In this age of technology and digital communication, I have seen a growing trend in my practice of serious technology related issues in relationships. These issues can signal the beginning of the end for relationships as they can propel the couple to try to control each other and to descend deeper and deeper into codependency and mistrust.
phones are wonderful things, they allow us to stay in constant
communication in a myriad of ways, but they can be the source of much
conflict. Text messages are a prime example. Communication with someone
other than the partner can trigger insecurity and suspicion in a
relationship and the informal nature of text messages can sometimes
allow for communication to veer towards subjects that may be seen as
inappropriate or that feel disrespectful to the other partner. Someone
already prone to insecurity may be propelled to anger and jealousy by
the discovery of messages to another.
Computers can be another
source of pain. From Facebook to pornography, there are triggers
everywhere that can cause hearts to constrict and fear to rule. Friend
requests from former flames can cause more anxiety than a four-alarm
fire, and private messages when discovered can damage trust and build
walls. It can seem like there is nowhere in the world that is safe from
the potential "threat" to the relationship once the line is crossed.
seems like the first response to these events is to "control" them. The
wounded party may ask to see the offender’s text messages or view their
computer history on a regular basis. Monitoring the phone records and
promises not to delete anything until inspected become commonplace. It
seems like once that first step to "monitor" is taken, the relationship
becomes a playground for crazy making.
There are too many ways
around being monitored for monitoring to be an effective means of
achieving that feeling of safety. There are apps that allow you to
receive texts on a server so that they never actually show on a phone,
and ways to wipe and encrypt information on a hard drive so that it is
never found. The person trying to feel safe because of the feeling of
control that comes with being able to check the phone will exhaust
himself or herself with having to think of all the ways they could be
Relationships can become so codependent and enmeshed
once they head down this slippery slope that they hold no resemblance to
the loving environment that was originally triggered by suspicion.
Monitoring someone is futile. If someone wants to cheat they will. There
is no surveillance mechanism strong enough to track someone who wants
to be underground. This is hard news to hear for someone in love who
simply wants to feel safe.
The first step in dealing with an
infraction, whether infidelity, flirtation or mere miscommunication is
to evaluate your boundaries. What are you willing to do or to put up
with to stay in this relationship? Is the relationship worth saving? How
much discomfort are you willing to bear? Are you willing to risk being
hurt to love this person? For some the answer is no, and for some,
staying in the relationship is worth the work it will take to stay
So how do you do it? You realize that you are in a
relationship with a person who is separate from you who has the ability
to make decisions on his or her own. You accept the fact that no matter
what you do you cannot prevent yourself from being hurt when you love
someone. The risk is always there. Then, you nail your feet to the floor
and take a deep breath. This is the hard part.
skills are useful when we are unable, unwilling, or it would be
inappropriate to change a situation. Learning to coexist with discomfort
can go a long way in increasing our quality of life. Sometimes learning
a few skills can allow us to stay in a relationship and thrive versus
intervening and trying to control and pronouncing the beginning of the
end for the relationship.
Radical acceptance is the first step in
distress tolerance. Acceptance means being willing to experience a
situation as it is, rather than how we want it to be , it is a
willingness to accept things as they are and to learn to exist with the
fact. This doesn’t mean that what happened is ok, it merely means that
Repeatedly 'turning the mind' is useful as well. To
be in the actual situation you are in, rather than the situation you
think you're in, or think you should be in is a must. Your mind is
always going to give you other ideas, interpretations, reminding you of
old strategies. Each time your mind wanders and you notice these other
thoughts and images, simply bring your attention back to this moment.
Not judging the situation to be good, or bad, or in any way. Simply
bringing your attention back to this moment, this situation, and being
effective in this situation. That means accepting that something
happened that made you uncomfortable, and resisting the mind's desire to
control or fix the situation.
Taking a deep breath and finding
things to distract you from the desire to monitor or control can help.
Engaging in activities is often helpful. One should focus their
undivided attention on the activity alone, and attempt to push away any
thoughts that try to come in related to the trigger. Mindless, or
tedious activities usually work best for this, such as needlework,
washing dishes, filing papers, etc. It is important not to attach any
opinions to the activities you are engaged in because doing so opens the
door to judgmental thoughts and images related to the triggering event.
meaningful activities outside of your relationship can help you to keep
perspective and a healthy sense of your significance. Volunteering or
engaging in activities with a purpose helps redirect your attention upon
others. There is a tendency to become hyper-focused on your
relationship when triggered to anxiety, and developing contributing
skills helps move your focus to others. Examples of contributing skills
would be doing someone a favor or making someone a nice card for a
"just because" occasion, or writing a letter to a loved one, telling
them how much you care. Contributing not only helps distract you from
your own painful emotions but it helps you build a sense of self respect
and gives back meaning and purpose to your life that may feel
diminished due to the current circumstances in your relationship. Doing
things for others can be very rewarding, especially when the act is
unsolicited. This distress tolerance tactic is very effective.
is a skill that many of us neglect when triggered to anxiety. This is a
skill in which one behaves in a comforting, nurturing, kind, and gentle
way to oneself. You use it by doing something that is soothing to you
such as taking a bubble bath, or spending time in nature. It is used in
moments of distress or agitation to great avail when you are feeling
afraid and compelled to act.
Committing yourself to a relationship
based on mutual respect and refusing to allow yourself to take that
first step towards losing self-respect despite your partner's actions is
a must. Once you take that first step down the slippery slope you not
only lose your self-respect, you give your relationship the seal of
doom. What feels like it will save the relationship and make it "safe"
for you is actually the guaranteed way to keep you in anxiety and pain.
Monitoring also prevents the offender from being able to redeem himself
or herself, and takes away their dignity, which ensures that they will
never be able to perform up to their highest capabilities in the
Sometimes outside support is necessary to enable you
to thrive in a relationship where your trust has been broken. As a
psychotherapist who specializes in anxiety, I have seen relationships
dissolve due to infidelity and the ensuing mistrust, but I have also
seen them heal and grow. Having an advocate to help you navigate the
uncharted waters of relationship insecurity can go a long way towards
helping you decide whether to stay in a relationship or leave.
Psychotherapy can help you keep your dignity and to step into your power
and use the situation as an opportunity for growth. If you need
assistance in dealing with relationship anxiety call me at 770-789-0847
or email email@example.com for a free consultation. For more
information see my website at www.carolyntuckertherapist.com.
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