Ask the Therapist: Jackie Paulson

Question: “I’d like some advice on the first steps towards repairing communication between my husband and I. I used to be more vocal about my needs and wants, mostly in regards to sharing household duties, but he’s become defensive over time. I have drastically reduced my requests and comments to him in order to avoid conflict. I am highly mindful of not “nagging” and so I stay silent but what this is doing is building resentment. How do I say what I need without criticizing? How do I communicate with him in a way that helps him understand what I need or want so I don’t have to keep stuffing my thoughts and feelings?” 

First, Thank you, reader, for sharing your experience with all of us. I believe many couples can relate to this experience, not only in their home with their partners, but with other people in their lives as well! Communication, both what is being said and not said in relationships, can be powerful both to the demise, as well as the success of those relationships. 

As I contemplate this question, there are numerous ways to begin exploring this common dynamic in, especially, intimate partnerships. Including; conflict management, communication styles, boundary work and codependency, the list goes on! When I further meditated on it, see it I only have a small article to work with and not an entire book (trust me, I could write that much on this one question alone!), I was able to connect with what each of these topics have in common. TRUST + INTIMACY. 

I find that most of my work these days, no matter what the scenario, swirls these two pivotal dimensions of life. It seems we all are longing to loved and to belong. I truly, do believe that this is oftentimes the motivation driving all of our behaviors whether healthy or unhealthy they may be. 

First, let’s define what it actually means to trust and to be intimate. According to the Merriam Webster Dictionary: 

Trust is an assured reliance on the character, ability, strength, or truth of someone or something; one in which confidence is placed; dependence on something in the future; it is HOPE. 

Intimacy as an adjective is described as a warm friendship developing through long association, of a very personal or private nature, marked by very close association, contact, or familiarity, INTRINSIC, ESSENTIAL, belonging to or characterizing one’s deepest nature. As a verb, it is defined as to communicate delicately and indirectly and to make known especially publicly or formally. 

What I find interesting about these definitions, specifically as it relates to the above question are the indications that to have trust means we must be able to rely on something or someone and to have hope in the future; and in being intimate, that we are communicating from our deepest nature. Trust is an essential aspect of intimacy. The work I practice most with clients involves getting to know ourselves so honestly, meaning being willing to see all that we are, especially where our own wounding and defense mechanisms have developed; so that we may move into an intimate relationship with ourselves. To be able to relate to ourselves in the deepest way possible. Only in this ability to relate to ourselves with great understanding allows us to trust ourselves to operate from a place of consciousness in our relationships with others and the world around us. Put simply, when we are awake to our own baggage, we can unpack it consciously with ourselves and our partners in real time in a way that is productive and life giving in the relationship as opposed to ineffective ways that only keep us trapped in cycles of resentment, disgust and separation from the ones who we probably love most – our partners and our selves. 

Likely, as it sounds, you as well as many of us in our relationships come to this awareness because we find ourselves stuck in this place of extreme resistance in our partnerships at home. Often times, one partner realizes that the partnership has entered into an insane cycle of expectation and disappointment leading to a dangerous spiral of contempt and stonewalling, leaving each partner feeling dissatisfied and unloved. This definitely does not describe a safe environment that involves trust and allows for intimacy. Yet, these two things are the foundation on which you must rebuild this home within the relationship between the two of you. 

What this requires may make you cringe, at first. But if you truly would like to explore the possibilities in the relationship, I invite you to SURRENDER and to move towards your partner first. This does not mean you do not have needs or boundaries. It means that you are willing to assert those feelings through the expression of conscious, healthy love. 

One person, often the one who awakens to the insanity and is suffering enough to be motivated to change it, will need to allow their heart to open when they have closed it because of many missed expectations and sore disappointments from their partner. My question to you is, are you willing to risk being disappointed again? If so, I invite you to begin practicing moving through love in your relationship. This requires the ability to forgive and to accept your partner for who he or she is or is not. This includes, grieving that the relationship isn’t all that you expected it to be. This then will require you to explore the relationship you have with your own heart. To become intimate with where your wounds are at the helm versus you deepest self – Allowing fear to drive over love. In order to soften, we need to create a SAFE place emotionally in our relationship. Through vulnerability, we can begin to re-establish a secure emotional attachment with our partner and healthy communication and boundary setting can begin. 

I believe one of the most challenging aspects of relationships is when we have been hurt over and over again, when promises have been broken or trust has been betrayed. But two people can learn to trust each other again. Consider that your partner is not the only one responsible for creating an atmosphere of safety and security in the relationship. Here are some questions you can ask yourself to begin the process of overcoming mistrust: 

– What is the story I am telling myself?

  Does my fear of loss, abandonment, betrayal cloud my perspective and cause me to overreact?  

Is my mistrust coming from something that is actually happening in the present, or is it related to my past? I

 – Do I feel comfortable asking for what I need and allowing myself to be vulnerable? Do I bring my best self to my interactions with my partner? Do I possess self-love and allow myself to be loved and respected?

We can often tell when our past wounds are taking over when we become reactive. When the above question says “our best self”, it is that part of us that is calm, centered and connected in the moment. I call this the Self with the capital “S”. Whenever we have moved into reactivity – pain is present, the Self often gets overridden by protectors within us that wants to prevent us from feeling that pain (i.e. defense mechanisms). It is in this moment, that we must first turn inward and be curious about what inside of us is really needing to be heard – by ourselves first – in that moment and then through the Self respond to our partner in the way of love, trusting that they have our best interest at heart, as we do them. 

In summary, I invite you to lean into to your own heart and be curious about what is needing to be heard and held within you right now. Practice mindfulness (being present in the moment) in order to soften the edges within your own body and mind so that you can then go toward your partner instead of away from them. If you have the desire or curiosity to see what might happen, allow yourself to open to him or her in a way that builds the foundation of trust. In my work with couples, I have found that conflict can be an incredible resource for developing deeper intimacy. It begins with creating a safe environment to connect. We learn so much about ourselves and our partners amidst conflict, that it can deepen the connection that you have with all of life. Since you have no control over another person, begin with yourself. Ask yourself; How can I do my part in mending and creating a safe environment for my partner and I to work with one another and weave love back into the equation. Stop gripping and open yourself to the process. One of my favorite quote by the author David Deida sums this up. 

“Practice surrendering not to your own fears, nor to the demands of an there, but directly to love. Do you best to feel through your own resistance…Behind all resistive emotion is the motive of love. The desire to give and receive love underlies every emotional actions and reaction, including hurt and anger….Whatever the emotion – anger, fear, closure – feel through it, breathe through it, relax through it, into the love that lies behind it. And then, actively, surrender to that love. Open AS that love. Magnify love by loving.” 

Jackie Paulson is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor and Registered 500Hour Yoga Instructor. She has over a decade of experience in the helping field and offers holistic therapies that combine an east meets west approach to therapy.  Jackie specializes in working with adults who may be experiencing a wide array of concerns; including, relationship difficulties, sexuality and intimacy, depression and anxiety, trauma, grief and loss, addiction, and other life transitions and adjustments. Her training in mindfulness based stress reduction, somatic work, existential theory and depth psychology all enhance the investment of your time in session with her.

Ultimately Jackie offers a humanistic approach and Her overall hope is to empower individuals to seek and connect into their own deep and sacred wisdom that resides within them.  Jackie believes that each person has an innate ability to heal themselves and journey through any experience with the right support.  You can sit with Jackie in her therapy office located on Historic 4th street in downtown Sioux City. She accepts BC/BS and other private pay options. 

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