We started 2015 with the 4 R’s - Rupture, Regression, Repair and Resolution - a useful, easy-to-remember model developed to help address internal and interpersonal upsets.
Rupture and Regression are reactive unconscious responses that expose what’s really going on when upsets occur. The January post presented a Rupture between Barb and Tim that marked the onset of their couple’s therapy. The February post focused on the spontaneous messy feelings of Regression that threatened Tim and Barb’s marriage.
Repair and Resolution are proactive conscious choices that support relationship health. The March post followed Tim and Barb in the work of Repair to promote awareness and trust, as they willingly explored their vulnerabilities revealed by their regressive feelings. Now, with April’s post, we continue with Barb and Tim in work of Resolution.
Significant themes have been emerging for Tim and Barb throughout the 4 R’s. In their Rupture, abandonment and rejection were evident. In Regression, shame and powerlessness arose. And in Repair, awareness and trust grew. Now in Resolution, achieving acceptance will generate new possibilities. Resolution is the fourth and final step of the 4 R’s; and this is the final post about Barb and Tim’s healing journey.
As we begin the work of Resolution with Tim and Barb, they are in a better place with each other, even though their weakest links of mutual reactivity, insensitivity, and defensiveness still show up when they get cranky. These core behaviors will most likely continue to play out between them, to a greater or lesser degree, one way or another. The difference for them now is that they take time to resolve issues rather than avoid them or painfully act them out. Their Sunday “dates” have evolved into times of comfortable connection. They like the feeling of belonging with each other as they enjoy both special and everyday activities.
You may recall that Tim and Barb were taking steps to support Barb’s desire for a career change. As Barb eagerly organized her transcripts and registered to go back to school, her enthusiasm provided the needed distraction from the challenges she was experiencing at work. When the time came for Barb to quit her job, however, Tim blurted out that she couldn’t stop working to go to school. His abrupt announcement was disorienting and she withdrew into herself. Later she attempted to connect with Tim to let him know that her disappointment left her feeling empty. When he apologized for cutting off from her, thinking she had been angry with him, Barb realized she hadn’t been aware he had disconnected. She wanted Tim to know how grateful she was that he showed up, even though his approach was difficult for her. She assured him, “when I get quiet, it isn’t meant to punish you. I was working really hard to make sense of everything; but when I forgot to come back to you, it wasn’t fair to either of us. When we don’t share our thoughts and feelings, we can’t get to the positive outcomes of working together.”
Talking together like this gave them a chance to share the difficult thoughts and feelings each had endured alone. Tim let Barb know he was really disappointed in himself for re-playing his defensive stuck patterns of getting moody, blaming and cutting off. He owned his anger at Barb for wanting more than he could provide and with himself for taking on more than he could handle. He acknowledged his fear of failure and his tendency to avoid challenging situations. He was glad he finally admitted he couldn’t make it work even though he wished he could have. Barb shared how unsettled she felt by her belief that he would figure out a way to make it work when typically she wouldn’t trust anyone to show up for her. Tim wondered if maybe Barb liked the idea of letting herself need him. She appreciated this perspective and readily acknowledged how not believing in him isn’t warranted. Barb wanted Tim to understand that if quitting her job and going to school wasn’t going to work for him, it really wouldn’t have worked out for her either. They liked how they worked together through this setback and agreed that when and if school for Barb was going to occur, it would be in a way that supported success for them both. Barb and Tim’s evolution into this level of maturity marked a significant change from where they were when they started couple’s therapy. They liked feeling good about their commitment to their work together and were pleased they now use words to express their concerns and their caring for each other.
In the work of the 4 R’s with Barb and Tim, it was clear from the beginning they didn’t know how to sustain an ongoing secure connection with each other beyond their marriage vows. Each had a variety of primitive defenses they inflicted on themselves and each other. Their need for self-protection from vulnerable feelings took a toll on the well-being of their relationship. Tim’s commitment to stop drinking was instrumental in their healing work together. They both showed courage as they went through the painful times of anguish and despair in Rupture and Regression. The time and effort they gave to each other in Repair helped them realize how opting out of being in relationship, by choosing isolation within the dysfunctional triangle’s alienating “victim/persecutor/rescuer” behaviors, actually reinforced their feelings of shame and insecurity. It was heartening when they were able to offer each other compassion for the emotional injuries they each suffered as children.
In the work of Resolution, we observed Barb and Tim connect with each other verbally about their difficult feelings, modify their reactive behaviors, and reconnect more easily. In the months ahead, Tim and Barb’s developing emotional maturity supported them when Tim was devastated by grief with the deaths of family loved ones. He was able to openly share his sorrow with Barb and accept her comfort. Barb’s work situation improved and she was glad to feel valued in a rewarding job. As Tim and Barb reflected on the hard work they accomplished in couple’s therapy, they were proud of their efforts and happy to feel securely connected and fully engaged with each other in their marriage.
Creating new habits requires focused attention on the weakest links of one’s deepest vulnerabilities in order to break out of unconscious, reactive, and regressive behaviors. A willingness to tolerate the temporary discomfort of recurring regressive feelings in Rupture and Regression helps to tame defensive reactions. The key emotional muscles needed to build secure connections are: humility, compassion (for oneself and others), dedication (to staying connected to oneself and another), and communication (by openly sharing one’s feelings with words). The work of becoming conscious about one’s deepest fears and choosing proactive habits during Repair builds trust. Fostering acceptance and the 4 R’s of relationship regulation in Resolution provide a stable foundation for healthy choices, conscious connections, and productive outcomes that can occur in as many ways as there are couples, relationships, individuals, families and friendships.
Using the 4 R’s as an ongoing self-assessment tool is particularly helpful when one is struggling with “shoulds” and difficult feelings. They are a good resource for smoothing out awkward moments with friends, co-workers and family members. Engaging the guidance and support of a psychotherapist and/or a psychotherapy group can provide helpful support on your journey toward acceptance.
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