Living With Frustration in Your Relationship

Many couples I work with come in with a good amount of stress and difficulty.  The causes sometimes vary, but the behaviors people use to respond to the upset are often predictable.  People who start out loving each other sometimes find themselves so burdened by stress and difficulty they end up feeling frustrated in the relationship.

No one starts out being frustrated.  Frustration comes after being unhappy, sometimes for a long time.  Often couples with the best intentions end up not being able to explain themselves to each other, or they won’t say what they really want to say and as a result they feel tense, stressed and often times frustrated.

Frustration can appear in many ways.  It may come out as a curt answer to a question.  Maybe it’s a rolling of the eyes, or a “whatever” response to a partner or no response at all.  Frustration can also be felt when one person ignores the other altogether.

Sometimes frustration is a slammed door, or a sigh.  It’s a sign of exasperation from the frustrated person to the other telling them something is very wrong. It also broadcasts unhappiness and discontent.  And it’s a problem.  It keeps the frustrated person trapped in difficulty and leaves the other partner in the dark regarding the source of the problem.

What would be helpful is to discover how to talk about what doesn’t feel good in the relationship.  Unfortunately this is often difficult for couples who have not communicated with each other for a while.

If you find yourself answering your mate with frustrated gestures you might want to think about what is happening to you. I am sure you did not start out being unfriendly to your beloved.  I am pretty sure you used to have very soft, loving responses in the early days.  Maybe as time passed you found yourself unable to express your thoughts and feelings to your partner without worrying how he or she might react.  It’s possible you may even have started keeping your thoughts and feelings to yourself, not wanting to bother your mate.  But the more you kept your thoughts and feelings inside without speaking them, the more you might have felt yourself becoming stressed and uncomfortable.

This is the body’s natural response to too much tension.  This tension is a clear message about what it feels like when you can’t express yourself and you keep your feelings inside.  You might have a sensation of all your feelings being trapped inside your own body and you can’t let them out, like you are frozen.  You keep yourself suppressed and you suffer.  At first you might be able to manage your increased stress.  Maybe you exercise more or take up an activity.  Maybe you yell at the kids instead or a co-worker.  Perhaps you overindulge; too much alcohol, drugs, or food.  You do what ever you can to find ways of letting off steam and tension.

This helps you survive difficulty and maintain, but it doesn’t help repair the problems between you and your mate.  The more you figure out how to manage your challenges, the more you might be looking at your partner with distain.  You may start to believe that he or she just doesn’t care about what you think and feel. That’s when people start with the one word answers, or the disinterest, or the shaking of the head.  These behaviors tell the other person you are not interested in them.  These reactions indicate that you are unhappy.

If you are unhappy in your relationship take stock of how you are feeling right now.  Ask yourself, “Am I stressed and unable to talk to my partner about what is bothering me?”  If you answer yes start looking at the ways you do talk to your mate.  Are you short and abrasive?  Do you dismiss him or her?  Do you just not bother because you don’t think anything will change?

If you answered yes to any of these questions you just might be living with frustration.

So how do you change your situation?  You just took the first step.  You recognized it.  From here you might want to talk to someone; a friend, family member, religious mentor or counselor.  Get your long held feelings from inside yourself, outside your head by communicating them.  Try and understand what is preventing you from talking to your mate about these feelings.  Learn why you stay silent.

You will likely feel better even after just a few sessions.  You could also learn different ways to communicate your feelings that may give you confidence.  When you leave your old behaviors; the eye rolling, sarcastic responses, non answers, and replace them with true expressions of your feelings a number of things might also happen.  Your stress and tension may decrease, and it’s possible you might even begin to experience some happiness, and that might feel pretty great.

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But I’m Right! Why Can’t My Partner See That?

I really empathize with couples that begin a session with one person telling me something like this, “Why doesn’t my partner realize I am right?” Immediately I know that the pair sitting in front of me is in despair. I know that to live in a relationship where one person professes to have the right in the relationship while seeing the other as wrong puts both at a disadvantage. I know that both people may be feeling exhausted and sad.

Unfortunately this pattern often repeats itself; arguments unfold where one person insists he/she is right while the other feels inadequate or blamed. This person may feel right too, but it’s likely he/she has given up trying to have his/her voice heard and might be depressed. And it’s not uncommon for two people to point the finger at one another and say he, or she is to blame. In this scenario both people have to be right and everyone loses.

It may be the way we were raised, where blame had to be affixed to a problem. If this is what we experienced as a young person we might bring this aspect of how to relate to others into our own adult relationship. When there is a problem, look for the culprit. Identify the culprit, get the culprit to accept responsibility and force them to agree to learn from the mistake and not make it again.

Some people parent or train people this way. It’s designed to help people become accountable for their actions. This method has a place, but I believe it blows up the idea of mutual respect in a relationship if you use it with your mate. It allows one person to be in the position of knowing, while the other person is placed in the position of being taught. These positions are not equal and they make one or both people feel pretty unsatisfied.

The one who needs to be right can’t get relief because the other won’t listen. The one who is being told they are wrong resists because no one wants to feel blamed or bad. This kind of pattern usually leaves couples in a stalemate. Both want something from the other person. Both are not sure how to get it. It’s possible that the one who has to be right just wants to be listened too. It’s also possible that the one who is being blamed just wants to feel valued, and not persecuted.

Couples with this pattern may grow exhausted with each other. It takes a lot of energy defending your position all the time. It also takes a lot of energy tuning out your mate. Why not discover a way to use that energy in a more productive way; getting your needs met so you feel better?

When I work with couples with this type of interaction, I like to begin the process of helping each person understand his or her behaviors. The beginning part of dismantling this kind of system is understanding how we interact with our mate. Partners begin to get an idea of how they communicate with each other. This then leads to awareness of how the communication impacts the partner.

Helping couples understand the weight of their words is some of the early work. Also important is figuring out what each person needs. It’s possible that the person who has to be right just wants to feel valued and important. The more she stresses that she is right the harder she tries to feel valued and important.

The one who is being blamed could also benefit from becoming aware of how he responds. Maybe he tunes out his partner when he hears her insist she is right. Maybe he rolls his eyes or just shakes his head. What ever he is doing is important to look at during a counseling session. Understanding that his reaction has an impact on her is also important. And what are his needs that aren’t being met? Maybe he wants to feel valued too. Maybe he wants to have his voice heard as well.

In my experience that’s usually what two people in a relationship want: to be heard, to feel listened to, and acceptance. When these basic needs are fulfilled, couples flourish. They can even begin to experience a deeper connection with each other, one that may include making the other person happy, and when couples reach that level both people feel they are in a relationship worth having.

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