A Handful of Soap Bubbles

A Light Touch in Relationships Usually Works Better

My son is almost four years old, so he still loves a good bubble bath. I’m not opposed to one now and then, myself. My son loves the soap bubbles because of all the fun things you can do with them: put them on your head, make a Santa beard, fill a cup with bubbles and pretend it’s icecream.

soap bubbles

It’s tricky to hold onto bubbles. It requires you to keep a couple things in mind:

  1. You have to hold the bubbles gently–with a soft and open hand. In fact, the more open and relaxed your hand is, the more bubbles you can usually hold.
  2. Similarly, the tighter you try to grasp the bubbles, the fewer you’ll actually be able to hang on to. Eventually, if you squeeze tightly enough, there won’t be any room left for the bubbles at all.

A Handful of Soap Bubbles

Some relationships behave a lot like a handful of bubbles. One partner (the bubbles in this metaphor) has a really hard time getting close to other people, seems kind of delicate or wary of connection, and often acts like they might just disappear all together.

The other partner (the hand) has a really hard time holding their mate lightly, finds it difficult to give the other person space, and constantly worries that their partner may very well just disappear all together.

The Distancer-Pursuer Dynamic

This dynamic plays out exactly like bubbles in the hand. The tighter one partner squeezes to try and keep a grip on the relationship, the further away the other partner moves. Eventually, the distancing partner will disappear (whether literally or just virtually), and the grasping partner will feel as though their worst fears have been realized.

Usually, this is called a distancer-pursuer dynamic, and it afflicts a lot of couples. One of the most important steps in changing this kind of relationship is to change each partner’s default response to difficult situations. For the distancer, it’s about learning how to turn toward their partner in difficult moments, rather than running away. For the pursuer, it’s about learning how to give a little more space so that the distancing partner doesn’t feel compelled to disappear.

This sort of situation isn’t easy for most couples to overcome on their own – even when they know it exists. It requires hard work, the help of a professional who can coach them through it, and a true commitment to figuring out how to change ingrained relationship habits.

If you’re in a relationship right now, and you identify with either the soap bubbles or the hand trying to hold on to them, you may well benefit from some work with a therapist who can help you redirect your efforts at finding intimacy and closeness. Don’t wait until the hand has closed completely and all the bubbles disappear.

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