I see many couples and individuals who are in struggling relationships and sometime they have difficulty ending it. The challenge of ending a dating relationship is more common and devastating than I would have ever guessed prior to beginning my career as a psychologist. I have become accustomed to working with people who have a goal of ending a relationship, but for whatever reason continue to be unable.
This is potentially why we have seen a recent trend in "ghosting". For those who may not be aware, ghosting is the practice of ending all contact with someone with no warning and then ignoring any further requests for clarification on why contact has been completely cut. This practice has likely become more common because it is easier to do this when people are dating online in larger communities. Everyone with whom I have talked about this practice, even people who serially ghost their dating partners, agree that it is a horrible practice. Still it persists. I believe the challenges people have around ending relationships is the primary reasons for this.
LEARN TO HURT YOUR PARTNER
Although it is challenging to watch suffering, it is an important skill in any relationship. It should be obvious that the goal of any relationship is to bring increased joy, pleasure, stability etc. Invariably, however, every relationship will require difficult communication. When there is something difficult to share, it is important to be able to give your partner the truth, even when it hurts.
If you can't give your partner hard truths, it will lead to hiding, lying, and breaks in trust. Often, when couples come in with broken trust, I am working to help one partner cope with watching their partner suffer as they hear the difficult truth.
Once a couple has had a breach in trust because of hiding the truth, the best way to help a couple regain trust is having the untrusted partner share challenging truth. Sometimes these truths are important, and sometimes it is just important to share something difficult to prove that they can. When they do share the difficult truth, their partner is often initially hurt, but then begins to believe that their partner is learning how to emotionally cope with the challenges inherent in being honest.
I DON'T WANT TO HURT YOU
Despite all logic, it seems that people continue in relationships long-term because they don't want to face the short-term pain associated with ending their relationship. Researchers very recently found that people are staying in relationships because they don't want to hurt their partner (Joel, S., Impett, E. A., Spielmann, S. S., & MacDonald, G., 2018). Although this finding may seem startling to some outside of the relationship counselling field, it is all too common.
An extreme example of this type of difficulty comes when one partner threatens some type of self-harm if the relationship is ended. Even in this type of extreme action, it is surprising how often it is successful in prolonging the relationship. From a distance this type of statement would suggest that there is a significant amount of unhealthy dynamics in the relationship and that the relationship should be seriously examined. However, in some cases, instead of making it more likely to end, it actually brings the relationship back from the brink so it can hobble forward.
From BEGINNING TO END, IT IS IMPORTANT TO COPE WITH YOUR PARTNER'S PAIN
Whether you are in your relationship and need to share something hard, have to repair a relationship after breaking trust, or if you have to break off a relationship, learning to cope with your partner's pain is key. Even though it will hurt for a while, it is better to manage the reality of your situation rather than leave it until later and destroy trust or stay in an unhealthy or unwanted relationship. Learning to cope with suffering can be hard for some, but taking small steps towards learning to assert yourself can help.
Dr. Syras Derksen
Joel, S., Impett, E. A., Spielmann, S. S., & MacDonald, G. (2018). How interdependent are stay/leave decisions? On staying in the relationship for the sake of the romantic partner. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 115(5), 805-824.
In the article 8 Habits of Actively Vulnerable People, author Lindsay Holmes, says that unlike vulnerability “as a result of circumstances out of one’s control,” emotional vulnerability “is an exercise in openness which can be truly empowering.”
Emotional vulnerability can help you feel more satisfied with life, it can improve and deepen relationships, and it can even further your career. Why then, do many people find it challenging to make themselves emotionally vulnerable? Quite simply, it’s fear of rejection. Most of us are acutely aware that, once a thought or emotion is put forth, it’s impossible to retract. And revealing our deepest feelings in such a way can be quite intimidating.
Yet, emotional vulnerability offers tremendous benefits, both personally and interpersonally. Let’s take a look at some of the most important reasons why you should work towards allowing yourself to be emotionally vulnerable more often.
