Drift away

I came across a quote by Khalil Gibran today that said, ‘Between what is said and not meant, and what is meant and not said, most of love is lost.’ I found this to be so profound and true and it made me realise how so many relationships that start at a great connection fall apart because of poor communication skills that lead to an emotional and physical disconnect. Some relationships suffer because of concrete issues like abuse, cheating, family issues, and so on, but some are such where the foundation was strong at one point in time but then, over a passage of time; both partners caused injuries to the relationship between their subjective perception and the ground reality; rooted in poor communication skills and primary relational dynamics which means that people continue to act how they behaved in their earlier relationships and do not change with the change.
When I started couple therapy, what stood out for me was how poorly two people who are tied in such an intimate relationship miscommunicate, leading to misunderstandings, and slowly and gradually; little pockets of hurt start accumulating in the relationship until they cannot contain the pain. Assumption is one of the key ingredients for the recipe of a disastrous relationship where one partner starts making his or her meaning of whatever is a point of conflict and rather than asking simply chooses to assume.
Let’s understand what makes one assume though. The most important element is people projecting what they have learned in their previous significant relationships. For example; someone who has a critical parent will blindly read authentic feedback as criticism too and their defences will be up; waiting and expecting and assuming to be attacked. This will lead to the other partner feeling unsafe and misunderstood, and from one argument to another, so much is lost in translation, making the relationship unsafe.
If a person has awareness of their past causing chaos and confusion in their present relationships, then they need to practice clean communication and it’s simpler than one imagines it to be. If you feel triggered by something that the other has said, share what you are feeling and what you understood from what was said. And then, the responsibility lies with the other person to allow the space for their partner to share how they are triggered and express the underlying emotions. To not be defensive and take it personally but understand that it’s the history enacting itself in the present. Ask. Express. Don’t assume. This will make the relationship safe. Holding it in, in the name of ‘I can tolerate this’ leads to building a tower of relationship injuries brick by brick, where people start drifting away and that eventually leads to a disastrous relationship.
Being intimate in a relationship does not entail sex alone. Intimacy means a space where two people feel seen; can fully experience, hear and understand each other and that’s what makes a relationship physically and sexually intimate; almost like taking and surrendering to the other person fully.
Falling in love is an occurrence; a moment; that needs to be nurtured and nourished with mindful attention and care and a willingness to stand true to the ‘I’ in the relationship but work towards the ‘us’. Love is not a starting point but a destination and something we keep arriving at throughout our lives. I believe people can fall in love with the same person again and again.
So, if you are in a relationship that was strong at one time, and there are no real issues but both of you are stuck in repeated negative cycles of mistrust and misunderstanding, then stop and practice and learn how to ask and not assume with any random argument and change the negative cycle to a positive functional one, and stop each other from drifting away before it’s too late.

The writer is a BACP (British Association For Counselling and Psychotherapy) accredited individual and couple psychotherapist based in Islamabad. She can be reached at zaramaqbool@yahoo.com or her official website.

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