Taking Responsibility in the Relationship

One of the hardest things I see couples struggle with is the idea that each person in the relationship is responsible for his or her own part of the problems that surround them.  It’s not uncommon for people to want to blame the other person for how they feel as if the partner did something to cause the upset.  Something bad happens and people start pointing fingers at the other person.

Many couples actually live this way for a long time; looking at their partner as if he or she is the tormentor.  When couples live with this pattern it keeps them feeling helpless to change anything in the relationship.  Each person keeps waiting for the other person to do something different to make them feel better.

It’s as if both are waiting to feel more appreciated, valued, important to their partner and loved.  But the longer they wait, the more tempting it is to blame the other person for not supplying those good feelings.  Sometimes couples will even spend the next few years building cases against each other.

You know you’ve done this if you say these kinds of things to your mate, “You did this to me so I had to do this to you.”  “You didn’t do this for me so I did this to you.”  “If you had only done this than I wouldn’t have had to do that.”  All these phrases hold the partner responsible for how you feel.  They leave the person blamed feeling helpless and the accuser feeling empty, a sad place for both.

When the relationship has turned into two separate camps, I like to encourage couples to think about a couple of things. The first has to do with intent.  What is the intent of your partner when he or she does something that makes you cross?  Do you know?  Sometimes people just assume they know what their partner intended and it’s usually not very good. I like to encourage people to find out if there is any ill will coming from the mate.  To do this all a partner has to do is ask.

It could sound something like this, “Hey, when you left those dirty socks on the bed did you do that to make me mad?”  I know this probably sounds silly, but chances are if you got mad because your mate left dirty socks on the bed you might want to find out if he or she did it on purpose just to piss you off.  If they didn’t, don’t they deserve to forget, make a mistake or just be oblivious once in a while?  Find out what they were trying to tell you, if anything, with the action before you explode. 

The second thing is understand how you impact your partner.  If you accuse him or her of doing something to harm you, you are blaming them for something.  Ask yourself what it feels like when you get blamed.  It feels terrible.  Usually we get defensive and want to argue back.  Try and put yourself in your partner’s shoes before you level the criticism.

If you say something you feel bad about, apologize.  That’s what considerate people do.  This does not make you weak.  This makes you a good person.  It also sends a message to your mate.  It tells them, “I don’t want to stay mad at you.  I want to get closer to you.”

And that’s what all couples want, closeness, connectedness, love.

Send your comments linda@lindanusbaum.com


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Living With Frustration in Your Relationship

Many couples I work with come in with a good amount of stress and difficulty.  The causes sometimes vary, but the behaviors people use to respond to the upset are often predictable.  People who start out loving each other sometimes find themselves so burdened by stress and difficulty they end up feeling frustrated in the relationship.

No one starts out being frustrated.  Frustration comes after being unhappy, sometimes for a long time.  Often couples with the best intentions end up not being able to explain themselves to each other, or they won’t say what they really want to say and as a result they feel tense, stressed and often times frustrated.

Frustration can appear in many ways.  It may come out as a curt answer to a question.  Maybe it’s a rolling of the eyes, or a “whatever” response to a partner or no response at all.  Frustration can also be felt when one person ignores the other altogether.

Sometimes frustration is a slammed door, or a sigh.  It’s a sign of exasperation from the frustrated person to the other telling them something is very wrong. It also broadcasts unhappiness and discontent.  And it’s a problem.  It keeps the frustrated person trapped in difficulty and leaves the other partner in the dark regarding the source of the problem.

What would be helpful is to discover how to talk about what doesn’t feel good in the relationship.  Unfortunately this is often difficult for couples who have not communicated with each other for a while.

If you find yourself answering your mate with frustrated gestures you might want to think about what is happening to you. I am sure you did not start out being unfriendly to your beloved.  I am pretty sure you used to have very soft, loving responses in the early days.  Maybe as time passed you found yourself unable to express your thoughts and feelings to your partner without worrying how he or she might react.  It’s possible you may even have started keeping your thoughts and feelings to yourself, not wanting to bother your mate.  But the more you kept your thoughts and feelings inside without speaking them, the more you might have felt yourself becoming stressed and uncomfortable.

This is the body’s natural response to too much tension.  This tension is a clear message about what it feels like when you can’t express yourself and you keep your feelings inside.  You might have a sensation of all your feelings being trapped inside your own body and you can’t let them out, like you are frozen.  You keep yourself suppressed and you suffer.  At first you might be able to manage your increased stress.  Maybe you exercise more or take up an activity.  Maybe you yell at the kids instead or a co-worker.  Perhaps you overindulge; too much alcohol, drugs, or food.  You do what ever you can to find ways of letting off steam and tension.

This helps you survive difficulty and maintain, but it doesn’t help repair the problems between you and your mate.  The more you figure out how to manage your challenges, the more you might be looking at your partner with distain.  You may start to believe that he or she just doesn’t care about what you think and feel. That’s when people start with the one word answers, or the disinterest, or the shaking of the head.  These behaviors tell the other person you are not interested in them.  These reactions indicate that you are unhappy.

If you are unhappy in your relationship take stock of how you are feeling right now.  Ask yourself, “Am I stressed and unable to talk to my partner about what is bothering me?”  If you answer yes start looking at the ways you do talk to your mate.  Are you short and abrasive?  Do you dismiss him or her?  Do you just not bother because you don’t think anything will change?

If you answered yes to any of these questions you just might be living with frustration.

So how do you change your situation?  You just took the first step.  You recognized it.  From here you might want to talk to someone; a friend, family member, religious mentor or counselor.  Get your long held feelings from inside yourself, outside your head by communicating them.  Try and understand what is preventing you from talking to your mate about these feelings.  Learn why you stay silent.

You will likely feel better even after just a few sessions.  You could also learn different ways to communicate your feelings that may give you confidence.  When you leave your old behaviors; the eye rolling, sarcastic responses, non answers, and replace them with true expressions of your feelings a number of things might also happen.  Your stress and tension may decrease, and it’s possible you might even begin to experience some happiness, and that might feel pretty great.

Send you comments to linda@lindanusbaum.com



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