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Fitting Together – Now Available in our Bookstore

Fitting Together
Connecting Couples in Conversation
by Bea Strickland

In Memory of Jim Strickland August 18, 1936 – May 26, 2016

“I love you I love you I love you
I will always love you
I will keep you in my heart forever”

Connection-Disconnection Cycle

It feels good to be close and is worth maintaining with lots of love and attention but every couple has times of good connection and then disconnection. It may be short, neutral disconnection with a lack of focus, a need for alone time or slight distraction. Other times the disconnection lasts an uncomfortably long time and is caused by some hurt, neglect or frustration. It’s helpful to understand the connection-disconnection cycle so that you can learn how to maintain rapport or reconnect. To get back to being best friends. We want to be close but we get sick, tired or hungry and our patience wears out. Small irritations that we haven’t spoken about pile up and we become generally annoyed at our partner. Then if we haven’t been as attentive, respectful or loving, some triggering event can mean a disconnection. A trigger might be an ongoing issue like money, sex, or in-laws. Because we all have unconscious hidden issues we can begin to feel fearful or be hurt and angry. This can break our sensitive connection and cause us to want to fight, stop communicating or feel numb. When you or your partner stop reaching out with a touch or a hug, when you aren’t looking at each other, or aren’t smiling, that there’s some unresolved issue. It takes time to reconnect.

Jim and I talked about the sadness and waste of valuable time in disconnection and agreed that we’d like to get back to being friends as soon as possible. We knew a couple who had argued and then canceled a vacation because they were still distant even after the fight was all over. Jim and I worked it out that if and when we became aware that our voices were raised and we felt hot and defensive in disagreement, we would cool off a bit; we’d go off to separate rooms or take a walk by ourselves. One time we argued all the way up to our friend’s house, rang the bell and quit fighting the moment the door was opened. An automatic cool-off time. That was a clue that some of our disagreements meant that we needed more attention, more love. Ever afterward we’d give the adrenaline rush some time to dissipate and then try to explain ourselves. One of us would ask, “Do you want to talk?” Then we would take the time to paraphrase what the speaker said. It might sound like, “You were trying to help me and then I was impatient?” The careful responses of active listening would slow down our dialogue and keep the argument from re-igniting (usually). Taking a walk together and allowing one person to talk at a time for ten minutes with the other only listening and not being defensive, was effective for us. Sometimes we just never needed to go back to the topic. Later, we’d be very cautious about the reconnection. That meant, “Let’s be careful and very polite, wait a bit, then one of us could try a friendly voice and offer a coke or coffee or a walk and see if our partner was ready to connect again.” After a late-at-night tiff we’d go to bed and it usually didn’t seem to be important to discuss the next morning. What’s your experience?

Sometimes the disconnect was more subtle. When one of us seemed extra quiet, didn’t respond to a comment or question or gave a curt answer, we’d screw up our courage and ask what was wrong. That’s always scary. But if you can retain the ability to think before you react, defend and make excuses, you can avoid escalation to argument. Active listening, which we’ll discuss, is part of the answer to reconnection.

It’s important to notice your experiences of connection and disconnection and to be aware of how that feels to each of you. Then you know what you want to achieve for your happiest relationship. Happiness is on a spectrum from OK to spectacular depending on your situation. OK means that you can be quietly best-friends, in separate rooms or different cities. Spectacular can be all the way up to feeling like there’s no one else in existence and that this person is part of you. Real is up and down the scale.


Praise for Fitting Together

It’s never too late. Focus on growth. Stress the positive. Take time to talk. Fitting Together lays out some of the nuts and bolts for developing a happy relationship. It doesn’t happen by accident! Communication, respect, intimacy. . . it’s all there. From simple tips to deep sharing of personal experiences, Bea shares insights with both wisdom and humor. Ready to take your relationship to the next level? Here’s your road map!

Priscilla Hunt
Executive Director