By Chandrama Anderson
In Honor of RalphUploaded: Sep 6, 2019
It was my privilege to present at The Compassionate Friends National Conference: "Thriving as a Couple After Your Child Dies." I'll share with you a bit about the session I had with bereaved parents.
Thank you to the couple S. and D. (to preserve their confidentiality) who bravely volunteered as the couple to practice the tools I taught. This means they sat facing each other at the front of a room with about 100 bereaved parents and grandparents. I asked them to pick a topic of importance of a 2-3 on a scale of 1-10, and as often happens, they picked at least an 8: she talks, he doesn't talk, she gets louder, he retreats further (she's a wave, he's an island).
They were a great couple to work with and their issue is common. When we look at their interaction through the lens of secure attachment, we see S's attempts to engage D. as a primal cry for the biological drive we have for connection.This is basically defined as:
I know my partner has my back, no matter what
I seek comfort from my partner
I seek sex from my partner
We create a haven from which to go out into the world
S. and D. allowed me work with them, slowing everything down, noticing what they felt, and what was happening in their own body, what they noticed in the other, giving them questions to ask each other to gain understanding, interrupting their normal pattern of talk/not talk.
S. complained about the way D. makes an apology to her. This is a secure attachment wish on her part. I had her ask D. if his apologies were sincere, and he said they were. His intention was positive and genuine. I noted that while his intention was good, the impact on S. was different than his intention. His apologies felt offhand to her. I had D. ask her how she would like an apology. "I want you to put your hand on my shoulder, look me in the eye, and say you're sorry." D. said he could and would do so.
They continued to ask each other questions, and took turns answering. When one had spoken and was off to another topic, I stopped them so the other could respond to that topic. Often couples veer off without acknowledging what was just said.
When a "zinger" was lobbed by one onto the other, I said, "Zing!" They stopped and looked surprised. We're human, so we occasionally zing our partner. "When you zing your partner, " I said, "follow it with this question: Is there a grain of truth in that?" This allows us to consider and own a grain of truth without being condemned.
We delved a bit into their families of origin, and noticed how they spoke to one another, and how those patterns are in their marriage. D. said he finds it threatening when S. gets loud in her talk. Her intention is to get him to respond, but he retreats instead.
An hour goes by so fast when we're engaged with each other. Just as we were finishing, S. circled back to the topic of apology, so I asked D. to say again what he had heard as her request. He did hear S.'s request and was able to repeat it back to her. I noted how this was obviously an important topic to her, and that D. does listen to her.
It also turns out that D. does talk. And they did connect. And it was my honor to know them a little bit.