15. Reprogramming the Battle Gear Defense System: The Individual in Marriage Part 1
This is the first of a three-part blog series about the Individual in Marriage. Each blog will cover how each individual in a partnership contributes to the relationship and changes as a result of the direction that the relationship provides.
It may sound counter-intuitive, but the foundation of improving your relationship starts with improving yourself.
Marriage counseling is actually two people doing individual work to improve themselves, with the relationship as their guide. The relationship will expose flaws and introduce challenges. Each partner will have needs the other must satisfy. But within a relationship, each partner can grow faster, change more easily, and feel supported because you are on the same journey together.
We Are Attracted to People Who Make Us Better
This is why, whether we look at attraction from a psychological or faithful perspective, individuals are drawn to each other based on what we need from the other person. And this is how we see patterns where opposites attract.
For example, a spontaneous person might be drawn to someone with a more structured lifestyle because deep down, they crave more parameters in their lifestyle. In turn, the structured person is attracted to the spontaneous person because they want to think outside of the box more.
Paradoxically, while we are attracted to people who make us change, we still find ourselves resisting change.
Aside from dealing with the fears and anxieties of change, with any form of growth comes growing pains. This is what makes relationshipping difficult at times. As individuals we are constantly finding things we need to sacrifice for our partner, old habits we need to undo, and new habits we need to create in order to sustain a healthy relationship tree.
Often, the most difficult part of this process is reprogramming.
We All Have Battle Gear Defense Systems
We’re all scarred from being raised by human beings. No matter how good our parents were, nobody is perfect, and that’s why everyone comes into marriage with baggage and buttons and battle gear defense systems…
Manny grew up with what he described as a controlling mother. In order for Manny to do anything she would need to approve of it first. If he wanted to go out his mother needed to know where he was going, when he would be back, and with whom he would be with. As Manny grew older he needed to fight for independence.
When Manny was 26 he met Sheila. He was attracted to her because she was so caring and thoughtful. They began dating and Sheila began doting on him by baking him his favorite cookies and by making sure he had nice meals for dinner. Then they married. They had been married for only a month when Manny was watching a football game and Sheila said, “Come on Manny, it's getting late, let's go to sleep.” Without thinking anything of it, before Manny could answer, she picked up the remote and turned off the TV. The fight that ensued was terrible for both of them. Neither of them ever thought they would have screaming, yelling or cursing in their relationship, never mind a month after their wedding.
Sheila and Manny do not have a bad marriage--they’ve since been coming to therapy and practicing relationshipping. Therapy also helped them understand that Sheila had stumbled across one of Manny’s triggers that set off his battle gear defensive reaction. Manny had developed that reaction to help him fight for his independence in childhood.
Now Manny is learning to undo the habit so that he won’t lash out at his wife. This is his responsibility, but having a partner gives him access to support. And in turn, as Manny develops awareness about his needs for independence, Sheila develops awareness about how her actions could affect others.
This conflict that Manny and Sheila stumbled across brought to light the fact that Manny has triggers. We all do, and it’s useful to know what they are ahead of time. So part of the strategy in helping Manny cope with his defense mechanisms is for Sheila to develop an awareness of Manny’s triggers so she can avoid setting him off. In turn, Manny will ask Sheila what her triggers might be so he can avoid setting her off.
After that discussion, let’s imagine Manny forgets to lock the front door before bed, which sets off one of Sheila’s triggers. (This is bound to happen at some point because we’re all human.) The next morning, when Sheila sees the door was unlocked, and she blows up.
If Manny and Sheila had never discussed their triggers, Manny would probably wonder why she was getting so angry at him for something that’s not a big deal….
What’s your problem, Sheila? Okay, I forgot to lock the door, what’s the big deal? I’m only human, you don’t have to act like I burned the house down.
But because of the discussion, it’s much easier to diffuse the situation and not take it so personally:
I’m sorry, Sheila. I know locking the door is very important to you and I forgot to do it last night. I’ll put a reminder on my phone so I don’t forget tonight.
An Individual Prepares
These discussions and exercises that develop awareness of triggers for our battle gear defense systems are for couples to do together, but they require self-awareness, openness, and willingness from each individual. In other words, we need to own our mistakes and our flaws before we can bring them into the workshop with our partner.
Next week’s blog will cover courage and the ways we as individuals don’t let our emotions dictate our actions. Follow Lieberman Clinical Services on facebook or subscribe to our blog for updates!