Wondering where you stand? Here are a few clues: when a family member with whom you once shared unconditional love says: “Call me only in an emergency” there is a clear self-protective boundary being drawn. This suggests that person doesn’t feel safe with you on some level – be it physical, emotional or spiritual. That individual may have once been (or may at some time in the future be) interested in working on repairing your relationship; however, right now – time, distance and space may be required.
As you honor that space, giving that person control to reduce ‘exposure’ to you, the comfort and trust you earn over the hours, days, weeks or months that follow hopefully permit time for that person to regain perspective. Once ‘enough’ time has passed, resolution initiated by the one who requested the time/space, may begin. Note: At no time is it appropriate for one person to lean on time and silence as if they erase past events. The trigger for the disagreement may require a third party to moderate – but ignoring the issue serves only to build resentment.
How much time is ‘enough’?
In a love relationship, wherein two people share the same bedroom, it may only take a few hours; two people (friends or a couple) with separate residences or who share a common residence but do not share a bedroom, it may take a few days; two adults – either siblings or parent and adult child, a few weeks or months might be necessary.
The time apart ideally permits a respectful return to work together as a team to tackle the issue.
If, however, the one honoring the request ‘for space’ (made by the other) is somehow ‘faulted for the space and/or time’ offered in deference to the request by the other person, or is otherwise disrespected/ attacked, and/or approached in an abusive way, then larger issues are likely afoot. A professional mental health provider might be required to facilitate reconciliation. Mentally balanced individuals who request space for self-reflection usually regain enough perspective to bring up the topic of the ‘disconnect’ – with gratitude in recognition for the respectful distance afforded by the other person.
Method of communication. Be mindful that, unless you both offer and accept information in a similar way (both either bottom liners or detailed and wordy) sentence structure, energy brought to the discussion, word choice and number of words, even body posture (subtle vs. drama) might be the source of repeated issues. In this case, as long as values, trust, love and respect are all intact, resolution of the disconnect serves to strengthen the relationship. Any ‘rift’ distracts – at least initially, from the relationship. Communication style between a wordy, detailed sharer and a ‘bottom-liner’ may be a recipe for disaster – if both people drive each other nuts, feel unheard, get overloaded or don’t feel validated. Patience becomes an important skill to master in order to nourish the relationship.
Trust and respect to the rescue. While rifts caused by issues surrounding styles of communication may feel as wide as those caused by lack of trust and/or respect, they are less complex to heal. People who share mutual trust and respect lean on these strengths as they sort through issues surrounding communication styles. On the other hand, two people lacking mutual trust and/or respect may be at a disadvantage. Without trust and respect, either or both often implement heavy self-protective boundaries which, by definition, distract from sharing ‘unconditional love’; that is, one or both tend to lean on the boundaries rather than the heart of the other to feel safe.
Q: How can you figure out where the rift is and what caused it?
A: Sometimes you know. Sometimes you don’t.
I know where I went wrong. If you know exactly what you did to cause the rift, it is actually up to you to initiate the repair, especially if there was a close, trusting relationship prior to the request for space. If you have absolutely no idea what is going on or why that request was made, seeking clarification may further aggravate the situation. In most healthy, well balanced relationships, disagreements are inevitable. The key is: willingness to give each other the appropriate space to calm down, then return to the issue at hand. The ‘space’ required is usually no longer than an hour or two before ‘perspective’ kicks in. At that point, both people are often able to lean on their mutual love & respect, feeling safe to approach the topic of disagreement as a team. As noted above, relationships grow in strength when this takes place.
What happens when one feels ready to work on the relationship, but the other does not? If both agree that space apart is needed, and one seems consistently ‘ready’ to work things out before the other – patience needs to be cultivated. If there is chronic refusal on the part of one partner to return to the issue, and/or if pouting, victimizing, tantrums and/or abusive language or behavior is a predictable part of given scenarios, this may indicate deeper issues unrelated to any small disagreement. Intervention that includes an unbiased, professional mental health provider may be of value.
Repeatedly leaning on a friend or family member, no matter how well educated or well-meaning, may set up a potentially unhealthy dynamic. Of course, minor disagreements that are singular in occurrence, as well as debates about ideas regarding vacationing, interior decorating and the like which may go off track can benefit from a friend or family member lending perspective; however, when there is a familiar issue that continues to inject itself into daily life, becoming more labor intensive as it threatens balance, joy and the relationship itself, professional intervention is often helpful.
When arguing ‘is’ and ‘is not’ healthy. Again, when two people in a loving relationship share a mutual desire to help each other fulfill potential, part of that experience does include disagreements from time to time. Communication during these moments defines the relationship. Over years, patterns emerge. If one’s partner, for example, adopts the attitude, “I just need to not rock the boat” one might wonder: “is this an attempt at self-preservation – because the other person controls by throwing temper tantrums, or is this an illusion indicative of a wounded toddler who was emotionally (or physically) beaten into submission-now an adult lacking in healthy relationship tools?”
Dr. Randi Gunther, a clinical psychologist and marriage counselor suggests that abandonment, power and ownership are often at the root of certain disconnects between couples – and there are particular phrases used to indicate underlying issues. Click on her name to read more about that.
I wish every reader healing of mind, body and spirit – and, with gratitude for your time in reading this very long article, I invite you to disagree with any point made. May you and those you love be blessed and centered.
Dr. Nancy Iankowitz
(Please click here to continue to Part II)