As a counselor, I often meet people who love their partners, but who just wish their beloveds were a bit different. They tell me, “If only my partner were such and such, or did this and that, then everything would be better!”
I hear this in one form or another many, many times. I know when people come in they just want to feel better in their relationship. I also know if they knew what to do, they would do it. I understand that most people try everything they know before coming in for counseling, because everyone who has ever been in a relationship believes that they can fix their own problems. Who needs someone from the outside to weigh in?
Most of us if we are in a relationship often feel that our partner does things that hurt us. I know I have been in this position too many times to count. But I know in my heart of hearts that my partner loves me. I mean he really loves me.
And I bet that in your tender moments, if you look at your partner, you will tell yourself the same thing: “My partner loves me too.”
But when we get our feelings hurt, we forget that we are loved and instead feel unwanted. When we get upset, we put a protective layer around our heart and maybe lash out or pull our feelings inside ourselves and feel terrible. We try to defend ourselves when we get hurt. It’s only natural.
Sometimes in relationships we find ourselves in certain patterns. Let’s say you are very aware of what is not working well in the relationship and you let your partner know when something isn’t right. Now add to this how your partner doesn’t even respond or just seems to not be listening no matter how hard and forceful you are telling them.
This is unfortunately common, and it often happens with men and women. Women are sometimes better at describing what is making them uncomfortable. Maybe we learned this from our verbal mothers. Men on the other hand are not as skilled, maybe because they learned from dads who didn’t say much.
Whatever contributed to how we grew up, we still carry patterns from our youth. When those patterns conflict with our partner’s, we have problems. Let’s look at a couple I know.
When we are in a relationship, all of us have one thing in common: we want to be happy. That is why we enter into a relationship with our special person, and it is likely you felt something amazing when you first got involved.
Your feelings accompanying your love probably felt like nothing else you ever experienced, and you wanted them to last and last and last. Unfortunately, when we couple, all of us are in this kind of woozy state that tells us our person knows us and gets us and will always make us feel this way. This is the woozy state of first love.
But after a while we all go through the part where we realize that they just didn’t know us as well as we thought and we certainly didn’t know certain things about them either. Then the misunderstandings begin and often we just push them aside and tell ourselves that it isn’t that bad.
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.
It is sometimes hard to believe that after finding the person of our dreams things can go so wrong and sometimes we can end up in the worst fights of our lives.
We know we love our person, so why do we fight-till-death about things? We should be loving each other instead of fighting, but we fight at just about every turn. Why is this?