“When she first stopped contacting him, he had worried himself into weeks of insomnia, roaming the house in the middle of the night, wondering what had happened to her. They had not fought, their love was as sparkling as always, their plans intact, and suddenly there was silence from her, a silence so brutal and complete. He had called and called until she changed her phone number…”
Reading this passage from Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, I can feel the pain that must have clawed through this character on such a visceral level. Hearts and minds can and do change — sometimes, it seems, with little warning.
Adichie’s character is not alone in this. Many of us have been in the shoes of the person more invested, or blindsided by a seemingly abrupt departure of someone they’d we’d deeply connected with — or maybe even shared a life with.
And I’m talking about emotional departure too, made long before the physical exit. Or maybe you’re the one who physically left, following their emotional abandonment long before.
To say it’s painful when this happens would be an understatement. It might become harder to trust that the same won’t happen again. And again after that.
As Mary Chen, LFMT, put it: “When an avoidantly attached person experiences their human vulnerability, it can be really uncomfortable and even flat-out terrifying.” https://www.self.com/story/avoidant-attachment-style
For secures, vulnerability doesn’t burn. For anxiouses, it does a bit, but we understand that flames can’t be doused if kept inside. So we let them air out.
For those who do the opposite — cover them up at all costs — our behavior represents their worst fears. Or at least the inner parts that they’ve been taught to feel ashamed of and repelled by.
Often for them, rather than deal with their vulnerability, the easier course of action is to check out and move on. Reacting in this way helps them maintain control. It helps protect against the seeming interminability of those intense feelings that the anxious are too intimately acquainted with.
Kyle Benson says that for them, “the conflict is never resolved because the solution requires too much intimacy.” https://www.kylebenson.net/toxic-relationship-2/
I’d like to believe that partnering with a person who’s really right for you somewhat eases the worry of this happening. Your brain becomes less vigilant to reminders that everything in life is precarious or that nothing is guaranteed. The communication between you takes a weight off.
When conflict comes up, that person will want to work through it with you. They won’t just flick a switch and be done, governed by the belief that any sign of relational discord, anxiety, or boredom means things aren’t meant to be. Or rather, they will see that some of those things are within their power to change. That they are signs pointing to what needs healing within the connection.
There will be chances to reset and repair. They will share with you their thought processes — maybe not right away but eventually, after time and space to process — rather than hold it all in for indefinite time, allowing slights to build (which makes their decision to ultimately jump ship seem to come from left field).
They will be different than the wrong person, who is someone who doesn’t cherish your heart. Someone who isn’t wiling to work with you. Someone who’s not open to coming back after conflict to strengthen your shared foundation.
You can relax a little, confident that they’re in it for the long haul. Your connection will be strong enough that the revelation of a flaw, or a single conflict, or a glimpse of you in unflattering lighting, won’t shake their interest.
We all have flaws — but they are not the reason this person withholds love or can’t meet our needs. What to ambivalent daters look like dealbreakers will be acceptable foibles, or just part of the whole human package, to your compatible match.
They will understand that, as John Gottman put it, “Conflicts are inevitable in a couple and even allow, when properly resolved, to move forward in a relationship.”
They will carry in their hearts the words of Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby: “I genuinely believe that weathering tough times is the path of greater intimacy and emotional depth in a relationship, and every conflict is an opportunity for connection.”
You’ll be in a relationship that feels like returning to the home you’ve always wanted, but have maybe never quite had.
One where you feel like you can breathe more easily. One wherein you and your partner are working as members of a team, equally concerned with the needs of both players.
A relationship where you’re not constantly feeling like you need to work for love or earn your partner’s affection. One wherein acceptance isn’t contingent upon some unreachable standard of behavior or impeccable display of [unshakeable] self-sufficiency.
People like that are out there. They are rare. They might take years to walk onto your path. But until they do, you can take good care of you.
We live in a wounded world filled with so much unhealed pain. Filled with thoughtless acts performed by people unconsciously repeating the harm that was done to them, often without bad intentions. Their behavior isn’t a reflection on you.
Remember that your heart is precious, and anyone who doesn’t treat it as such will never be worth your time or tears.
This post was previously published on MEDIUM.COM.
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