What does it mean to you to know that your partner “has your back?” Many clients look at me sideways when I ask this question. But by the look in their eye, I can tell that in that this means something to them.
They may respond with, “I know he has my back when he’s present and engaged emotionally.” Or “when he is with me and really listening to what I am saying.” Or “I know she has my back when she is willing to hear what I really think and feel.” Or “when she can be with me in my pain or confusion without needing me to have it all figured out.”
This sense of partner “having your back” is about emotional safety and security especially in times of distress. When this “secure base” is threatened, for example, when one partner can not tolerate the emotional expression of the other, things can really turn ugly.
This is a common but confusing situation for couples. When the sense of security is threatened in this very important relationship, partners resort to either a “fight” or a “flight” response. This reactive position is about personal survival, not necessarily, trying to understand the situation or even considering our partner. These “fight” or “flight” behaviours DO NOT produce the sense of security the receiving partner is looking for.
It is helpful to have a third party view on this situation to return to a level of emotional security that allows partners to “be there” for each other. Without this objective view it is difficult to resolve the situation. The more it is repeated the harder it is to change. Couples start to believe there is something wrong with the relationship. This adds to their feelings of insecurity and the cycle continues.
Every couple will have some form of this cycle – it’s normal – not pleasant, but normal. Taking steps to understand your cycle and learning how to reconnect with your partner and creating a “new normal” is what couples counselling is all about.
Elizabeth Lacey specializes in Women’s Emotional Health Counselling with in-person, phone, online and Walk & Talk Therapy Sessions.