I was at a small, intimate women’s networking event earlier this week and we were going around the room sharing experiences and thoughts on different topics around relationships, purpose, and entrepreneurship. A discussion on boundaries began and one woman shared her discontent: “Why does it take me yelling to get my partner’s attention so that he will help and show up for me.” I loved the question and it made total sense. I knew, really knew, that struggle deep in my bones.
I have studied relationships extensively, and a true passion of mine is dissecting and learning about age-old masculine/feminine dynamics. There is so much subtlety, nuance, and skill and attention required to develop successful relationships that most of us have never been taught. But understanding these dynamics can be the difference between an intimate, loving, and deep connection or a flat, boring relationship filled with discontent, while there is a constant struggle to find connection. I knew the answer to her question and I really understood her torture because I experienced that same problem in my own previous relationship. But I realized many did not.
There is a lot of social conditioning around “feelings,” especially in gender dynamics, which can make it even more complicated. As a society, we have a lot less tolerance for the darker emotions – anger, rage, and frustration. Sometimes it isn’t appropriate to blow off your steam in real time or to express the true intensity of the anger you feel in the moment to somebody standing right in front of you. Maybe you feel guilty and horrible for being angry at this person or doubt that your feelings are valid. So just how do you honor those feelings without suppressing them? How do you share how you really feel to those around you?
It’s tricky and it’s a lifelong practice.
In the case of this woman at the event, I tried my best to give her an explanation that might help her feel less powerless in her situation.
As humans, we’re hard wired for connection. We love, need, and crave the feeling of being seen, heard, and accepted, especially by those we love or are in relationship with. When we’re not being totally honest with how we feel, moment to moment, we’re rejecting ourselves and not honoring those feelings that are often trying to tell us something. It could be as simple as, “You’re hungry,” “You need to ask for help,” “You feel misunderstood,” or “Something is really off here,” for example. But we don’t. We push the feelings down and move on, trying to bypass them. In the end, this process creates dissonance with those we care about most. Over time, we can lose our ability to hear that voice of intuition completely. We’ve trained the voice so poorly that it’s stopped talking to us. This problem is often created through unhealthy personal dynamics, such as people pleasing or the seeking of approval.
Have you ever had someone respond with, “I’m fine,” when you knew they really weren’t, but you had no idea how to get an honest response? That’s what was happening with the woman at the event. Every time she was annoyed or needed more help but didn’t ask, or felt frustrated but didn’t express it, her partner couldn’t actually feel her. And what do I mean by that? I hope you’ve had the experience of feeling connected to someone. It’s in flow, you understand each other, you’re aligned, you can tell when something is off or wrong. When you’re in sync there is a sense of lightness, ease, or warmth in your body instead of heaviness or “stuckness.” So, he couldn’t feel her – he couldn’t access that state of connection between the two of them he knew to exist. It scared him, he may have even felt abandoned, maybe confused. Remember, we always just want to be felt, understood, connected. When my former partner and I would get in a certain argument, often he’d say, “Molly, you feel so far away, I can’t feel you.” That was always my cue to go back and see where I wasn’t acknowledging or feeling something inside myself so that he could have access to me there too. I was often withholding something that he actually really did want to be let into. I loved and deeply appreciated that part of our relationship, and it forced me to work through so many limiting beliefs in myself. I thought I knew about intimacy, that I had a partner that actually wanted to be with me in these places. It was new, scary, unknown.
Ok, so you’re probably still asking, “But really, why do I have to YELL to get his attention.” The answer is, because when you’re ignoring yourself in all those moments, your partner will too. You’ll ask for something to get done, but it’s really some ask on top of all the feelings you’re brooding. He won’t show up to do it, he won’t come through for you. You’ll get increasingly more frustrated, as if you weren’t already! Eventually, with just the right angle and just the right circumstance, BAM, your system can’t hold it in anymore and you have a ‘crazy’ outburst. You may feel insane, but you might find your partner with a subtle smile on his face. Ahh, he can finally feel you again and he has his partner back. He’s missed you underneath all of that “looking good,” “trying not to be a burden, I can handle it all myself”. He wants the real you, the vulnerable, emotional, “too much” you.
So, do you really need to cause a dramatic scene and yell every time to get his attention?
No, you just have to be yourself, trust, and do the work to be seen in connection, moment to moment, and I can guarantee a deeper, more intimate connection will ensue.