Protesting Against Disconnection

Protesting Against Disconnection WP

Have you ever had an argument and been left wondering what it was actually about?

We can remember a number of occasions where we dug in and defended our opinion with great vigor, only to find ourselves twenty minutes later losing track of what we were defending. Somehow, the original point of disagreement – which seemed VERY important at the time – got lost in our exchange.

One of the great contributors to marriage therapy was a game changer for us in unpacking this phenomenon. Dr Sue Johnson was a pioneer of Emotionally Focused Therapy.

Her most famous book. “Hold me Tight”, encapsulated her profound insights into the way human beings form attachment bonds.

In one, simple sentence, Dr Johnson nailed the foundation of couple arguments: “Arguments are a protest against disconnection”. It revolutionized our interactions.

Johnson explained that whatever the trigger issue, the subtext of every argument between intimates is the same: Do you love me? Can I rely on you? Do you care about me and my emotions? Do you see me? Do I matter to you?

We may not say those precise words, and the topic of the argument may be any number of things, yet still those underlying thoughts are what energize our exchange.

Disconnection is unnatural

In human relationships, emotional connection creates a sense of security as stable ‘resting state’. When we’re connected, we feel confident and capable of overcoming any challenge, personally or as a couple.

Just as it’s unnatural for body and soul to be separated, it’s unnatural for husband and wife to be disconnected. The union of spouses has a physical, emotional and spiritual dimension, and any rupture in our unity is profoundly unsettling.

When we feel alienated from each other, minor grievances or missteps by the other seem like major offences. They loom as evidence of the other’s indifference, lack of awareness and insensitivity to our needs.

Consciously or subconsciously, we react and ‘protest’ against this loss of connection by pushing against the other to test the strength of our bond. We nag, we complain, we pursue… which in turn is interpreted as being insensitive, demanding or judgmental. Although it’s about trust and intimacy, an exchange like this looks and feels like an attack.

When we’re disconnected, we seek to reinstate our connection. The thing that triggered the exchange is not the issue. It’s the sense of betrayal (you promised to love me), confusion (I thought you understood my needs), and fear (am I losing you?), that are the real issue.

These are not minor concerns – they are primal fears and so it’s not surprising we protest against such a loss.

The problem is these exchanges are not productive in reestablishing connection. Rather they widen the gap between us. Our volatile emotions make our attempts to discuss the ‘issue’ clumsy and create more hurt and distance.

The more we try to ‘discuss’ the trigger issue, the further we get from the real source of pain: our underlying sense of disconnection. And the more we focus on defending and protecting our demand to be loved, the more we harden our hearts to avoid vulnerability for fear of further rejection.

From Trigger Issues to the Real Issue

The genius of Johnson’s insight is that it cuts through all the distracting trigger issues, to get to the real issue: those tender emotions of fear, confusion, betrayal, doubt, loneliness, etc.

A few weeks ago, a woman Francine is coaching in the BreakThrough course commented how this idea impacted her. To better support his parents, who are both suffering life-threatening medical conditions, her husband has moved closer to them, leaving her at their home.

Naturally, she feels abandoned and alone. Arguments over petty things were spoiling the rare time they had together. Recognizing that the trigger issues were not the real issue, empowered her to manage her impulsive accusations and resist premature judgments.

So, when you next find yourselves arguing, remember – it’s not really about the trigger issue. It’s your disconnection that is the problem.

Francine & Byron Pirola

Francine & Byron Pirola are the founders and principal authors of the SmartLoving series. They are passionate about living Catholic marriage to the full and helping couples reach their marital potential. They have been married since 1988 and have five children. Their articles may be reproduced for non commercial purposes with appropriate acknowledgement and back links. For Media Enquiries Please Contact us here

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  1. Kim on July 8, 2024 at 9:42 pm

    Thank you

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