I Didn’t Mean to Send a Gun

Posted on June 25, 2015


I came in like a wrecking ball.[1]  Miley Cyrus

What we have here is a failure to communicate.  Cool Hand Luke

At our practice, our team meets together every other Friday morning.  Our next scheduled meeting is for July 3. The boss decided that it might not be practical for the team to try to meet on the Friday heading into a holiday weekend.  He sent a group text today to inform the team.

There is a certain functionality to group texts.  At the same time, even if your phone is set to vibrate (as mine is), it is continually going off in your pocket while the group has a conversation (or even as everyone acknowledges receipt of the message).  But I digress.

One of my colleagues responded with a “good plan” with an emoticon of a gun.  She quickly followed up with a message that read, “I didn’t mean to send a gun.”  I thought that is a great metaphor for what happens in couple relationships.  I didn’t mean to send a gun.

Often couples come to therapy seeking help with a “communication problem.”  I soon discover that they are both excellent communicators, but there is something else going on.  If you have ever had the experience of your partner reacting badly to something you thought was innocuous, you may get what I mean here.  Couples often get stuck in negative cycles of interaction in which both partners are left feeling misunderstood, alone, hurt, and disconnected.  There was a time at which it seemed like we could have a happy life together, enjoying each other, and taking on life together.  Now I am walking on eggshells and you seem to think I am shooting at you when I didn’t mean to send a gun.  You see me as the enemy, when I really want to be on your side.

As you experience disconnection from your partner, the natural response is protest.  The desire is for your partner to come closer, however, it often has the reverse affect.  Often the more one partner protests, the more the other withdraws.  This is where the shooting really starts.  Your attempts to bring your partner closer, only cause him or her to take cover.  I didn’t mean to send a gun, I only wanted to feel important to you.

The answer to this is that your partner is not the enemy; the negative cycle is the enemy of the relationship for both of you.  The cycle hides there making it seem like your partner has drawn a gun.  Couples don’t get broken so much as stuck in these patterns.  If you need help breaking free, it often helps to have a therapist help you identify the enemy (the negative cycle, not your partner) and help you defeat it together.

[1] Two years ago this reference would have made me seem really current.  Now it seems kind of dated already.  Oh, well.