Relationship Help Quick Tip
Without even realizing it, couples frequently play a game of mental catch, tossing their biases, emotions, assumptions, and fears back and forth to each other–projected mental debris that understandably obscures their vision, preventing them from seeing their partners clearly.
Often these projections, if left unchecked, contribute to a breakdown in communication, increased marital/relationship conflict and a loss of intimacy.
Meet Silvia: An Expert in Projecting Her Needs onto Her Husband
Silvia loves old movies and she enjoys watching them with her husband Antonio. She also likes to work in their garden with him. Through these activities, Silvia feels emotionally connected to her husband—Silvia’s pathways to emotional intimacy are through shared activities that typically involve little direct communication (i.e., verbal exchanges).
Silvia assumed that the same (or similar) activities that bring her emotional security and connection are the things that work for Antonio, and as a result, she never asked him about what makes him feel close to her. And when he did discuss his own ways of connecting with her (talking things over, verbally processing feelings and experiences), Silvia didn’t see that these were her husband’s own pathways to feeling emotionally connected to her. Her projected emotional needs (a need for intimacy through shared activities, activities that don’t require verbal processing) prevented her from understanding the importance that Antonio’s needs had for the health of their relationship.
Often, projections involve some element of our unfinished emotional business that stem from the long arm of our childhood experiences. Our past experiences act as mental templates (often unconscious) that filter and shape our current experiences. These templates create psychological blind-spots and are partly responsible for our projections and how we see our partners.
All projections (whether accurate or not) are selfish acts—the projector cannot see past his/her own needs and desires and feelings. In essence, Silvia was saying, “Since I feel deeply connected when we do these things, Antonio must feel the same way, end of story.”
And here’s a particularly dangerous feature about assuming all of your spouse’s/partner’s needs are carbon copies of yours: the person doing the projecting never feels the need to check in with the other person—to ask questions or get input about what makes the other person feel secure and emotionally safe in the relationship; what makes them feel deeply understood, like kindred spirits.
Marriage/Relationship Help Action Step:
The following exercise can help you see each other more clearly, without your own biases and projections obscuring your perceptions of each other.
Think about when you felt really close and safe with your spouse/partner. What did each of you do to contribute to this level of emotional intimacy. What words were spoken, what actions taken? List the activities that you enjoy doing with your mate (this might involve your partner’s direct participation or you may simply enjoy that s/he is next to you while you do something you enjoy).
Share your lists with each other and ask questions about how these experiences or activities deepen intimacy. Be open to the information being shared since it can act as a powerful road map to your partner’s most personal desires and relationship needs.
I’ve created a series of marriage/relationship workbooks that focus on the core relationship skills/tools needed for a healthy relationship. For more information about my workbooks, click relationship workbooks.
Until next time,
Dr. Rich Nicastro