My book club chose to read An American Marriage by Tayari Jones last month. It’s a roller coaster of a story about a marriage that faces several obstacles, including one partner being incarcerated, infidelity, and “in-law” problems, to name a few.
In one of the husband’s letters to his wife from prison, he said something that really stood out to me.
“The one thing I don’t miss is how we fought so much. I can’t believe we wasted so much time fussing over nothing. I think about every time I hurt you. I think about the times when I could have made you feel secure, but I let you worry simply because I liked being worried about. I think about that and I feel like a damn fool. A damn lonesome fool.”
Lonesome. I thought that a curious choice of words. Even while fussing and bickering with his wife, his inner experience was one of loneliness.
I thought about how loneliness, or more specifically the fear of loneliness, really drives a lot of our actions in our relationships.
It’s no secret to researchers that loneliness has drastic effects on our mental and physical health. It is one of our primal instincts to connect with other people. We need it not only to survive, but to thrive.
Photo by Everton Vila on Unsplash
When we feel that these connections are being threatened, and that there is a risk of feeling lonely and disconnected from the ones we love, it can feel very scary.
It may even lead us to act in ways that further strain these connections.
Imagine a recent argument you had with your partner, or a family member, or a close friend.
When you boil it down to the root of the disagreement, what do you hear?
Do you hear yourself yearning to be closer to your partner?
Do you hear your friend wishing you’d included her in that event last weekend?
Maybe it’s the voice of a family member who felt misunderstood by you?
In each of these situations, the conflict came from a threat to the connection you and that person had. Sure, it wasn’t presented in that way, and it may even have been presented in a totally counterproductive and possibly even hurtful way.
But often, when a conflict comes up between two people who love each other, it’s because one of them felt that their connection was at risk.
When you were fuming at your partner for forgetting about your dinner plans, there was likely a little voice in the back of your head saying “maybe this connection isn’t as strong as I thought it was”.
Here comes that lonely feeling.
And then comes the fear, and then comes the anger, and then comes the argument.
So, if you find yourself in an argument with a loved one, I encourage you to take a second and try to listen for that voice. Whether it’s yours or your loved one’s, try and find the underlying reason one of you is upset.
Odds are, one of you is looking for more closeness.