Fight, Flee or Connect… A Choice?
I was recently reminded of a line from a poem by Roy Croft that goes: “I love you not only for what you are, but for what I am when I am with you.”
To me this says that although I am sufficient on my own, with my partner I am more – and we are more – than either of us would be otherwise. I can’t help but wonder how that is possible?
It begs a basic question about human nature: Are we intended to be in connection or to be essentially independent? Some say that we are intended to be independent because we come into this life alone and we must leave it alone, but the truth is that we are social animals. We are hardwired to be in connection with each other in order to survive and thrive.
When humans came together as a communal species thousands of years ago, they did so because living in groups enhanced their chances of survival. They were not very well equipped to fight or flee from the beasts who wanted to eat them. Their bodies required clothing and shelter and they could not function long without food, water and fire. But even though lions and tigers and bears were better suited for individual survival, they could do something the critters could not – they could adapt, connect and work with each other, pooling their strengths and resources to ensure survival of the group.
But sticking together brings its own challenges doesn’t it?
Healthy adult relationships (the primary, romantic kind) require a sense of trust and reliance on the other.
Early studies of attachment identified that children who are securely attached, who believe their caregivers are reliable and responsive, are most able to explore, try new things and build good relationships. Unfortunately, those who are uncertain - who cannot be sure of their caregivers - are anxious, tentative and have more trouble socially and developmentally.
This is not to advocate enmeshment or co-dependence. In a relationship too much distance and independence is at least as damaging as too much dependence. Relational health is somewhere in the middle.
I once heard someone call this “mutual interdependence,” a place where I am deeply impacted by my partner - not controlled or manipulated - but soothed, supported, guided and accompanied. My partner is not my “better half” or “other half” because I am a complete person even without them. Rather, being securely attached to one special someone enables me to be more of who I truly am, by virtue of our relationship.
It is a paradox that the person who brings us the most comfort, joy and reassurance is also the person who is capable of bringing us the most fear, anguish and pain. That is the risk we take when we choose to become emotionally attached.
It is in our vulnerability to being hurt that many relationship problems arise. When we feel attacked, uncertain or threatened our primitive nervous systems prompt us to fight, flee or freeze. The pattern for couples is often that the ways that we defend and protect ourselves actually push our partner away and end up creating the fear, pain and loss that we both so want to avoid.
So all this leaves us with a question - a choice:
If my relationship has the meaning and importance that I want it to, am I willing to take the risk to step out of my pattern of fight, flee or freeze when I feel threatened or afraid? And if I am, what might that look like?
Northern Illinois Men’s Counseling stands ready to coach, support, guide and challenge couples and men to be the best they can be. Call, text or e-mail if you have questions. When you are ready, you can schedule an appointment through the website without the hassle of phone tag.