Sometimes, couples come in for counseling and on the surface, everything seems so great on the surface that you’d wonder whether anything’s even wrong. They laugh at each other’s jokes and seem to get along well. They both appear to be on good behavior, and this comes across as the opposite to feeling and being unhappy. But even though it looks great on the outside, underneath this practiced way of presenting, I know everything is not alright.
Many couples fall into this pattern. They hold everything together when they are with other people, but behind closed doors they are different. That’s when they can’t pretend anymore. That’s when they are unable to hold up the nice view of themselves with their mate, and things just start to go haywire.
How do we learn to be in a relationship? This is a question people have been grappling with for centuries. Some people come to earth just knowing what is the right way to treat another human. Some of us are taught, and then there are others who just struggle.
I used to struggle in my relationship with my husband-to-be. In the early days (20 years ago, before I was a therapist) I was pretty unhappy. And he was unhappy too. We didn’t know what to do to get better, so we went to a counselor.
When couples fight it usually boils down to two people arguing over who is right. This is as old as humans on the planet. People often disagree with another because all of us like to talk about our version of experiences or ideas and have them agreed with.
The very act of someone saying “you are right” feels great to the soul. Also, we pride ourselves on knowing what we know, and that’s pretty human too. All of us like how we think and we trust our thoughts.
This is really common about all humans. But when we are in a relationship with another person, this way of thinking can cause many, many problems.
All couples have disagreements. This I know to be true. Some couples argue about their disagreements. Here is a recent story about me and my partner.
He was driving with me in my car. I usually drive with him in his. He likes to drive, and is more aggressive than me. When he is a passenger in my car, I can feel his tension. He is probably mentally driving while I am behind the wheel and wishing that I could go faster or something.
I always feel awkward. Well, recently, we were in this position. The more we drove, the more uncomfortable I became. Now, he didn’t say anything, but I could feel the tension. Maybe this was in my head, but I definitely felt like an inadequate driver and I also thought he was judging me.
You may wonder sometimes why your good ideas or intentions can be brushed aside by people who you believe with all your heart you can help. It is very frustrating to see an answer to someone’s problems and yet not be able to get through to them to relieve their suffering.
All of us suffer in our own way. We get frustrated when things don’t go as expected, or we get upset when things are interrupted by someone else. This is the great human condition that we all live with. But have you noticed that some people get less frustrated than others? Have you observed that some people are actually not perturbed by things the way you might be?
People frequently ask me about how to stop an argument. When they do, I’d love to give them a fool-proof way to get it done. I wish it were as simple as saying one or two words, instantly turning two people amidst taking each other’s heads off into docile, compliant, happy people free to go about their business as if nothing happened.
Unfortunately, nothing short of physical distance stops an argument. I know this, because I have spent much of my early life arguing. I have never been able to stop arguing once I get started.
When we love, we love deeply. In that deep love there is an unwritten feeling of truth. We love and we trust. But what happens when the person we love is hiding things from us and we find out, sometimes years later?
I have worked with and I have known personally people who have suffered at the hands of their partners, and all of them did not know something was going on.
Constant fighting in a relationship can be exhausting. It can also be frustrating and disappointing. And there are many, many other emotions that might be felt too.
Constantly fighting in a relationship is just hard. And it makes the tender parts so few and far between that couples might be asking themselves if the relationship is even worth it. So why do couples do this?
Sometimes we learn how to argue a point of view, if we grow up in a family that practiced using this technique. If so then we have some built-in skills to take into our adult relationships.
But for many of us, we didn’t learn effective ways to get our points across without having some sort of disagreement. Disagreements are a natural part of relationships, but most people don’t expect to argue with the one they love.
No two people are exactly the same and as a result each will have some different thoughts and ideas about how things should be. This is where disagreements begin. Two people—couples—will have differing views.
So, how to handle these disagreements? That is the question for every relationship on the planet. Here are some of the skills I like offer to clients.