When Couples Stop Communicating

Some people stay in their relationships even when they feel distant from their partner.  I’ve seen couples spend decades with a person they don’t really know, or think about.  They just find a way to exist inside the relationship.  It’s like they
live alone, even though they are a couple.

People who find themselves in this type of situation might wonder if their life is happy enough.  They might quietly ask themselves if they could have a better life by making some changes. Maybe they resign themselves and just accept their circumstances.

I’ve worked with couples who have been together for decades.  They tell me they don’t want to end their marriage.  They tell me they love the other person. What I often see are two people who believe they know each other so well they don’t even see the other person anymore.  They’ve become people who can answer the other’s sentences. They already know what the other person is going to say even before they say it.  The curiosity and wonder about their mate has vanished.

They come to counseling to get “better”.  They want what they used to have; closeness, laughter, possibilities.  They want me to help them find it again, as if it’s just hidden somewhere and I can use my therapeutic x-ray vision to spot it.  I wish it was this easy.  I wish I could just help couples feel good about being in their relationship again. 

But I know it’s not that simple.  I do have good vision, and I can probably help couples see what happened to their relationship and why they feel the way they do.  This is often helpful, but it’s just the beginning.  The real work comes
when each person wants to have a better relationship and isn’t expecting the other to make it better for them.

If one or both people in the relationship are waiting for the other to change, that relationship is going to stay the same. It isn’t up to one person to make it different for the other. A relationship improves when both people look at themselves.
When each person starts to see how they talk, and react to the other person, then there’s a good chance for change. 

In counseling each person begins to understand what he or she is about.  They learn what they have wanted and needed from the other person and they acquire the skills to ask for it.  If a couple wants to save a relationship it’s likely both want to see their partner happy. If this is your situation why not try counseling, dig in and fight for what you really want; love, closeness, understanding, kindness, support.

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When Couples Argue

Sometimes when I see couples they are a little embarrassed to tell me how they communicate with each other, especially when they are in a heated argument.  They often blame the other for making them feel so terrible. I usually hear something like, “He always does this,” “She never stops doing that.”

Both people are locked in their pattern of responding to the other.  These patterns cement over time.  When people get to the end of their rope they say the most emphatic thing to the other person so they can to be heard.  Sometimes it’s really harsh.  And when a couple gets to this point they are locked in dueling tirades.

They might sound something like this.  “You blank, blank, blank.  You make me so blank mad.  I hate you.  I wish you were dead.  I wish we never met.”  Both people are yelling curse words at each other and it’s as explosive as it can get.

Maybe one person does the yelling one time and the other person yells another time.  Maybe this is your pattern.  What ever your particulars, I know that you will feel terrible after it’s over. 

No one likes yelling. No one feels terrific about him or herself after yelling at their mate.  You might feel a little bit of release from the pent up anger, but I have never met a person who actually likes this behavior.  Most people I meet are embarrassed about it.  Why embarrassment?  Because everyone who yells knows deep down inside that it’s wrong. 

No one wins when someone yells.  Every one feels terrible.

I worked with a couple recently.  They were civil to each other inside the therapy room. But I got a glimpse of the kind of arguing they do when they are at the end of their rope.  It’s as bad as it gets, each hurling the worst cursing insults at the other.  They came to therapy a few times.  But I never got the sense that they were really in it. 

Sometimes people think that one, or two sessions will change things.  If they don’t feel better they assume that the therapy isn’t working and then they might rationalize, “We can live with the situation here at home.  It’s bad, but we can live with it.”

And they can.  Each couple knows what they can handle.  I just know that couples who learn about themselves and understand that they are fighting because their needs have not been met, are a lot happier in their relationships.  I know that when couples allow the therapy to work they feel better. They figure out different ways to communicate and they eliminate the harmful dueling.

Some couples are looking for the magic answer.  The answer doesn’t come from me, I know that the answers live inside each person in the relationship; all that’s needed is a guide.

Send me your comments at linda@lindanusbaum.com

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How to Get Rid of Hurt

More than anything, most couples are looking for a happy relationship.  People want to feel good about their life and their mate.  Some couples live in relationships where they can wish they could be happy.

If you are waiting for something to happen to make you feel this way, or wondering when you will feel happy again, maybe it’s time to examine what you may be carrying that could be preventing it.  Is it possible you may be carrying around some resentment toward your mate?

Do you feel angry when you talk to him or her?  Do you prepare for an argument around the same issues?  Do you long for that time in your relationship when it was better?  Have you just resigned yourself to the situation you are in?

If you find yourself nodding your head to any of these questions, why not take a look at what’s going on inside you?  It’s possible you may be carrying around some old wounds that have never healed.  When we get our feelings hurt that hurt stays with us until it heals.  If we don’t tell someone, “Hey, I got my feelings hurt when this happened” we may still be carrying around unfinished business.

