Flipped

Posted on July 16, 2012

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One of my favorite films of the last few years is a little known coming of age story titled, “Flipped.”  It is the story of Bryce and Juli growing up across the street from each other.  Each character narrates portions of the story.  Often the viewer is shown the exact same scene twice, but narrated by a different character.  The facts of the scene are the same in both viewings, but the meaning behind the incident varies greatly according to which character’s perspective we are experiencing.

This is not unlike the process of providing marital therapy.  Each partner narrates a portion of the story.  Most of the time, there is a not much of a disagreement about the facts of the scene.  The disparity lies in the meaning ascribed to conversations and events.  The meaning is where the emotional connection is made or lost, and the emotional connection is the glue that holds the marriage together.

In previous posts, I have discussed the negative cycles or patterns of interaction that can take over a marriage relationship.  The most common among these is a pattern in which one partner pursues and the other withdraws.  As with many things in life, this is not just about the pattern of interaction, but about the meaning that each partner ascribes to it.  When conflict arises in the marriage (which it will), the pursuing partner protests the disconnection in the relationship.  The withdrawing partner sees this as anger and to avoid escalation, shuts down or withdraws.  This often feels like abandonment to the pursuer.  The meaning given to this is “You are not here for me.  You don’t care about me.  You don’t love me. I can’t count on you.”  Meanwhile the withdrawing partner feels like he or she is “walking on eggshells.”  The common thought among withdrawers is “You are not safe.  I can never get it right with you.  Maybe if I get quiet, this won’t become a big fight.”  Each partner’s perception of the situation fuels the cycle leaving each feeling abandoned, unsafe, and disconnected.  When this is happening, couples often come to therapy looking for help with a communication problem.  What often helps is digging for the meaning of events and interactions from each partner’s perspective.  The healing comes in understanding and connection.

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