loss of a loved one. Mr. James’ clinical expertise includes religion/spirituality concerns, affairs, sex therapy, improving communication in relationships, vulnerability, conflict, loss/grief and enhancing intimacy. He is a member of the American Psychological Association, American Public Health Association, American Association of Christian Counselors and the Philadelphia Association of Clinical Psychologists.
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