Why We Struggle Remaining Present In Our Relationship
“The ability to be in the present moment is a major component of mental wellness.” — Abraham Maslow
Have you ever felt unheard or unseen by your S.O.? I mean, you may both be sitting in the same room — even on the same sofa and watching the same show — and feel like you’re worlds apart.
Maybe they’re distracted by Farmville or whatever social media they’re on that’s taking up more of their attention or investment in the moment.
Or, you may be on the other side of the fence where your attention is waning while mindlessly scrolling through the events of your day on the computer, as your S.O. is trying to tell you about their day.
Maybe you don’t want to look like a jerk for another half-assed nod in their general direction while feeling uninterested in engaging in mindless chatter. Yet, at the same time they may be giving off similar vibes of indifference where a head nod seems like the easiest way to shut down conversation in both directions.
This dynamic can be a common ebb and flow seen in our relationships where the harder we try to be present for our S.O., the more distance seems to come between us.
First, there’s a distinction I would like to make between a healthy slump and a toxic pattern.
In a healthy relationship, life can — and does — get in the way. We’re going to feel pressure from work or finances every now and then. We’re going to feel depressed or struggle with motivation or direction once in awhile. Life will inevitably drive a wedge between our Self and our relationships occasionally.
However, when our sense of Self is intact, how we navigate through life’s challenges will positivity reflect this. And so do our relationships.
We’re taking a necessary breather to hone our energy and recharge.
We’re vulnerable and honest with our S.O. and we keep an intimate line of communication flowing.
We’re separating our frustration or irritability with our S.O. now in the moment from our overall love and respect for them.
We’re not painting them “All Black”, nor idealizing them as “All White”. They’re human. We’re human. And our relationship is imperfect, but still worthwhile.
On the flipside, when you are unsure how to be present for yourself, then your habits, your mindset and your choices will reflect this.
The result is that no relationship will seem “good enough” because how you navigate those moments of indifference or boredom turn into bandaids outside the relationship to fill a void within yourself . Even if covertly or unbeknownst to your S.O.
Boredom may be momentarily bandaided with nameless chatting or flirting.
Frustrations can come out in unfairly ranting about your S.O. to your friends or family or shaming them on random social media.
Feeling invalidated can momentarily be numbed by devaluing your partner, your friends or family who triggered you to feel unheard.
Emotional voids may be filled with infidelity, or by always keeping your options open to replace a partner.
...then the cycle can kick back into gear, starting over with the misbelief that this time things will be better with someone new or something new.
Do we always begin looking for bandaids each time we feel a non-connection with our S.O.?
Some do. Some don’t.
Do we always move along a spectrum, trying to busy ourselves with hobbies or fill voids with more superficial chitchat? Or do we move right to Final Jeopardy and look at replacing our S.O. when struggling to remain present?
Some do. Some don’t.
The fact is, when we struggle with being unable to remain present, we’re struggling with transparency and emotional vulnerability with our partner.
In those moments where we tune out or walk out, that in itself becomes an emotional bandaid —conditioning ourselves to numb instead of being emotionally present.
Learning To Be Present By Building Authenticity
Abraham Maslow and Carl Rogers led the humanist movement that focuses on our positive experiences and our personal aspects of the human condition. These include authenticity as paramount to our understanding and appreciation of ourselves in order to have functional relationships with others.
Maslow described authenticity as necessary for his theory of self-actualization, which we can only strive to achieve after we’ve mastered meeting our most basic human needs with consistency.
Rogers described authenticity and genuineness as preconditions for something as miniscule as entering into a conversation with another, and as necessary for developing intimacy and vulnerability in relationships.
And, both theorists cautioned that limited self-awareness, and a lack of authenticity with ourselves, leaves us vulnerable for staying "stuck" in our relationships. Thus, we risk repeating old habits, toxic patterns and not feeling any more connected to ourselves or those in our lives.
Being present for ourselves begins with being ourselves.
Ok, sounds simple enough, right? Just be yourself.
Actually, it’s not so simple.
Those who’ve struggled with their own sense of identity, who were shunned or shamed in childhood for flexing who they genuinely are, or who weren’t shown how to form their own identity, can wind up wearing a mask by trying to be what others think they should be.
They become out of touch with themselves because many weren’t shown how to embrace themselves.
But, it doesn’t end there.
It starts there…
Being out of touch with themselves not only affects what they believe to be true about who they authentically are, it negatively affects their relationships.
As they begin questioning themselves or become more curious about who they are, two things can wind up happening.
On one hand, they may toss out learning to recognize and accept their sense of Self as something to be ashamed of, where they remain ashamed and further secure their mask.
This keeps them chained to the cycle of self-rejection — they refuse to learn about themselves because it triggers pain or a fear of being rejected by others.
On the other hand, their current relationships can wind up getting tossed out as part and parcel of a “Self” that they may no longer identity with. Each time they “change” who they are or what they believe about themselves, their relationships are either reflected or rejected by that “change”.
This cycle can repeat every time they “evolve” into a new “self” without ever taking the time to get to know or appreciate their authentic Self.
lt’s true that we need to master being present for ourselves in order to relate to those in our lives and to be present for them.
However, we can’t be present for others until we are coming from a place of authenticity with ourselves.
In the words of Carl Jung, …”Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.”
Thus, the relationships we choose, both with ourselves and others, will always function as unconscious reminders of what needs healing within ourselves.
Maslow, A.H. (1968). Toward a psychology of being (2nd ed.). New York: D. Van Nostrand.
Peterson, C. & Seligman, M.E.P. (2004). Character strengths and virtues: A handbook and classification. Oxford: American Psychological Association.
Rogers, C.R. (1961). On becoming a person: A therapist’s view of psychotherapy. Boston: Houghton-Mifflin.