Kristy LaRocca, LMHC
Relationship Conflict: Reaching Past the Armor
This image is a photo of a sculpture titled "Love" by the Ukrainian artist Alexander Milov. The first time I saw it it stopped me dead in my tracks. I suppose that's the purpose of great art.
Small children are pure and uncomplicated in their approach to relationships. They are open, vulnerable, and usually not very judgmental or discerning. Unfortunately, no one gets through childhood unscathed. Even for the very fortunate, there are instances of pain, anguish, confusion, rejection, etc. which all leave their imprint. As we grow into adults, we develop all kinds of creative ways to protect ourselves from future pain. We learn to anticipate it and to fear it.
Every time you enter into a relationship with another human being, you enter into a relationship with their unhealed wounds and unmet childhood needs. In moments of heated conflict with partners, our unhealed wounds become activated. Because this feels vulnerable, threatening, and unsafe, we tend to respond by either pushing the other person away with aggression or we ourselves wall up, shut down, or run away. These situations therefore leave many relationship partners within an idle standoff.
When our own fears and wounds are activated, we may tend to feel sorry for ourselves and justified in our defenses, knowing that our intentions are good and if we've shown our partner any unfavorable behavior then it's only because of the pain that life faced us with which we didn't deserve. We are just scared. We are only trying to protect ourselves.
Often we stop there... without considering that perhaps our partner is having a very similar experience. They too have endured their own share of pain throughout their life. No, their wounds don't look exactly like ours but the wounds are there. They are scared too. They too are just trying to protect themselves.
While these standoff moments in relationships can potentially deepen old wounds if handled recklessly, they also offer a great opportunity for healing, for those who approach them with consciousness, curiosity, and compassion. Doing so requires us to see beyond ourselves and also to see the vulnerable child beneath our partners armor of defenses. Yes, this is more easily said than done but if accomplished, you may experience a softening within you and more empathy for your partner. If you want more vulnerability from your partner, show more vulnerability to them. Show them the vulnerable child within you that just wants to connect, and their inner child just might reach back toward you.