Living Isolated In Your Relationship

Sometimes couples come in for counseling because they feel they have grown apart and they just aren’t sharing with each other like they used to.  They tell me of how unhappy they feel and how they don’t know if their partnership can be saved.  Then they look to me to help them fix the relationship.

Often in the counseling process a couple may become aware of how long they have been living separate lives.  They’ve been co-existing together.  Sometimes they do this really well, and some couples are really proud that they never fight.  Even so, they come in because something is missing between them.

I listen to their stories and history and I begin to wonder when they started to leave each other.  When I say leave each other I am not talking about geography. What I am curious about is when did each person stop asking the other for what they wanted or needed to stay connected and happy in the relationship?  When did this couple begin the slide into separate lives?

The separation information is important because what ever was happening marks the beginning of when each person began to rely on themselves instead of their partner? Both people start accepting their right to get their own happiness outside the relationship.  For one person it could show up as spending more time at work.  For another it could mean travel without the mate.  Maybe it’s a connection to different groups or classes.  What ever takes you away from the other is where we start.  I am less interested in what the person was doing; I am more interested in what the person was feeling because people look outside the relationship when someone feels they are not what they need.

It usually boils down to something simple, as simple as a connection with the other.  I often hear couples say, “We just don’t communicate anymore.”

Sometimes people have hurt feelings over unresolved pain from the past.  If you are in pain in your relationship and you have more or less accepted that you have to live with it without healing, sooner or later you may seek some kind of relief outside the relationship and that could drive you away from your partner.

I like to help couples look at what happened between them, before their lives began to separate.  We examine what each felt, and learn why they reacted the way they did.  This is usually helpful and allows the couple to begin understanding each other in a new way.

When we discover what has not been resolved or attended too we can revisit old wounds and begin to heal.  Once the healing has occurred couples find that turning toward their partner for relief feels better than turning away, and that’s usually what partners are after, a chance for a deeper connection.

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Assuming We Know What Our Partner Thinks

If we are in relationship with another person we are probably guilty of doing this; assuming we know what the other is thinking.  We might even go further and tell ourselves that we even know what they will say.  This is surprisingly common when two people know each other well.

There’s nothing wrong with thinking we know what the other person is thinking, but when we do this we prevent any real communication about the subject.  Since we are already telling ourselves what he or she thinks and what they will probably say, we are limiting any possible dialogue.  We might even start to react to the imagined scenario in our head which could lead to feelings of frustration or anger at the individual without ever having a conversation with them.  We’ve had a conversation though, only it’s been inside our head and we’ve been communicating with ourselves all alone.

What’s missing is a chance to find out what our partner really thinks.  Sometimes during a counseling session one person will say, “I know what she will say, it will be… (Fill in the blank).” I stop them right there and ask, “How do you know they will say that? Have you asked her?”  Usually they tell me it’s because that’s what they have said in the past. And I reply, “Ask her right now.”

Almost every time the person who is asked will respond different than what was thought.  This is usually eye opening for the couple.  When we are in a relationship we think we know our partners as well as they know themselves, only we really don’t.  We have no idea how the other person is perceiving, processing and thinking at that very moment.  We can assume, based on past behavior that the answer might be a particular thing, but we have no real information about current thoughts.

We all have the capacity to ask.  And guess what happens if we do?  When we ask our partner without any preconceived notion we might get a novel response, one that could even surprise us.  When couples enter into a phase of not assuming they know what the other person is thinking and what they will be saying, honest communication can develop.

Of course there might be some repair work for the couple to help bridge old hurt feelings left over from earlier times. This is possible too.  But starting with not assuming is the first step.  It might even begin with a confession that could sound like this, “I used to think if I bring up (name a subject) you will say (whatever you think they will say).  But I realize that I am assuming I know.  I don’t want to do that.  I want to listen to what you think.  I promise not to interrupt and just hear your thoughts.”

I assure you, and this is no assumption, your partner will love the way this feels and so will you.

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When Our Partners Can’t Listen

Most of the time when two people in a relationship feel unhappy part of the problem is that they don’t feel heard by their partner.  When we feel heard and understood we often feel validated and our problems seem to dissolve and we feel better.  If our partner can’t hear what’s troubling us or what we need we feel alone and isolated.

