A lot of couples I work with are angry at their partner. Sometimes this anger has been building for a long time. When the couple finally gets into therapy they are so ready to explode and sometimes they just unleash on each other.
When this happens while I watch the fight I already know a couple of things. The first is that both are in a lot of pain. The second is that neither is getting their needs met and the louder and longer the argument, the greater the chance each person is feeling isolated in the relationship. When couples spend their time in a back and forth disagreeing state, that tells me they are spending less time in a state of togetherness.
The irony is that couples who live with this difficulty are desperate for closeness with each other, yet the arguing between them prevents exactly what they both want.
When couples find themselves in this type of relationship both people have created a way of getting through it. Often one person will stay frozen with his or her feelings and not talk or ignore their partner. The other may be all exposed with his or her feelings; crying or sobbing because they can’t get the other to respond. One person dies inside from wanting for the other to notice, the other just cuts him or herself off from their feelings so they feel nothing. A different kind of dying and a death of love just the same.
So why does this happen? People just believe that love is all they need. Unfortunately we don’t learn how to be good mates from our instincts or because we feel love. We don’t learn how to be good partners from television, books or movies either. We learn how to be in a relationship from the family we grew up in. Look at your parents. What was their relationship like? Were they loving and caring with each other? Were they dismissive or argumentative? Did you grow up with one parent? We absorb how to be with another person based on how we were treated. We do have instincts about being with others; they are passed on to us by our experiences. But if they are not kind, giving, loving and respectful how are we going to learn how to be that way?
Two people find each other and fall in love. Both are desperate to feel good, whole, and safe in their relationship. Both people want this. Unfortunately neither may know exactly how to attain it.
Learning to be a good mate takes understanding of ourselves. We must learn to know what we are about, how we get our needs met, what enriches us, what harms us. We have to become an expert on ourselves. Once we know what we are about we can ask our partner for what we need, want and desire. When we are unaware of our own needs we look to others to know them for us. We assume because our partner loves us they will be able to give us what we need automatically. Maybe we believe that being in love means that our partner will know how to always make us feel loved. But that’s a child’s wish; the reality is that if we don’t enlighten our partner with what we need and just assume they know it we will become frustrated and angry.
Your partner can not read your mind. Your partner probably wants you to be happy but doesn’t know how to help you achieve that. Now think about your partner for one minute. He or she has the same expectation about you. You are supposed to know what he or she needs. He or she might be just as disappointed and unhappy as you.
If you find yourself in this kind of predicament don’t give up. You don’t have to move mountains to create something different. You may need some help though. Through counseling I help people understand what’s happening in their relationship, and what each person needs from the other. Then the couple learns new communication skills so each person can speak and be heard by the other.
It’s hard to live in a relationship when you feel misunderstood and alone. You can do it, many couple do. But it’s so much better to learn how to live without the rancor. It’s also much better for your health.
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