Every time we blame our partner for something that has gone wrong in our life, we hold them responsible for our discomfort. We are placing them in what I like to call a “cause and effect” system. You get hurt: they caused it. You blame them: that is the effect.
The reason I know this system so well is because I grew up in it. In my house when I was young, if something happened, you looked for who was to blame, and then you let them have it. It seemed to work, or not in my family, but it did not work when I partnered with my mate.
He did not grow up the same and was not used to being held accountable when I became unhappy. He always looked like a deer in the headlights, wondering why I was having a meltdown aimed at him.
All of us feel like leaving when we get mad. It’s just something that happens to us when we are in relationships with others. We get our feelings hurt and we have to get away as soon as possible. We can’t help it. Getting away is just the quickest way to end our suffering, or is it?
I know the times I have grabbed my dog and headed out the door to get some relief from an argument I had with my boyfriend I was just protecting myself from further pain. I had to go. I had to go cool off and figure out what just happened.
The other night while my husband and I were having dinner I grew very enthusiastic about something he said. I wanted to enhance my enthusiasm and extend it, so I asked him to call the person who made the remark that I got me so excited.
He said in a very loud and firm voice, “No, I am not going to call him.” I was stunned. I couldn’t believe he wouldn’t be swept up in my excitement and play along. I argued with him, urging him to commit, “Come on, just call him. It will be fun.”
He dug in his heels and said louder and even more firm, ‘NO. If you want to talk to him, you call him.”
I often work with couples that know exactly what is wrong in their relationship. This is a good thing. But sometime this knowledge brings challenges to most people when things are not going right. You see, most couples are doing their very best to find a better place with each other.
I believe that people who love each other try everything they know to make the relationship work. The partners will go from one thing to another in the hopes that the relationship will improve.
Sadly, in many cases it does not. Here is one reason why. As humans, we are keen on noticing when we don’t like something. We are experts at identifying what is not working for us. And we are equally as efficient at calling our partner out when we are uncomfortable.
I was working with a couple recently. The boyfriend was unhappy. The girlfriend was unhappy. They both reported high tension in the home. But when we looked at what was happening, even though both were not talking and silent with each other, their behaviors spoke volumes.
They were wondering if they should stay together. Both were trying to feel better. But then something happened. The boyfriend began to isolate. He would come home from work sit on the couch, and drink beer while watching sports. Nothing wrong with this, but when he was focusing on the television, he wouldn’t talk to the girlfriend—not a word.
I was listening to a friend talk about her childhood. She grew up in a city, surrounded by streets and buildings. She talked about how in the middle of a certain street there was a break in the concrete and a tree grew up through the ground.
This tree was so unique that if you drove that street, you would have to drive around the tree. That tree lived and thrived, even though everything was aimed against it. And that tree was full and amazing and it had to squeeze itself through cracks in the street.
All we really want from the one we love is to know that we matter, and we are special to our partner. It is a very specific feeling that we must receive from the person we love. Because we love them so much, we must feel they love us just as much. And we feel it so fiercely when we don’t get it.
And when that happens we end up feeling as if our mates just don’t care enough. I saw this recently in a client. She was hoping to see her beloved for a special day but the partner had other things to do. On any other day, this might have been OK, but not on this day.
One of the most common difficulties I witness when I meet a couple is that one of the partners can’t show his emotions. And maybe that’s because in our culture men are encouraged to “tough it out” so many are not used to even knowing they are feeling something in the first place.
This works of course, especially when there is business or other financial or important dealings. Not feeling or knowing what you feel has its place. But when it comes to relationships this system can be a problem.
I was walking the neighborhood recently with a friend and we passed by a car parked on the street. The windows were down so I could hear a young couple sitting in the front facing each other and having a discussion.
I heard a few words from the man. He was explaining something to the young woman about how his feelings were hurt. I could feel his earnestness, even after just a couple of moments. I also could tell that he was trying really hard to get her to understand him.
Being unhappy in a relationship is pretty common. Having an affair because of that unhappiness is also pretty common. When people feel lonely they will do almost anything to relieve the loneliness, including starting a relationship with another person.
I have counselled several couples where one of the mates turned to another to relieve whatever they were feeling. Usually they think they will never be caught by the other, but it often happens that the other already knows.