When Your Partner is Your Enemy
By the time couples come in to see me for couples counseling it’s a good bet they have tried everything they know to feel better in the relationship. If a couple comes in while both still like each other and both want to make the partnership work the outcome can be terrific.
But if each person has been holding on to anger at the other person for a good amount of time and finding fault with everything their partner does, then mending the damage becomes an entirely different and more difficult endeavor.
Sometimes when a couple has been at war with each other for a long time they don’t see the good in the other person anymore. They see their mate as the evil one who does things intentionally to hurt them. They might even feel harmed by their mate. So they might end up making their partner, husband, wife, the person they believed would grow old with, into something they never thought they would… they make them their ENEMY.
I bet if you could go back in time with any couple who stays at war with their mate and see them early on in their relationship as a loving couple, and if you asked them then if they thought they would be enemies they would probably tell you, you are crazy to even think they could possibly hate their beloved. It would be unthinkable to them. No one sets out to dislike the one they love.
And if there is any hope for a recommitment of sorts between them, that’s where I have to help them look, back to the start of the relationship when they believed in their partnership. The couple has to find some kernel of past happiness to hold on to, in order to be able to rekindle something that could bring them closer.
By the time a couple gets caught up in the cycle of blaming each other, it’s likely they have spent a lot of time wishing they could be close and feel loved by their partner. When couples end up blaming their partner for what is wrong in the relationship they have already spent a long time trying to change their mate so they can feel better; feel more love, feel close to them again. They have tried everything they know and are probably exhausted and lonely. Unfortunately, I believe that a working relationship must have aware participants who can take responsibility for how they treat their partner.
No one gets a pass to be mean to their beloved. I don’t care what your partner has done. When we retaliate on our mate we are no better than two five-year-olds battling it out on a schoolyard. This is no-win behavior that makes us mad at our mate and it pushes us toward demonizing them and hating them for how we feel…unloved.
People who bicker and argue may be good at fighting with each other. They may even think that people need to have battling skills to be in a successful relationship. Maybe they saw their parents fight like this. Maybe they learned how to raise their voice out of frustration. What ever the reason let me be clear on this point too. As a Marriage and Family Therapist who specializes in helping couples I know that fighting does not belong in a healthy relationship. Fighting causes harm and bad feelings.
Disagreements are a natural part of life though. People get their feelings hurt. That’s normal. What is helpful is to learn the skills to tell your partner when you are upset. Both people should also have some skills at saying “I’m sorry.” This is part of resolving difficulties, and these are some of the skills you can learn in counseling. Healthy couples don’t stuff their feelings either, they express them, only they don’t slam or blame their partner in the process.
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