What’s in This for Me?
Probably the most common response I hear when I tell people I’m a marriage therapist is “How do you deal with people screaming at each other? I could never do that.” I get that. It’s tough listening to that level of upset and distress. However, the couple who is yelling is not the most difficult to work with.
The most difficult couple is, IMO, the couple that physically comes to therapy together, but emotionally aren’t there together. One person is there with a question on their mind:
What’s in this for Me?
What’s hard about this question is that, in some ways, it’s a legit question. Insults have been hurled, infidelities may have occurred, trust and emotional connections have been battered. The relationship has been damaged by moment after moment of people intentionally hurting one another to mask their own pain, seeking comfort by numbing the distress through infidelity or addictive behaviors, or emotionally/mentally checking out of the relationship to withdraw into their own world to start exploring other life and relationship options.
That’s where my work begins.
What’s in this for Me? is rarely said out loud. It’s spoken in other ways: a roll of the eyes, a loud sigh, defensive tone, arms crossed, or body turned away. All manners of protesting against taking any responsibility for the turmoil in the relationship. Sometimes it’s spoken through soft pleas for compromise; expressions of needing to feel loved, wanted, chosen; or silent tears from the ocean of pain that has formed.
It’s the motivation behind the question that makes the difference. Try asking yourself this question instead:
What’s My Motivation for asking What’s in this for Me?
*I’m asking because I don’t feel the emotional safety and stability I need in the relationship. My anxiety is WAY TOO HIGH and I need it to come down NOW. I say hurtful things and make threats to end the relationship if the specific change(s) I want aren’t made. That’s seeking emotional safety through attempting to manipulate the behavior of the other person to lower anxiety and feel in control again.
*I’m asking because I truly want to know if change is possible and need this information in order to make decisions about what moving forward would look like. That’s seeking emotional safety through deepening understanding about what the couple can do together to work towards what is best for the relationship.
Either motivation for asking will end the anxiety. Here’s how:
*Ending the relationship because you are only interested in getting your needs met to lessen your anxiety is the quick way. It works in the short term. It works until you hit this same point in your next relationship and still can’t solve the problem because you haven’t learned how to work through it.
*Staying with the relationship and both people giving therapy 100% effort is the long-term way. I won’t kid you- it’s hard. Your anxiety doesn’t go away quickly. This way requires self-reflection, owning your stuff in how you contribute to the negativity in the relationship, vulnerability, and a willingness to be curious about the other person’s needs and compromise. Yep, it’s hard and takes time.
So, what’s in it for you? A deeper, more meaningful understanding of yourself and the person you chose to do life with. A connection rooted in the strength of being vulnerable and accepted as imperfect and still loved. Relationship wants and needs influenced by the soul of one another. Behaviors and decisions grounded in trust and commitment and working towards the best in the relationship.
And maybe, in the end, the emotionally safe and loving relationship that nurtures your soul.
Embrace your best self! Anne