Drowning in Emotion Part 4: A Legion of Saviors

Dr. Bill Spaine 

To whom or to what do this latter genre of fleers turn for rescue (and fighters often withdraw after fighting, as do passive-aggressive types)? Who is the lifeguard around whose head you throw your arms? Fortunately, or unfortunately depending upon your perspective, there are a legion of saviors to ease your immediate pain after flight from a hurtful relationship. Each of these deserves a much fuller explanation and analysis than will be devoted to them at this time. So in future discussions, we will delve more indulgently into many of them, for they are a seductive lot. But for now, let me list the usual suspects to whom we turn for rescue and relief.

Alcohol, illegal substances, and the misuse of prescription drugs offer temporary respite from psychological misery. Couples who present to my office in which at least one of them is self-medicating with a substance are often surprised to learn that their alcohol use renders them emotionally less available or even emotionally abusive to their partner. They don’t realize that they are drowning and have drawn in unreliable support.

Frequently, a wife will complain that her husband spends most evenings and weekends watching television, and he quickly counters that when he tries to talk to her, she’s on her computer or smartphone. A new book, Alone Together: Why We Expect More From Technology and Less From Each Other by a clinical psychologist and professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology argues that, “These technologies are with us, but we have to learn to live with them in a healthy way, according to our human values.” My contention is that it is not the technology that seduces us away from our partners and families so much as that when we flee from our conflicted relationships, technology is there to lend what may appear a helping hand.

But things can quickly become much more sticky than the siren’s voice of technology. While Facebook and other social media have facilitated the cyber-reunion of family and old friends, it also offers a means whereby one might exchange anxious relationship minutes or hours with a spouse or partner for a non-conflicted online relationship with an old (or new!) friend who finds us much more interesting and charming than the person with whom we just fought.

Copyright © 2011 William E. Spaine, Psy.D.