Strengths and Red Flags - Part 7
Francesca and Paul seem to be stuck, again, in a place of disconnection and pain.
Francesca is scared her connection with Paul, recently recovered, is gone again. She becomes very anxious and panics. Her way of attempting to get it back is by becoming “pushy” and “demanding” in an attempt to re-engage Paul.
Her behavior, however, does not achieve her goal. In fact, it has the opposite effect, as Paul becomes more and more disconnected from her as a means of “protecting” himself from her. The more Francesca pushes, the more he withdraws. And, of course, the more Paul withdraws, the more she pushes.
This is quite a common dysfunctional pattern in which couples get caught in trying to deal with stress in their relationships. Each person is trying to reduce their anxiety and fears, but they do it in a diametrically opposite way. Francesca needs reassurance, closeness and support from Paul to feel safe at these times of heightened stress and insecurity. Paul needs Francesca to empathize with what he is going through and not make more demands on him. Neither is getting their needs met.
Paul is drinking too much, by his own admission. Alcohol helps him regulate his emotions, albeit dysfunctionally: it calms him down; it relaxes him and, above all, it helps him to temporarily tune things out. But, of course, alcohol does not solve any problem, just adds another one.
It is not unusual for traumatic events to create wedges between partners in intimate relationships. This is so because they need each other to be a safe haven to protect them from the storms that are raging all around. But, at these times, the other person may not be emotionally and/or physically available because he or she is also being affected by the stresses and doesn’t have the energy to be attuned to the other’s needs. Francesca doesn’t seem to be aware of what Paul is going through, though intellectually she can say she “understands” his position. She is totally focused on her fears, her loneliness, her feelings of abandonment and wants Paul to make them go away. Paul is barely coping with what he needs to do. He hasn’t even started the grieving process, and keeps everything bottled up inside. This is his way of coping, hence he fights Francesca when she tries to remove this defense.
Though currently in very difficult places, Francesca and Paul still have a chance to repair the injuries to their relationship triggered, this time, by Paul’s father’s death. Relationships can withstand these kinds of challenges, as long as they get repaired, but one must remember that this current crisis sits on top of underlying conflicts between Francesca and Paul that had not been resolved as yet. It is this process of accumulation that often makes issues more challenging. Let’s hope our couple won’t feel totally overwhelmed by the weight of their problems, and will find healthy ways of processing them together.