One of my current personal practices is noticing when I’m feeling disconnected from someone and then, if I’m feeling brave enough, voicing my experience to them. I’ve also asked people in my life to tell me when they are having trouble connecting with me. It’s kind of like an ongoing experiment to test my emotional availability and presence.
Throughout this experience, I’ve gained a wealth of evidence for how myself and others deflect from sharing our honest in-the-moment emotions and experience. Metaphorically, I would describe the calling out process as if someone finally turned on the lights in the room. Whereas, it felt safe to ramble on in the dark about other people, stories, politics, sports and the weather, it now feels abruptly vulnerable and bright. Most people are not used to this so there is usually a moment of surprise, confusion, or defense. I have felt more and more okay with it, because I generally know what to expect.
And, although I’ve been going about this experiment quietly, I now think it is time that I share some of my findings. Here are the 4 Types of Emotional Deflectors:
#1 The Story Teller 🗣
Story, story and more story. You know I was at the store the other day and the cashier was getting all upset because she couldn’t find someone to come bag the groceries. Finally, I decided to bag them myself as she was shouting over the intercom, but I just think this store needs to hire more personable people because…. ENOUGH ALREADY! Are you listening to yourself? Do you realize that there are words coming out of your mouth, right now?
Hey, I know we all get caught in our day to day complaints about our partner, our boss, our work, our life, that guy, that girl, and so on, but let’s call it like it is. We are experiencing an underlying, ongoing, un-dealt with, emotional issue that we are not taking responsibility for and, instead of acknowledging it honestly, we are rambling on, blaming, or complaining.
Your job is to stop talking for a moment and feel. You can’t do a very good job of feeling while you’re talking.
#2 Mr./Mrs. Smarty Pants 🧠
We've all been in those disagreements about random stuff that seems to go off the rails. By the end, we are left wondering, "What are we even arguing about?" Is either of us really invested in *Facebook conspiracy theories?
*literal disagreement between Jenny and I
It can sometimes feel like we are the crazy person when we try to point out the deeper reality of our interactions. I am tempted to say that we may truly not understand that they are always having an emotional experience, but the fact that we are defending something makes me believe that we at least know that there is at least some feeling present on a subconscious level.
This is a common way for the intellectual types to deflect and it usually serves up enough confusion that it muddies the waters and makes it almost impossible to continue on in any direction. Your job is to stop hiding and justifying and start accepting responsibility for your feelings.
#3 Problem Solver 👨🔧
No, feelings don’t matter in this situation. All I said was that I wanted to finish this e-mail before I sat down for dinner and now, you’re upset. What do you want me to do?
Yep! Except, you got it all backwards. The truth is that now it actually doesn’t matter what you said. What matters is how YOU are feeling. Now, your resistance to admitting your own feelings has become the elephant in the room. Your job is to own your feelings, feel your feelings, and create a safe space for your partner where their feelings are okay.
#4 The Zombie 🤖
For some people, a natural strategy that they developed from childhood, was to go inside when things felt unsafe and scary. We also call this the freeze response. It’s common for some people to totally shut down when they feel overwhelmed, vulnerable, or blamed.
Again, there’s nothing wrong with this and it can be really helpful to identify your style. This person may be the type to go quiet, nod their head, and go watch hours and hours of television. They probably aren’t consciously trying to avoid feeling but, it has the same impact on their partners, nonetheless.
If this is you, your job is to start opening up and using your words. Even saying, “I don’t know what’s going on with me, right now” will go a long way.
According to Psychology Today, almost 50% of marriages end in divorce or permanent separation, about 15% of marriages experience infidelity, 15-20% of marriages are sexless, and roughly 60% of people are not happy with their marriage. 🤷♂️
Whoa, what’s that all about?!
What about promising to love and to cherish, until death do you part?
There seems to be some misunderstanding here, and I believe it all starts with the set up. These traditional vows sound great, but they don’t actually line up with the experience that most people have in their marriages and relationships.
For one, as sensitive and imperfect humans, we are incapable of maintaining a fairy-tale view of our partner at all times. Don’t get me wrong. I would take a bullet for Jenny, any minute of any day, but I don’t always cherish and love everything that she does in our personal life. My job is not to stop judging or change Jenny, because that’s impossible. My job is to take responsibility for my judgments and turn them around to better understand myself and grow as a person.
Second, placing the promise of togetherness over self-love, can set many people up for a whole load of pain. What is someone supposed to do if their partner becomes emotionally abusive, strung out on pain-killers, or mentally ill? At some point, we have to realize that we are an individual, within a partnership, and that doing what’s best for ourselves is what’s best for everyone. This includes seeking individual help, setting boundaries, and possibly ending the relationship.
And finally, where is the magic? If there was ever a moment to throw the script out the window and show your heart, this is it! This is the time to share your love with your tribe and step into the fear of being seen in your vulnerability. You may never get to do it like this again!
There’s no right or wrong way to do this dance, but it’s worth thinking about if you’re considering getting hitched. You also don’t have to wait to get married or go back in time to come up with some solid agreements that feel good for both of you. If you don’t continually make new agreements to fit each new phase of life, you’re going to fight each other, feel irritable, or hide yourself…A LOT!
In our experience, lack of communication tools, low self-awareness, and unclear agreements are some of the most common relationship killers.