As a young boy I felt both fascinated and frightened by the thought of jumping off the high dive at the local outdoor swimming pool. Somehow, I gathered the courage to make the jump into the deep water many feet below–and then I thought I was going to die, since I didn’t yet know how to swim. For a time, I was too afraid to venture back into the water, but with encouragement, coaching, and a lot of practice, I became a strong swimmer. A leap off the diving board into the deep end was no longer terrifying or reckless.
Swimming in the Deep End of Marriage
In our marriage counseling practice here in the Denver area, we often see couples making the same mistakes with the “deep” issues in their relationships that I made at the pool those many years ago: they swing to the extremes of either avoiding the deep issues of their relationships, or they push each other into the deep end, without the needed safety and guidance to swim successfully together through the depths of important issues.
Marriage Mistake #1: Avoiding the Deep End
Some couples are so afraid of what could go wrong if they venture into those deep areas of their relationship (emotions, intimacy, vulnerability, needs for connection or passion or acceptance, addictions, differences, fears, etc.) that they never take the leap and they never learn how to swim. These couples or individuals just stay in the “shallows” or avoid the deep topics altogether. Although they may have some closeness, and some enjoyment, these people remain unacquainted with the thrill and the joys of learning how to confidently enter the deep areas of marriage together.
Marriage Mistake #2: Jumping Recklessly into the Depths
A second mistake some couples make with the deep end of marriage is they recklessly take the plunge (or push their partner) into emotionally-laden topics. While the need to address important issues is understandable, doing so without both partners “knowing how to swim” often ends up in hurtful arguments or feelings of discouragement from not being able to address vitally important issues. After this pattern is repeated for a while, individuals who want to go to the deep end may feel a sense of defeat or resignation, feeling that the best they can hope for in the relationship is to just keep the peace by staying in the shallow waters, but knowing all the while that the deeper issues aren’t far away, and that not being able to go there together gets in the way of a deeper, more satisfying connection.
Marital Swimming Lessons: Emotionally Focused Therapy
When it comes to the deep issues of marriage, nearly all couples would like better options than fearful avoidance or reckless endangerment. Most couples want to learn how to “swim”–confidently and together–though their important challenges, needs, and fears.
When it comes to “marital swimming lessons”, Emotionally Focused Therapy for couples is the most effective research-based approach to marriage counseling. With an experienced EFT therapist, couples learn in a safe environment how to identify the self-reinforcing patterns and cycles that they get stuck in. Then, as a couple begins to identify their cycle, their therapist supports them in identifying the deeper emotions and unmet needs that have driven them to cope and react in these unproductive ways. Couples begin to be able, sometimes for the first time, to wade into the deeper waters of their marriage without turning against each other. They begin to have a felt sense that their concerns and fears matter to their partner, and have a growing experience of security, belonging, understanding, and connection.
As couples gain more confidence swimming in the deeper waters together, formerly avoidant partners start risking more–reaching out for connection and support instead of retreating to the shallows. Formerly critical spouses are able to slow down–approaching the deep issues in loving and connected ways rather than prodding their partners insensitively into the depths. When old fears of the deep issues come up (because they do come up, from time to time, for all of us), couples learn how to be there for each other, facing the fears together. Couples earn each others’ confidence, and with this shared security they are able to face life with a lot more joy, trust, and satisfaction.
The security of one’s relationships need not depend on staying away from the deep end–with the right help, people can come to know that they are always in it together with their loved one, and that together they can swim confidently in the deep waters whenever they need to.
If you would like help “learning how to swim” in your marriage and live in the Denver area, call us today! 720-468-0101