Couples looking for ways to improve their relationships often come to counseling. They often bring me their latest fight or argument as evidence of their difficulty. I listen to people’s stories of what followed arguments. I sense the hurt feelings and the sadness that accompanies these fights. Sometimes there are tears. Almost all the time there is anguish and disappointment.
It’s hard to think that these feelings would be appropriate considering the circumstances, but they are. It’s hard to talk about what doesn’t work. It’s hard to bring up the stuff that makes both people feel bad. But without a roadmap I can’t see what needs repair. I have to get a three dimensional view of a couple’s communication. Often, it’s not what is being said that reveals the truth.
It happens to all of us.
We hold on to our thoughts and don’t say them because we are afraid of hurting the other person’s feelings. We stuff them down inside and just stay silent.
We may grouse about them later with someone else, but most of the time we don’t ever say what we intended to the person who we wanted to say it to.
Couples are sometimes embarrassed to tell me how they communicate, especially in a heated argument. They often blame one another for making them feel 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.
All of us get triggered by things that hit us in our sore spots. Usually these are unexpressed hurts from a long time ago that are still as tender as they were when they occurred.
And when something in our present day life touches that spot we react. Everyone who has these tender areas reacts. We usually keep them stored up inside our bodies and we leave them alone. But when something touches it, we might have a very big reaction.
Oftentimes when people are in a relationship and we get our feelings hurt we want, and need our partner to hear us, understand us and empathize.
It’s only natural that we want to be soothed when we get upset. This is what happens when we hold a baby or a puppy, they need to be held when hurt and we oblige.
But sometimes in a relationship two people get hurt. First one has a wound and then tells the other person, but says things in a way that the other person now gets hurt. Two people are now hurt and both are in their pain.
Sometimes in a relationship we aren’t sure about our partner. Do they really love us? Are they going to stay? Do they really mean what they say?
Couples often ask themselves these questions. But where does trust come in? Maybe you say to yourself I will trust you, but you must trust me too.
This sounds equal. We are both in it and can say that if my partner trusts me then I can trust him. But that is really not what trust is about.
Many of us lash out at our mates when we get upset. This is a habit or pattern we might have used since childhood. It might have worked then, but I have a feeling your partner is not very crazy about it and wishes it would stop.
I know, I lived this way for years. I would get upset and yell at the person who hurt me. I learned this as a little girl and continued to use it well into my forties.
People in relationships often have differing points of view. This is understandable because in a relationship there are two very different people involved. But when each person stands his or her ground and won’t give an inch and they are both doing this, then it can become a fight. We might even call it a war.
Often in relationships couples will fight with each other. Both want the other person to hear them, but the arguments usually continue without one person giving in, so there is no resolution. And that’s exactly what both people want.
Often when in a disagreement partners will tell the other person mean things. They might call them names or discuss the way they act, all to point out that they have something that they need to share.
Many of us bring our old childhood habits into our relationships. They appear whenever our feelings get hurt and if we haven’t worked though these old patterns, we will use them on our partners. Like blaming them when we get hurt.
I grew up getting mad at the people who hurt me. I know this is not a good way to let people know they hurt you, but I was not trained to do any better. My single mother was overwhelmed trying to manage three rambunctious children and she often just got frustrated and yelled at us.
This is what I saw, so this is what I learned. When things didn’t go my way, I yelled. Of course, when I grew up, I didn’t yell that much, but when I really got my feelings hurt, I did. It took a while to figure out that I was bringing a lot of the chaos into my life by just getting angry.