the difference between shutting down and calling a time out #marriedlife #recovery
June 23, 2014 § 1 Comment
Both my husband and I were in recovery support groups when we met. We knew that our marriage would not survive if left to the two of us to manage so we put a safeguard in our wedding vows. We vowed to get the support we needed to be healthy for the marriage. That has been a marriage saver.
My husband and I have PTSD as well as co-dependance issues, and we are in recovery for alcohol and drug abuse. We both have a tendency to turn ourselves into ‘victims of circumstance’ and look to each other to be rescued from those circumstances. As survivors of childhood neglect, emotional enmeshment, and traumatized family systems, we did not develop appropriate coping and comfort skills suitable for sustaining long term, intimate adult relationships. We both have a tendency to turn our gaze on our partner to fill the perpetual void of unmet childhood needs for connection, comfort, and validation. When that effort fails, because it is an impossible demand to place on the marriage and our marriage partner, we would both devolve into our own forms of panic – mine was to shut down, curl up in pain, and eventually lash out in a tumultuous rage demanding we end the marriage. His was to get louder and louder, more aggressive and demanding, and then storm out.
The difference between shutting down and calling a time out is that shutting down is a coping behaviour that does not address the problem that needs to be discussed, nor does it acknowledge the emotional condition that is triggering the need to shut down. No problem solving takes place and the initial problem does not get aired, discussed, and resolved. Also, the problem of overwhelming emotional intensity is not addressed, which means the same conditions can quickly re-establish. When we are shut down we are not learning, we are simply rehearsing old patterns that we used as children to survive.
Calling a time out acknowledges there is a problem and that the problem will not be ignored. It also acknowledges that the intensity of the emotional condition at the moment is unacceptable and that further communication must be suspended until cooler heads prevail. Calling a time out exercises high functioning self-care in a moment when we would typically engage in self-destructive behaviours to try to protect ourselves. It also opens up the possibility for authentic communication and connection, to becoming vulnerable and honest with our loved one. That can feel very uncomfortable for those of us who have been psychologically and emotionally scarred in our primary bonded relationships (with parents, siblings, friends).
There is a special kind of discomfort that comes with self-care. The discomfort of doing something different, of being in an unfamiliar situation. The discomfort of being out of control of the outcome – no one is going to storm off or curl up in a ball. The discomfort of feeling close instead of habitually keeping loved ones at arms length.
This is the hard work of marriage, it forces us to grow in ways that we would not otherwise attempt. It is worth it because we all seek that feeling of connection, of comfort, of being known by our loved ones. In that security we can finally let down our guard and rest.