Holehearted

Posted on November 23, 2012

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This being Thanksgiving weekend, I am reminded of a time in school learning of the pilgrims’ voyage to America aboard the Mayflower.  I remember being told that before the Mayflower, the pilgrims had another ship called the Speedwell.  The teacher said that they had to switch ships because the Speedwell leaked like a sieve.  I had no idea what a sieve was.  I still have only a moderate idea of what a sieve is, but I got the point.  The thing leaked.

Working with couples in therapy, I have come to realize that our hearts are the same way.  They leak like sieves.  They are wholly holey.  We can be feeling loved and valued one day and the next start to question whether our partner is really there for us.  How fast our hearts leak depends upon a number of factors.  In the present relationship, the outflow is impacted by the relationship history.  If there has been a history of wounds (i.e. injuries to the attachment between the partners), the feeling of safety and security in the relationship can leak out pretty fast.  When one partner is inattentive for an evening, it can easily send the other partner to a dark place where he or she perceives, “He doesn’t love me.”  “She doesn’t want to be with me.”  “I am not valued in this relationship.”  Conflict arises from seemingly small things.  This happens because those small things carry big meaning.  Spouses end up arguing over the small thing, because it seems big.  Sometimes we don’t even know why it seems so big.  We know that whatever happened (or didn’t) triggered a really bad feeling in us.

Another reason our hearts leak may have nothing to do with the present relationship.  We all have wounds from life.  We just don’t reach adulthood without incurring a few emotional injuries.  Sometimes these can be really big traumas such as abuse, neglect, or abandonment by a parent.  Those who have lived through such an injury, often (consciously or unconsciously) draw one or both of two conclusions.  The first is “I am not loveable.”  The second is “People are not safe.”  The effects of these conclusions impact how we attach in adult love relationships.  Sometimes this is in anxious attachment.  A partner can be hypersensitive to any message from their spouse that suggests, “You are not there for me.”  The second is in avoidant attachment.  “People are not safe.  Therefore, I have learned not to be vulnerable.  If I don’t let you close, you can’t hurt me.”  Even for those who have not experienced Trauma (with a capital T), there will always have been smaller traumas.  We have sensitive spots based upon our life experience that when rubbed the wrong way cause us to react.  The experience may be one of pain when the old wound gets bumped, but the reaction our partner sees is usually anger.

It can be really difficult to develop safety and security in a marriage relationship when our hearts leak so badly.  But just as the holes were developed in relationship, they can also be healed in relationship.  It requires courage and commitment, but attachment injuries from the present or prior relationships can be repaired in the present relationship.  Over time, those old voices that say, “I am not loveable” or “You are not safe” can be quieted.  However, even in the most secure relationships, there is still a leak.  To keep the love, safety, and security from dissipating partners need to continue to invest in keeping the relationship connection strong.

When I had my first trip to Disneyland as a child, my father bought me a helium Mickey Mouse balloon as we were leaving the park.  The next morning, the balloon was on the floor.  Somehow helium still managed to leak out of that airtight latex.  Our hearts are the same way, we need to be continually refilled in our relationships to keep floating.

“I work with individuals, couples, and families to help develop secure connections
and craft manageable solutions.”

More information is available on my website www.scottwoodtherapy.com.  I am also available for speaking engagements, seminars, and retreats http://scottwoodtherapy.com/Page5.html.

Scott Wood is a registered marriage and family therapist intern (IMF67385) and is supervised by Dr. Melinda Reinicke, Psychologist (Psy11011).

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