Thursday, September 29, 2011

Post-Traumatic Relationship Stress Disorder

Madison Avenue has told us that without any effort on our part, we are supposed to meet a magical stranger, called "the one," who will love us, commit to us and live happily ever after with us, without ever losing the "new relationship energy" that may accompany the first phases of meeting a new love partner. In this fairy tale, we will just naturally have good jobs, a MacMansion for our home, perfect health, and all the good things in life, never falling upon hard times, conflicts, or the inevitable obstacles that life dishes out to all of us sooner or later. Countless people have embraced this fantasy as truth, and try earnestly over and over again to make the fairy tale real. Sadly, but not surprisingly, they end up with less than magical results.

After experiencing a series of romances--be they dating relationships or marriages-- that leave them disappointed, broken-hearted, disillusioned, betrayed and ultimately, just plainalone, many people start to experience what I am calling "post-traumatic relationship stress disorder."

Trying over and over and over again to build a loving,long-term relationship and ending up abandoned, "nexted," broken-hearted and alone eventually creates an emotional and spiritual state of despair, lack of trust in dating, marriage or the relationship process, fear of intimacy, fear of rejection, fear of failure and a sense of hypervigilance not to make "the same mistake again." Carrying a compounded broken heart wound in need of healing, but lacking a clear pathway to get it, both men and women become commitment phobic, hit unsurpassable walls within or with their partners that create limits to relating or just give up and stand on the relationship sidelines to avoid getting hurt again.

"He just wasn't who he said he was"
"She hadn't gotten over her two failed marriages"
"He wanted to just fill the void quickly, so he latched on to me, but he couldn't sustain the intimacy as the relationship grew"
"She decided it was easier just to be alone"
"He decided that women are too much work"
"She settled for friends with benefits, because a real relationship might neither yield a friendship nor benefits"
"He discovered she was having an affair with a married neighbor across the street"
"She thought he was just working hard at his job, but then she discovered the erotic e-mails from the co-worker he stayed at the office late with"
"I thought s/he was the nicest gal/guy, but I later discovered that I was sleeping with a narcissist."

Stories abound of falling in love initially, but ultimately falling into a relational black hole. How did we become so wounded and ill-equipped to create a life til death do us part?

As our community structures have unraveled, as families have moved further and further apart geographically, as we live in an instant gratification internet culture, where we can replace almost anything with the click of a mouse, we seem to have forgotten the value and importance of working through our differences and standing together against the odds rather than apart.

Some may say that men and women just don't understand each other, and the language barriers between the genders lead both men and women to feel unappreciated and distanced in love.

Therapists and married partners for over 30 years, Gay and Kathleen Hendricks believe that the most important ingredient for a working relationship is willingness. Willingness is a state of mind, of consciousness, of open heartedness, where a man or woman sincerely want to love and be loved, and get beyond past hurts and obstacles to do whatever it takes to love and be loved over time.

They acknowledge that no one ever told us that all relationships go through five stages: romance, the inevitable, the choice point, the result and the re-kindling. No one ever taught us that relationships are living organisms that need care and feeding, just like we do. No one ever told us that we are responsible for loving another person on their own terms as well as our terms, and that compromise is a key part of love. And even if someone told us, we may not have heard or believed them. We aren't given relationship mentors, so we all learn about love the hard way. We don't really learn about what makes love work and be sustained.

The Hendricks believe that couples need to "learn how to shift out of the state of consciousness that generates recycling conflicts, learn how to end blame and criticism and learn how to feel andappreciate the state of consciousness that generates the flow of love and appreciation."

If we truly realize that we need to bring love and appreciation to a loved one each and every day, be willing to "move past our prior experiences of love to wonder open-heartedly about what is possible right now," and shift out of our limiting consciousness that creates conflicts, judgments and other barriers to loving with an open heart, we can be part of the solution rather than part of the problem.

If we can first love ourselves, and bring a willingess to go the distance with another person, we can stop the cycle of post-traumatic relationship stress disorder that is plaguing too many people I know.

Copyright 2011 Linda Marks