I have well-honed sensitivities to those I’m particularly attached to, which triggers judgements, followed by intrusive corrections. Such corrections don’t always get verbalised but could be conveyed with a nudge or a look. I wonder, can you identify with this in your marriage or important relationships?
I recently sat next to my husband at the Australian Open Tennis. We were fortunate to have booked all day tickets at the main arena on the first week of matches. Such a treat to have a mini break in cosmopolitan Melbourne and enjoy the atmosphere of a renowned sporting event.
Early in the first match I noticed David scrolling through work emails on his phone. Instantly I experienced a bolt of irritated reactivity, thinking:
“Why isn’t he paying attention to the match? I can’t believe he’s letting his work override our watching the tennis together!”
I pulled my thoughts up quickly and prevented myself saying anything. My message to myself was:
“It is not my business whether or not my mate chooses to look at emails. He has every right to that choice and it doesn’t impinge in any way on my being able to enjoy the tennis.”
With this inner correction I could relax and keep my boundaries. This is something I have been working to improve over many years. Keeping within my own skin when alongside the important people in my life is a real workout. It hasn’t just been a challenge for me in my marriage. My parenting has had a good dose of sensitivity as well. Sitting next to a teenager biting their finger nails was always excruciating for me. I have well-honed sensitivities to those I’m particularly attached to, which triggers my judgements, followed by intrusive corrections. Such corrections don’t always get verbalised but could be conveyed with a nudge or a look.
This is a classic expression of relationship fusion where we monitor the other as opposed to being responsible for self. It is always interesting to consider how different our reactions are when mixing with people we are just associated with – they haven’t become important to our experience of self. Hence they can be checking their phones and displaying all sorts of nervous habits and it doesn’t bother us one bit. I wonder, can you identify with this?
The effort to observe one’s excessive sensitivities to others behaviours is of great value in the “growing up” journey. Dr Murray Bowen set this as the main destination for the counselling process writing:
“The over-all goal is to help individual family members to rise up out of the togetherness that binds us all” (Bowen FTCP 1978, p.371).
I can see the difference it makes to my marriage that I can refrain from reacting to the mannerisms and behavioural choices of my husband (most of the time). I can let him be him and me be me. This enables us to do life side by side as opposed to merged in each other’s emotional sphere. It certainly assists in achieving a relaxed day at the tennis and prevents the spread of irritability into other domains of marriage.
For more on dealing with fusion in a marriage here is an article by myself and Jo Wright: Inviting each partner out of the fusion: Bowen Family Systems Theory and couple therapy