“No longer responding to people who want my energy in exchange for nothing.
– Boundaries.” ~ Unknown
Barriers are defined as invisible walls we surround ourselves with so that no one can come close or get into a comfortable proximity zone with us.
They are drawn intentionally or unintentionally to protect us from getting hurt further or becoming more deeply involved in relationships. Hence, the barrier deters the other person from connecting with us, whether emotionally or psychologically.
Usually, barriers are created in a fluid manner to help us cope with our daily lives, so we don’t feel emotional pain, rejection, or harsh words. It’s like a withdrawal approach to block our feelings because either our expectations of the other person weren’t met or we felt let down in one way or another.
But why do barriers arise in coupled relationships? Here are some potential reasons:
1. Emotional affair.
Usually, in relationships, one tends to discuss everything with their spouse or significant other. It is an understanding that develops over time between couples. They discuss everything under the sun and a beautiful comfort zone develops.
For example, it could just be a discussion about how their day went, work-related issues, or matters regarding relatives, friends, their future, and children’s plans. These are just some of the many aspects that one confides in their partner. They open up and slowly let their vulnerable side out, developing close intimate bonds with another person.
However, on some occasions, one of the partners may discuss these issues with somebody else other than their partner. It could be a workmate, friend, sibling, or even a parent.
Let’s take the example of someone who has conversations with their sibling on a daily basis. They have a fixed time and speak with that sibling undisturbed for approximately half an hour in the evening (apart from the quick daytime calls). Quite rightly, this leaves their partner feeling left out and highly disturbed. Not to forget, after their emotionally charged conversation with their sibling, obviously, they have not got anything to share with their partner because they have already spewed up all their energy. In this case, we could say they are having an “emotional affair” while creating distance between them and their partner.
2. Emotional unavailability.
This is when somebody is emotionally unavailable for his or her spouse or any other person they might share their life with. They are simply too busy.
For example, the above scenario leads to my friend’s wife feeling that her husband is emotionally unavailable for her, so she stops sharing her life with him too. This creates even more distance and a barrier is raised from her side. She doesn’t want to share any personal or emotional feelings with him if he isn’t available when she needs him because communication is a two-way process.
Wanting to share your life with someone is a gift. There should not be any begging for attention involved.
3. The office “spouse.”
Office spouse refers to a colleague at work who spends the whole day with us. As one spends more time with a particular colleague, one develops a close connection with them. Obviously, the next organic process would be that one starts to share emotional issues and forms a deep bond with the concerned colleague.
The more we invest our personal and emotional selves somewhere else, the harder it gets to share ourselves with our real spouse at home. This leads to creating more barriers and distances between the two.
4. Work vs. personal priority.
Some individuals are besotted with their work. They dive into it so intensely that everything else becomes secondary. We’ve all heard of the phrase, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.”
Well, it’s true. If Jack’s life only revolves around work, and he is busy with a mobile, laptop, and all other gadgets all day long, then he has no time left for Jill. He may even be having his fun elsewhere. So, Jill decides to move on too and unintentionally or intentionally creates a protective barrier around her. She stops sharing anything emotional with Jack because she feels he is emotionally unavailable.
5. Uncaring/nonchalant/indifferent attitude.
A barrier develops when one of the partners is indifferent toward everything that the other has done, for example, when a gift is not appreciated. My colleague bought many gifts for her partner over time, but it was often lost, not looked after, or broken. Although she was quite hurt, she ended up saving a lot of money by deciding to forgo any further gifts.
Some other gestures that may go unnoticed are:
>> When someone is ill and their partner takes care of them like a baby. But as soon as the illness resides, they celebrate their own bravery of overcoming their illness, while forgetting that their partner put day and night into looking after them.
>> Not showing appreciation for the other person’s efforts around the house by either expressing a thank you. “It’s really nice” goes a long way. It makes one want to do more of what they are already doing because they feel their partner appreciates them.
>> Not appreciating someone’s looks. Receiving compliments by someone truly boosts our confidence and ego, and it makes us feel extra special if that someone happens to be our partner.
This is also a good example of being taken for granted, or when one partner believes that the other person will be around forever, no matter what.
Barriers are raised once again because it’s human psychology to react and guard ourselves when we feel threatened.
6. The pandemic lockdown.
During these precarious times, when we are all stuck at home for almost 15 months with other people, we crave our own space and privacy. Once in a while, it can turn our favorite person or people into our worst enemy. So, barriers arise during these times, too, because we start to resent people for our situation.
Imagine the mental health status of someone who is stuck with people, following the same routine every day for several months, while there is nothing to look forward to at all. It’s what most of us are going through at the moment. But for some of us, things are worse than for others because while some find ways to cope with the situation or distract ourselves, others might find it difficult to even get out of bed in the morning.
As we start to resent the other person, we raise barriers to protect ourselves and start to live in a cocoon of our own where we find solace in our thoughts.
Clearly, the above situations will lead to creating many strong barriers. But barriers are simply a way of coping from further emotional turbulences. They are a defense mechanism created psychologically to protect us from getting hurt further.
But barriers also form obstacles and are lethal to our relationships. They create a communication gap, which, in some cases, may be irreparable. It’s an indication that the relationship needs dire help or, otherwise, it will collapse.
Some couples may want to nurture their relationship, but for others, it could mean the end of the road. Whatever the consequences, barriers can be a wake-up call to all of us.