Never before have I received so many texts, messages, emails requesting "urgent couple counselling" than in the last few weeks. So why is this the case?The one thing I'm learning through these uncertain times is that the lockdown has provided an opportunity, albeit through necessity, to really re-evaluate relationships.Let's face it, counselling isn't something that people look forward to, but often, it's the last resort or a crisis situation that brings couples into therapy. Sadly, making it difficult to fix what's broken. All a bit too little too late.
The one strategy some individuals do tend to do in unhappy relationships, often in order to stay together for the kids' scenario, is AVOIDANCE. This can appear in many overt forms such as always working late, drinks with colleagues after work, travel for work, attending events, girls/boys weekend away, etc But the most covert strategy is what I call "buffering".
Buffering is often using others, events or situations to create a barrier between couples in order to avoid spending time with your significant other. You may recognize this behaviour in the following examples:
Social buffering - only wanting to go out or away with your partner so long as friends can tag along.
Children buffering - only wanting to spend time with family whereby the kids are always the focus. Specifically and deliberating attending to them in order to be distracting from time with the partner.F
unctional buffering - needing to continually get things done around the house. Gardening, building, cleaning, etc. Really, the "I don't have time to..." lecture. Almost as though, your partner is ungrateful for your efforts.
Work buffering - the priority for your attention and time is your work. But really it extends beyond to drinks, dinners, events, travel, where the other option is to spend time with your partner and/or family. Taking work calls, responding to emails, working from home on weekends and evenings, etc becomes a normal activity and expectation for your partner to accept.
Opportunity buffering - you may say to your partner that you don't feel like going to the movies, but jump at the chance if offered by another party.Quite simply put, not wanting to spend one on one time together. Leaving many people wondering whether their partner wants to spend time with me let alone like me anymore. In the list of your priorities - "I just don't make the cut".
This lockdown has highlighted this behaviour tenfold. People have reported feeling like they are living with a caged lion - pacing and eager to get out and when they have the opportunity to go for a walk, they do so on their own. Solo time is their only escape from their partner as they no longer have an excuse or accomplice/s to their relational "crime". Therefore, leaving their partner reeling with the thought "he/she doesn't like spending time with me".With nowhere to go and no-one to go there with, this discomfort causes frustration for both parties.
So how do you address it:-
Firstly acknowledge this is what's happening. State calmly to your partner that you have noticed this behaviour. At first, they may be defensive, but discuss times where you have started to notice this pattern of behaviour. Not in an accusatory way, but in a way to open up the dialogue.
Secondly suggest talking through the issues to try to understand the when, what, where, who, why and how of the behaviour. Was it when you first met, after you were married, first child, job promotion, etc. This discussion often leads to the causation of the behaviour.
Thirdly seek help. Often counselling can help couples identify, address and work through these issues but ultimately, assist couples getting back to where they were happy to be together.So why do I say, hanging by a thread, this strategy may be the only thing keeping the relationship going or from breaking.
I've written this article to raise the awareness of the behaviour of avoidance through buffering, It terms of the underlying cause and the eventual repair or sadly in some instances, demise, really is incumbent upon the individuals' ability to acknowledge, accept and seek help. So really seize this time, and seek the help necessary to repair your relationship before it becomes a crisis or last resort.
Copyright, Narelle Brigden Counselling 2020