Why You Should Share More With Others
To clarify, sharing thoughts and feelings does not mean you must “come clean” to everyone. Emotional vulnerability should occur first and foremost on an intimate and familiar level. Think about who your closest to--do you share all your thoughts and concerns to your spouse, for instance? If not, then why?
Sometimes we struggle with letting guards down in our closest relationships. Live Bold and Bloom (a lifestyle publication), states, “When you are able to show yourself fully to another person, you experience the joy of being fully yourself”. Additionally, “Vulnerability fosters trust,” then article goes on, “As you reveal yourself to another person, and they treat you with respect, love, and dignity, your trust in that person expands.”
If you end up sharing sensitive information with your significant other and he or she judges or doesn’t listen, it is probably a sign that you need to work to improve your relationship, as there may be a sense of disconnect or mistrust hindering true closeness.
Build Relationships through Emotional Vulnerability
Those who live authentically and openly, positively impact others. Sharing your true self with others can make you more appealing and interesting; Plus, people will feel more comfortable around you, and may share their own concerns. Holding on to anxiety, anger or guilt and/or simple ideas and concerns, due to fear of rejection or confrontation, only hurts us in the end.
Author, Mark Mason, says, “Vulnerability is the path of true human connection and becoming a truly attractive person”. Psychologist Robert Glover also states, “Humans are attracted to each other’s rough edges.” Glover speaks the truth; no one can truly enjoy perfection and life without hurts and scars, because it doesn’t exist, so embrace life, and embrace yourself. Allow yourself to act and speak naturally and honestly.
A recent piece of research in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that people view themselves and others differently when they are vulnerable. Specifically, they found that people imagined themselves being vulnerable they saw it more negatively than when they imagined someone else being vulnerable. This is likely one of the reasons why people find it so difficult to be vulnerable, but respond so favourably when others are vulnerable.
Identify Your Own Avoidance Tactics
You must identify your avoidance tactics. Many people try to ignore or avoid their feelings in order to prevent shame, guilt and pain from surfacing. However, burying problems only creates more mental and physical problems. Choose to share feelings with a close friend, family member or a professional so that you can make sense of your troubled thoughts. If you feel a certain way about a friend, family member or another person, you should also not hold it inside. Though you may not want to hurt the person, it’s doing more harm by failing to address the issue and bring forth possible solutions.
Get Comfortable With the Uncomfortable
Most successes in life come from taking risks. Paul Coleman, a psychologist in Wappingers Falls, New York, and author of Finding Peace When Your Heart Is in Pieces, says, ““Vulnerability is ultimately a willingness to take a risk” and “playing it safe will never be fulfilling”. Again, this doesn’t mean you should talk to an audience about your most personal thoughts and feelings; instead, begin with small steps.
If you have stirred up emotions about your boyfriend or girlfriend, let them know. (In fact, the same applies for family, friends, roommates, coworkers, etc.) You can choose emotional vulnerability in two situations: when you simply want to be heard, and when you need to address and communicate an issue. Regardless of the scenario, the old saying “The truth will set you free,” usually turns out to be incredibly accurate.
In Conclusion: Be Kind To Yourself
Mistakes happen--if you’re not making mistakes, you’re not living! If you share with a person that responds negatively, let them go and move on--know your value and worth. Confine in friends that feel okay with sharing their own emotions, and take turns listening to one another. By sharing the same level of issues and personal feelings, you will instantly feel more connected and in tune with reality.
As PsychologyToday points out, “We all need to realize that a sense of common humanity is the recognition that everyone makes mistakes and no one is without their weaknesses”. We must be kind to ourselves like we would with others who need help, love and understanding. Ultimately, it comes down to choosing to live by fear or love--yes, we need both at times, but which one outweighs the other in your own life? By progressing towards love and compassion, you’ll be more willing to be emotionally vulnerable; at large, this creates deeper, and more meaningful human connection.
For more information on how to cope with specific psychological conditions, visit Dr. Syras Derksen.