Old hurts don’t stay raw, they usually scab over and then we harden ourselves against any future pain.  On top of that scab we might pile on anger at the person who hurt us, and that anger might come out every time we have a disagreement with them.  You are not playing out the original hurt, but because the original pain was never healed it feels the same every time there is conflict.

So how do we get over old hurts?  It takes exploration and an open mind.  Sometimes we can accomplish this with our mate if they are patient and understanding.  Sometimes we can work through our discomfort with a trusted friend.  Often people choose a counselor to listen with trained ears to help people process their histories.  Whatever feels right, is the right thing for you.  And that’s how we start to heal.

The first step in a healing process is to show the light on the wound.  Look at it from all angles.  Talk about the stories that the event created and get everything out.  After everything is said and there is nothing left to say about the incident and the pain, the next step could be to think about what might make you feel better.  Maybe you need an acknowledgment that you have pain and it’s been a hard road for you.  Maybe you need an apology from the one who hurt you.  Maybe you want them to do something for you. 

We’re talking about a resolution to help you move through the difficulty.  Sometimes we just need someone to notice we are suffering.  And sometimes we need another to take some responsibility for it.  If our partner is interested in strengthening the relationship, chances are he or she will want you to feel better and not suffer.  If this is true, they may be more than willing to acknowledge or apologize.

These are the steps that help heal and solidify a relationship; allowing your partner to see you from the inside, your pain and your hopes and desires.  Also important is that the partner wants what’s best for the mate and is doing his or her part to help the mate heal.

Getting over hurts, it’s one of the best ways to strengthen your relationship.

Let me know what you think.  Send me your comments and suggestions for future articles.

linda@lindanusbaum.com

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Are You Angry at Your Mate?

A lot of couples I work with are angry at their partner.  Sometimes this anger has been building for a long time.  When the couple finally gets into therapy they are so ready to explode and sometimes they just unleash on each other. 

When this happens while I watch the fight I already know a couple of things.  The first is that both are in a lot of pain.  The second is that neither is getting their needs met and the louder and longer the argument, the greater the chance each person is feeling isolated in the relationship.  When couples spend their time in a back and forth disagreeing state, that tells me they are spending less time in a state of togetherness.

The irony is that couples who live with this difficulty are desperate for closeness with each other, yet the arguing between them prevents exactly what they both want.

When couples find themselves in this type of relationship both people have created a way of getting through it.  Often one person will stay frozen with his or her feelings and not talk or ignore their partner.  The other may be all exposed with his or her feelings; crying or sobbing because they can’t get the other to respond.  One person dies inside from wanting for the other to notice, the other just cuts him or herself off from their feelings so they feel nothing.  A different kind of dying and a death of love just the same.

So why does this happen? People just believe that love is all they need.  Unfortunately we don’t learn how to be good mates from our instincts or because we feel love.  We don’t learn how to be good partners from television, books or movies either.  We learn how to be in a relationship from the family we grew up in.  Look at your parents.  What was their relationship like?  Were they loving and caring with each other?  Were they dismissive or argumentative?  Did you grow up with one parent?  We absorb how to be with another person based on how we were treated.  We do have instincts about being with others; they are passed on to us by our experiences.  But if they are not kind, giving, loving and respectful how are we going to learn how to be that way?

Two people find each other and fall in love.  Both are desperate to feel good, whole, and safe in their relationship.  Both people want this.  Unfortunately neither may know exactly how to attain it. 

Learning to be a good mate takes understanding of ourselves.  We must learn to know what we are about, how we get our needs met, what enriches us, what harms us.   We have to become an expert on ourselves.  Once we know what we are about we can ask our partner for what we need, want and desire.  When we are unaware of our own needs we look to others to know them for us.  We assume because our partner loves us they will be able to give us what we need automatically.  Maybe we believe that being in love means that our partner will know how to always make us feel loved.  But that’s a child’s wish; the reality is that if we don’t enlighten our partner with what we need and just assume they know it we will become frustrated and angry.

Your partner can not read your mind.  Your partner probably wants you to be happy but doesn’t know how to help you achieve that.  Now think about your partner for one minute.  He or she has the same expectation about you.  You are supposed to know what he or she needs.  He or she might be just as disappointed and unhappy as you.

If you find yourself in this kind of predicament don’t give up.  You don’t have to move mountains to create something different.  You may need some help though.  Through counseling I help people understand what’s happening in their relationship, and what each person needs from the other.  Then the couple learns new communication skills so each person can speak and be heard by the other.

It’s hard to live in a relationship when you feel misunderstood and alone.  You can do it, many couple do.  But it’s so much better to learn how to live without the rancor.  It’s also much better for your health.

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