Running Away and Coming Back
I met Bud at a spiritual festival in Austin, Texas one crisp fall day. We were seated next to each other at an art workshop and started talking about what we do in our careers. I shared my passion for helping people by partnering with horses, and he was transfixed.
A few weeks later Bud called and asked if he and his wife Holly could come work with me. They had been experiencing a pattern of having the same argument over and over. Both wanted to save their marriage, but both were very frustrated with one another and even showing each other resentment and bitterness. They wanted badly to reconnect and have a healthy and fulfilling marriage.
During our first session we always meet every horse on the property. Each client gets to choose their own partner for this work, and Bud chose a one-eyed mare named Dusty. Holly chose a handsome Arabian gelding named Kody. I led each horse into a separate round pen, and we watched each of the horses from outside the round pen, discussing goals for the work and how each was feeling in the moment, outside under the giant oak trees, listening to the birdsong and feeling the breeze on their faces – experiencing presence.
Our sessions progressed over the next few weeks with each learning to ask for connection with each of their horses. Dusty continually would break her connection with Bud and walk away, frustrating Bud which then drove Dusty further away. Holly was having trouble connecting with Kody, getting frustrated that he was not responding to her requests for connection and then sitting in the middle of the round pen crestfallen.
Lessons to Learn
It is in these moments that profound discovery of self happens. Bud and Holly had both experienced some childhood hurts that still affected their responses to each other and the outside world. The horses were simply responding to these patterns of response to stimuli and stress. A lack of nurturing had caused Bud to pursue affection at all costs, sometimes angrily chasing after Holly when she would walk away from conflict. And Holly had experienced unloving comments and actions in her family which caused her to shut down during conflict and “stay below the radar”.
When Bud would pursue her during an argument Holly felt cornered and would be forced into “fight” mode, saying harsh words that she didn’t really mean. Bud felt his pursuit was a show of his affection and desire for the conflict to be resolved but would be terribly hurt by Holly’s words when she felt trapped by his fear of rejection.
And so it went, the same patterns, over different topics, resulting in hurt by both partners, unintentionally. I discussed these patterns with Bud and Holly, and we started working with the horses to learn presence, the ability to stay connected during conflict and how to keep from reacting and falling into a fight/flight/freeze response during conflict.
When Bud would ask for connection from Dusty, and then wait for her to respond, he felt a closer connection and Dusty felt safer. As long as Bud did not chase her fearfully expecting rejection, but with an open heart and vulnerability, Dusty would happily connect and walk with Bud, sustaining the connection. Bud learned to breathe, stay connected to himself and experience presence and emotions as they arose, instead of allowing fear to drive him.
Holly learned that if she stayed present, even when afraid, that Kody would gently stand next to her as she processed the emotions she was feeling, and then willingly connect and respond to her request for connection. She learned not to run away from conflict, and instead to bravely stay present and engaged during conflict, teaching her body and brain to not react to the conflict with fear and shutting down, but with openness and vulnerability.
Through working with horses, we can truly can save marriages while learning how to be vulnerable, break unhealthy patterns and seek authentic connection to each other. There is no other feeling in this world that is more powerful than unconditional love for one another, based on trust and safety. What patterns do you notice in your relationships? Do you think those can change? If you or someone you love wants to break free from that feeling of being stuck, make a consultation appointment with me today. I offer virtual sessions with individuals and couples, as well as in person sessions starting in April.