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Staying Tethered

Friday, May 5th, 2023

by Nicole VanZuidam, Marriage and Family Counseling Intern


Tether: to fasten or retrain by or as if by a tether, the limit of one’s strengths or resources, a line to which someone or something is attached (as for security).  (Defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary.)

“It’s busy season.  It’s planting season.  It’s the push of the end of the school year.  It’s the transition to summer schedules.”  Fill in the blank for your current busy, but this time of year seems to bring a busyness to it.  Busyness can bring about drive, motivation, productivity, but also stress, fatigue, and burnout.  These two ways of being are so different, how can they have any similarity you might ask.  Whether we put our heads down to get motivated and are extremely productive, or perhaps are more prone to feel paralyzed by the stress and feeling overwhelmed, either can result in pulling away from others. 

For the motivated person, it can feel like we are getting things done and say it is “just for a season,” and that it won’t last long.  So we justify putting other things and relationships on the back burner while we speed up productivity.  The reward of accomplishment can encourage tunnel vision, causing things in the peripheral to be out of focus and out of touch.  Perhaps we expect others, especially spouses or partners to accept and adjust to our way of functioning during this busy season, and to pick up where we left off when it is done.  

For the overwhelmed person, we can feel so consumed by the tasks in front of us that we do not feel there is any social energy left to give when we are fighting to keep our heads above water to accomplish what “has to” be done.  We save up our energy to survive the season, taking it from other areas, often our engagement with others, including our spouse or partner.   

You can hear how in both of these instances, we isolate and disconnect, imposing strain on our relationship, when most commonly, people report less stress when they maintain connection.  I find it almost comical that the definition of the word tether is used to describe being at the end of one’s rope or being restrained to a specific area, but then also describes it as a line of attachment and security.  When we have our heads down, our tunnel vision can cause us to view our intimate relationship as a rope holding us back or demanding time we feel we do not have.  When we are stressed, we can feel like engaging with our partner takes social energy we do not have, and yet feeling alone, at the end of our rope and without resources to complete our tasks.

When we are stressed, we can feel like engaging with our partner takes social energy we do not have.  Yet at the same time, we feel alone and at the end of our rope without resources to complete our tasks.

Let’s use the other definition and look at the tether as a line of security.  It functions much like the lifeline that is the tether of a scuba diver.  This line is their connection to the tender, or the person above water.  The tether is used for communication and also has markings for measuring distances.  While the scuba diver is at work underwater, both the diver and the tender take special care of the tether to maintain connection, the line itself, and safety of one another.

What if we were to see our connection to our partner as the lifeline instead of the constricting rope, a lifeline that held safety and security, met needs, communication, and provided support?  While there could be one or both partners in a busy season together or each on their own, what does it look like to maintain a line of connection, staying tethered to one another, supporting one another as each accomplishes what is set before them?  Good, bad, or otherwise, our spouse or partner often knows us and our patterns well.  This can be used to our advantage, relying on one another to gently approach when one is showing signs of tunnel vision or shutting others out.  Is there space in your relationship to identify these things and talk about them in safe and caring ways?  

If you find yourself taking on a mindset of “just surviving” the season, I would encourage you to examine the condition of your tether, of your connection with your partner.  If you commonly function in tunnel vision during your busy season, I would encourage you to check in with your partner as to how they feel the two of you function during this time.  If you find yourselves stuck in the same patterns or having difficulty with the conversations, we at River Counseling are here to meet you where you are, offering hope.  You may schedule an appointment at the Platte office at 605-337-3444 or meet with one of our Sioux Falls or Yankton based therapists from your computer, smartphone, or in person at any of our clinics. To schedule an appointment, please call 605-334-2696.