Are You Avoiding Your Partner to Cope?

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Far too often do I counsel couples that use avoidance as a coping tactic in their relationships.

In fact, this phenomenon is used so often by so many couples I would almost call it the norm! It’s most often used with couples that have been together for long stretches of time and are out of sync, generally fatigued by the routine of each other. They ponder the idea of breaking up, but don’t have the energy to complicate their busy lives with all that a breakup would entail, nor do they have the enthusiasm to truly address the issues between them that could result in a happier life for them as a couple. Instead, they meet their malaise in the lazy middle, by postponing real action through avoidance. They are living through their Impostors; the masks we wear when we try to avoid pain, fear, and embarrassment.

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Ostrich problem-solving: Do you know the tale of the ostrich that thinks it’s avoiding danger by sticking its head in a hole? Humans do this figuratively all the time! There are issues that couples face that they don’t want to address because they’re too divisive or too embarrassing. Maybe they’re having issues in their sex life like impotence, porn addiction, or low libido. Maybe they have different expectations about children, alcohol, leisure time, or level of socializing. If a couple cannot discuss these intimate issues without fear of embarrassment or reprisal, they need to reflect on how they arrived at this point. The issues will still remain, standing right outside of their heads in a hole. Was there a time they could discuss these topics openly and honestly? If so, what’s changed?

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The pot always boils over somewhere: Just like matter in physics, problems don’t simply go away—they just change shape. If there are issues in the bedroom, they may continue to remain unaddressed by a couple possibly for years! But that bottled up, negative energy will rear its ugly head somewhere else in a multitude of ways like passive aggression, depression, or even cheating. A good place to start would be for couples to make a list of the things that make them unhappy about their own lives, then a separate list of things they’re unhappy about in the relationship. Couples should share the list that discusses their own personal unhappiness and hold on to the list about their partner. Now compare those lists. What did you learn? Are they more similar than you expected?

Negative reinforcement is exactly that– negative: It’s typical that a man/woman who avoids an issue will receive more attention from their partner when they pull away. This can become a pattern quickly because it reinforces poor communication habits and rewards the person who chooses to avoid discussing their issues in a direct manner. If your partner begins this type of passive aggressive behavior, do not reward him/her with attention. Tell them directly that if they’d like to speak with you about what’s on your mind you are an open door, then go about your day. You don’t have to be aggressive, mean-spirited, or condescending—just be clear and honest and you’ll see them respond to you with a level of respect that you may not have experienced for some time.

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It’s not you, it’s me: It’s most people’s tendency to want to blame their partner for the divide and lack of communication between them. Before they do that however, they should reflect the mirror back onto themselves and ask them how their Impostor(s) is contributing to the division. How do they find out what Impostors are motivating their behavior? By taking the Impostor quiz that I designed: Once they’ve discovered their Impostor, they can analyze why they’re behaving negatively and work to communicate through their Authentic Soul.

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Reconnecting: If/when you both come to the realization that you need to reset the way you communicate, begin by being as direct as possible. Sit in two chairs across from each other so that your knees are close to touching, then hold hands and look directly into each other’s eyes without speaking for five minutes. This will be difficult and uncomfortable because eyes are the windows to your Authentic Soul, and neither of you have been living your lives through them for some time.  Once the five minutes are up, talk about the feelings you were experiencing and why. This should open you up to honest conversations.

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