So if it’s that simple, why is it so hard for couples to do it?  Most of the couples I work with want to have a better relationship.  They come to counseling because they want to feel close and connected again.  Both people are usually pretty earnest about their intent.  They see what they want to have, but they are usually stumped on how to achieve it.

Sometimes they blame the other person because they think if their partner really loved them they would know how to make them happy.  Unfortunately many couples aren’t talking about what they want and need from their partner and that makes it difficult for the partner to know what to do.

Here’s what I see when couples can’t hear each other.  One person says how they feel about something, or some incident.  The person talking feels bad about what happened.  What they want is for their partner to understand their pain.  They want an audience from the person who knows them the best.  They want to feel like their partner gets what happened to them.  They might even want the partner to apologize. This means that the listener is not thinking about how guilty they feel for causing the pain.  This means that the listener is also not thinking of ways the partner has hurt them and waiting to respond.  But that’s usually what happens.  One person talks, and the other person waits to retort and sometimes retaliate.  No one is listening.

In order to feel heard, validated and get some resolution, the teller of the pain needs to just tell it to the person that may have caused it.  That’s it, nothing more.  This is part of the healing process that couples need to repair.  One pained person talks about what happened to them.  The other person listens without going into their pain.  Unfortunately that’s the dance that most couples fall into.  One person talks and the other person tops them.  This starts a back and forth with no winner and no end.  Both parties end up feeling exasperated, frustrated, drained and alone.

I help couples learn a new way to communicate.  Both people get their say, but they have to take turns.  It really doesn’t matter who goes first, but it does matter that the listener just do the job of listening so the talker gets heard.  This does not come naturally.  Most of us aren’t taught that sharing our pain actually helps us heal.  Many of us learn that we must fight to be heard, that we have to express our pain in order to get relief.  But that style usually leaves people feeling unhappy and alone.

Once couples learn these tools of being the talker and the listener they never feel alone in the relationship again.  They might even feel terrific, realizing that their mate really cares.


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When Partners Swear at Each Other

Sometimes we want to make a point.  Sometimes we have to make that point so clearly we use specific words that will drive the point home.  Sometimes those words are swear words and sometimes we say them to people we love.

This is not a place that couples go willingly.  No one starts a relationship with the notion that at some point they will be swearing and cursing at their partner, and yet I work with some couples who are in this very state and dumbfounded how they got there.

So how does this happen to a couple that starts off loving each other?  In any relationship there are misunderstandings and hurt feelings.  These incidents are going to happen.  Sometimes one person will do something that hurts the other and vice versa, sometimes inadvertently, sometimes on purpose.

If you feel attacked by your mate, or left out by your partner you may feel deeply wounded.  Sometimes in a painful place people will lash out at the person who hurt them, often their partner.  When people are deeply wounded they have to stop the pain, and swearing at their mate let’s them know of the depth of the pain.

I know there is a tremendous amount of suffering that leads a person to yell F*** you at their loved one.  I believe that the person who is doing the cursing is trying to stop the unbearable pain inside them, and the only way they can do that is to fire back in the loudest most crushing way possible.  This behavior immediately changes the situation and adds excitement, energy and anger.  These changes then become the focus instead of exploring the original hurt that started the incident in the first place.  That part gets lost in the venom.

The receiver on the other hand has options.  He or she can fight fire with fire and yell back.  They can walk away.  They can leave.

Usually when the anger dies down, about a half an hour later, some couples can talk about the argument.  Maybe there is even an apology from the person who swore.  If a couple can engage like this, there is plenty of hope for the relationship.

But if two people just stay mad at each other and go days without speaking they are cementing a wall between them.  The wall will probably become harder and harder, making it more difficult to dismantle, even with counseling.  This state can also lead to resentment, where two people are just so tired of the other they begin to resent everything they do.

If you are in a relationship and you swear and curse at each other, try to realize your words do hurt the other.  Take ownership of the harm your words create.  Say you are sorry, make amends.  This can be the beginning of resolution and healing for both of you.

In a relationship where couples swear at each other there is plenty of hurt.  What’s missing is a chance to have your partner understand your pain and for you to understand theirs.  This leads to true bonding, and that’s one thing most couples crave.


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