Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Do You Talk About The Hard Stuff With Your Partner?

Important article in AARP:  The Healing Power of Negative Emotions by Barry J. Jacobs.  This article speaks to a principle I have long held as essential -- that what doesn't get spoken, doesn't go away.  It just goes underground and creates disturbances that are harder to address.

"After his wife's cardiac arrest, the 70-year-old man carefully avoided saying anything negative. He feared upsetting her — and thereby inviting another heart attack.

Nor did his wife express her worries — her frustration, her sadness — for fear of upsetting him.

Through this mutually protective collusion, the pair accentuated the positive so avidly that their rapport became superficial and stilted. Like so many caregivers and care recipients, the couple subscribed to "the power of positive thinking." What they missed out on was the healing power of sadness.

And that's understandable: The best way to sustain each other's morale through this medical crisis, they believed, was to cheer each other on. To accomplish that, the man and woman gave voice to almost exclusively upbeat thoughts and feelings. Venting negative emotions, in their view, could only harm their health, their psyches and possibly their relationship. But that needn't be the only way, and it's very likely not the best way.

Sharing what you've lost in the wake of a chronic illness or medical event, sometimes disparaged as "stinking thinking," can actually bring couples and families closer together.

Like others struggling to cope with adversity, the couple profiled above is engaging in what psychologists call a conspiracy of silence. Perfectly normal fears and other emotions churned up by a life-changing condition — the wife's fear of a second heart attack, the husband's frustration at his wife's slow recovery — are pooh-poohed or squelched.

Optimism counts; its effects are far more salutary than wallowing in misery. But when well-meaning family members start censoring what they say to one another, they stop sharing the full range of life's joys and sorrows. The result: unintended distancing and isolation....."

Do you and your partner talk about the hard stuff?  Do you share your feelings of anxiety, sadness, and frustration with each other?  Can you hold hands while you do (either literally or metaphorically)?  

As hard as that may be, I do agree with this author that if positive thinking comes at the expense of increasing isolation, it's no longer positive.  We may be able to find stronger solace and deeper connection in sharing our fears.

1 comment:

Julie Ryan said...

I agree you have to talk it out. When I first became sick and spent 3 months with massive migraines at the same time my husband was going through massive job stress. Neither of us talked, I didn't feel much like talking anyway, but he didn't want to share what was going on with him at work because it would make me feel worse. Once I recovered from that particular issue it was months later before we finally reconnected and talked it all out. Luckily, we were able to do that and continue to do that. We try to make it a priority to not keep things in but to let them out. The longer you keep them in the worse the feelings become and the more damage it can do to your relationship.