relationship tug of war, Tara Fields, Ph.D., LMFT

Feeling Frayed from a Tug Of War with your Partner? End it today!

November 8, 2016

Feeling anxious and powerless? You are not alone. Anxiety and feelings of powerlessness are at an all time high. To assuage those feelings it helps to take charge of the things you can control. If you are in a power struggle with your partner you have the power to end it today.

Here’s how….

   Imagine a tug of war. You’re gripping one side of the rope and your partner is gripping the other. Between you is a pit of mud. And you’re both pulling as hard as you can, straining your muscles and your mind and your emotions to haul your partner through the mud to your side.

   Winning means pulling until the other person falls down. Losing means letting go and getting dragged. Win or lose, in both cases, the war is over. Unfortunately, in this tug of war, when one person wins or loses, the relationship is over as well. You can’t exist as a slave to your partner’s needs and as much as you keep fighting to haul your partner into your understanding, that’s no way for your partner to live, either. No matter if you or your partner ends up in the mud, when either of you falls down you both lose.

    Maybe you know why you and your partner are pulling or maybe you started gradually and now it’s been so long you can’t even remember what started the war. But now it feels like you can’t stop – at least that keeps the flag centered between you, right? Wrong. There’s another answer. The answer is to both stop pulling at the same time.

    If you are like most people you are probably thinking  what if my partner doesn’t want to drop the rope? As always, you have a choice as to how to react, no matter what your partner decides. Either pack your bags and move out or take a one-way ticket out of ego land and ask yourself, what is the most loving thing you can do in the situation? If you let go of the rope, your partner will fall on his or her tush! Is that really what you want? Remember, your intention is to be loving! No more tug of war.(remember your intention is to be loving … no more tug of war!  If you ease up on the rope equally, the flag will stay centered. Eventually when neither you nor your partner is pulling the rope, you can lay it down. Eventually, you can walk away from the rope completely.

   Now comes the fun part where we get to explore, identify, and figure out just what kind of Come Close, Go Away tug of war you are in. There are four scenarios:

  1. You are both afraid. One of you fears abandonment while the other fears being consumed.
  2. Both of you are afraid of being vulnerable, exposed—warts and all—which you to push and pull.
  3. You and your partner have not defined your roles as a family man or woman! What are your rituals? Celebrations? Do you want kids? These things must be identified separately from your upbringings. Family means the two of you, not how you were raised.
  4. You and your partner see sex in different ways. One of you hopes for an emotional connection to the other just as they do to themselves—usually the man, while the other hopes to connect from the heart and to feel open and available sexually—usually the woman.

   In what I call the  Come Close, Go Away partners pull against a weight that is set in the opposite direction.  The partner who needs reassurance is matched with a partner who needs space; the partner who uses sex to feel close is matched with a partner who has to feel close in order to have sex; the partner who pursues a string of un-winnable trophy dates is matched with a person who thinks that beneath her trophy exterior she is unlovable. In all these cases, it’s more than a one-person problem.   In these loops, it takes two to sides to make a tug of war and you can’t ask your partner to stop pulling unless you’re willing to do the same. Most importantly regardless of your partners choice to explore and take ownership for his or her part the choice and power to dissolve your tug of war is always in your hands.

There has never been a better time to choose Love not War.


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