Diving into the Deep End - the Benefits of Taking Risks and Going Deeper in Your Relationship

Chorus from A Star Is Born (Lady Gaga / Bradley Cooper)

I'm off the deep end, watch as I dive in

I'll never meet the ground

Crash through the surface, where they can't hurt us

We're far from the shallow now

  From the first moment I watched A Star is Born to listening to the soundtrack countless times, I was captivated by the movie and the love story.  The other day when I was listening to “Shallow” and really tuning into the words of the song by Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper, it reminded me of my work with couples.  And then it reminded me of my own relationship journey with my husband.  The song is about searching for more, looking to fill a void, and finding that in someone else by diving into the deep end.  I see diving into the deep end as taking an emotional risk.  A risk to be open, to be honest, to be vulnerable and real.  Vulnerability is the key to connection with others and to a sense of belonging, but it makes sense that it is difficult to do this and can be scary because it is a risk. We do not know what response we will receive when we are vulnerable with our partner if we take that leap.   When I review the risks and benefits of therapy with new clients, I explain that while therapy is highly beneficial for most people, there are emotional risks.  Opening up and letting yourself be seen is vulnerable.  Opening up and seeing yourself, acknowledging who you are (and what that means), and sharing that with someone else can feel risky, uncertain, even terrifying.  So why do many of us know the risks and still do it anyways?  To get to the other side.  To get to connection.  We were wired for it.  We long for it.  A part of us longs to get out of the shallow and into the deep.   In my work using Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy (EFT), my goal is for the couple to see that it is the dance, not the steps, that are the problem.  When we zoom out, we see that it is the way a couple talks about the issue that is the problem, not what they are talking about.  The shallow end is the content, the issue.  When we dive into the deep end (this is something I help my clients do with one another), we start talking about our deeper emotions, fears, worries, longings and needs.  These deeper parts are very different from the shallow and often come as a surprise to our partners.  We often show the shallow- the anger, the indifference, and the frustration, but we don’t often show the deep- the hurt, the fear, the pain.   Every couple has a negative dance or pattern they get into time after time, it may be a different subject but feel like the same fight over and over again.  What creates the disconnection is that the way the two people in the relationship are communicating or not communicating about the issue creates insecurity and does not feel safe.  It triggers a fight, flight or freeze response and registers in our brains as danger because in that moment we sense a threat to our most important relationship – that with our significant other.  In order to dive into the deep end, it may be helpful to get support from a relationship therapist who can help you and your partner create the emotional safety to make that dive possible and more certain.  What’s even better is if you both dive in together and never hit the ground, but find safety and love in one another.   How can we create this safety in a relationship?  We know that disconnection from a loved one signals panic and rings the alarm bells, and how we usually cope with it is by pushing in, protesting the disconnection, shutting down and pulling away.  Most of the time, one person is pushing in and the other is pulling away and this creates a feedback loop that keeps this negative cycle going.  Since we know that disconnection causes the panic and leads to the negative cycle, we know that by creating more safety and connection we can create a positive cycle of connection.  In EFT, we often discuss three key elements that create safety and connection in a love relationship - accessibility, responsiveness and engagement.  These are basically the answers to the questions of “Are you here for me?  Do I matter to you?”  and they are saying “I am here for you, I am with you, you matter to me.”   In an interaction with your partner, you can create more safety by making sure that you are accessible, paying attention, tuning in, being emotionally present with your partner, making sure they know you are there for them and interested in them (in both the high points and low points), and you want to do life together.  You can also create more safety by taking a risk and being vulnerable yourself – this might be sharing a feeling, an experience, a dream or goal.  We can let our partners know what we need from them in terms of a response – this could be “just listen to me”, “let me know you love me and care”, “give me a hug”, or  “reassure me that you are here for me.”  They may or may not respond but we opened that up, and this creates more safety for our partner to reach back.   In healthy relationships, as true in any worthy undertaking, much investment and focused intention is required. We have to tune in and remember that while there is a risk, there is often a reward and that reward is love that is returned and mutual connection. It is an opportunity to know our partner deep down in a very special way and to be able to tune in and thus know how to better be there for them.  On the flipside, we are opening up a doorway for our partners to walk through  to really see and know us; meaning that they may discover how to be there for us in a way that we have never been able to feel and access before. You may be thinking, well what if it doesn’t work? What if I jump in and I am disappointed? Well…then you learn to swim.  You learn to get back up.   You may have scars and pain but you can heal. You will know that you have been courageous and you will know that you did not just stand back in the safe zone without going after the deep connection you long for. Relationships are complex and often we need the support of a professional couples therapist in order to feel supported and safe.   In order to be vulnerable, share our hearts and understand ourselves and our loved ones in a new way, we often need the help of a relationship therapist. It is so rewarding to be able to help support many couples on this path to more connection and I would love to be a resource for you on your journey.   Written by: Athen Fisher, MAS, LMFT, ICEEFT Certified EFT Therapist