I was on a first date at the zoo in my twenties when I lived in San Diego. We came upon the giraffes and it was mating season. I learned up close and personal how certain females in the animal kingdom set the timing for mating behaviors. They sit down.
Now that’s control, I thought.
However, it works both ways. Depending on the species, it’s not always the females who want less, or, want that kind of control of the frequency and timing for sex. Sometimes he has a headache. In all couples, with all gender combinations, there’s always Yin Yang dynamics at play. It can flip flop, change with the seasons, and surprise us at times, especially with humans.
And then there are the other realms of relationship transactions, interactions and exchanges. Currencies other than mating behaviors. Connection vs. independence in many forms is the main dynamic to be navigated between partners.
Relationship is a rich field of negotiations, boundaries, demands and expectations. When we’re conscious, there’s clarity and cooperation in requests made and needs met. When we’re not, there’s an excess of emotional stress and pain.
The person who wants less – sex, touch, talking, togetherness, eye contact, etc. – tends to control the amounts in which those things occur in the relationship. When patterns emerge around connection vs. separation, it’s usually the same person at the switchboard, keeping the level of togetherness from getting too high in intensity or frequency in order to maintain their own comfort level of separateness.
This is the more silent, invisible reactivity. It comes from a feared sense of Engulfment.
This minimizing behavior drives the other person crazy – the one who tends to want more – sex, touch, talking, togetherness, eye contact, etc. When prolonged, this pattern will transcend frustration inside the other, who experiences themselves as victimized by not being at the controls, unable to be efficacious in getting their needs for togetherness met, and leads to chronic irritation, stress, anger – sometimes rage – sadness and even despair.
This is louder, more obvious reactivity. It comes from a feared sense of Exclusion, or Abandonment.
From the place of trigger in both people, the acting out behaviors spark ever-increasing conflict and more pain in the relational system. Underneath it all is a push-pull power struggle to meet needs.
This is the Core Scene, and when couples learn to identify in their repeated conflict behaviors, they can begin to catch it and nip it in the bud, stopping the quick slide into reflex reactions that always lead to unhappy episodes, eroding the bond.
The one who wants less can learn to make clear and direct requests for alone or quiet time, to set boundaries in order to avoid being reactively overwhelmed by over-stimulation. The one who wants more can learn to make clear and direct requests for connection, to knock before entering the other’s head space in order avoid being experienced as an overwhelming, unsafe presence, triggering a push-back reflex, and then being reactively overwhelmed by feeling hurt, unseen or forgotten.
Conscious communication, which includes profound acceptance of the reality of the Core Scene, creates the path of healing the remnants of unfinished business from childhood sparked by behaviors in one’s partner in the present.
Examples of Conscious Communication:
- Imago Dialogue
- Non Violent Communication (NVC)
- Gottman Method Repair Tools
- HeartMind Communication Jewels
These tools can be learned fairly quickly through a training process. They are simple, yet make profound shifts in the way we experience our partners, ourselves, and our relationships.