“You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.”
About six months into a serious relationship with my boyfriend, we started experiencing major conflict. Fighting over small things, flipping out over misunderstandings, we just couldn’t seem to get on the same page about anything. This caused me to think about relationship conflict in general, what causes it, and how to deal with it.
It’s clear that relationship conflict occurs because expectations aren’t being met. Each person comes into a relationship with certain expectations. These are based on past experiences, childhood, or how you think things should be.
The problem is that no two people think the same, no matter how much you have in common.
A lot of couples see conflict as a time to bail—either because they were already looking for a way out or because they freak out and feel threatened. When our ego feels threatened, it activates our flight-or-fight response. Sometimes it may be hard to get resolution on a conflict, making matters worse.
Instead of seeing conflict as a threat to a relationship, what if we reframed this and saw conflict as an opportunity and a sign of growth in a relationship?
This requires understanding that conflict will inevitably occur in a close relationship. The only way of getting around it is to not share your opinion at all, which is not healthy.
So what if we focused on sharing our opinions in a way that is productive?
1. Remember not to sweat the small stuff.
Instead of making every little molehill a mountain, agree to not make something a battle unless it’s truly important. Realize that not every disagreement needs to be an argument. Of course, this doesn’t mean you bow to someone else’s demands when it’s something you feel strongly about, but take the time to question the level of importance of the matter at hand.
2. Practice acceptance.
If you find yourself in the midst of a conflict, try to remember that the other person is coming into the situation with a totally different background and set of experiences than yourself. You have not been in this person’s shoes, and while it may help to try to put yourself in them, your partner is the only person who can really explain where he or she is coming from.
3. Exercise patience.
Granted, it’s hard to remember this in the heat of the moment. But stopping to take a few deep breaths, and deciding to take a break and revisit the discussion when tensions are not as high, can sometimes be the best way to deal with the immediate situation.
4. Lower your expectations.
This is not to say you should have low expectations but it is to say that you should keep in mind you may have different expectations. The best way to clarify this is to ask what another’s expectations are in a scenario. Again, don’t automatically assume that you come into the situation with the same expectations.
But what if you are in the heat of a conflict and you don’t seem to be doing anything other than polarizing each other?
5. Remember you both desire harmony.
Most likely, you both want to get back on track and have a peaceful relationship. Also remember the feeling of connectedness that you want to feel. It’s hard to feel threatened by someone when you see yourselves as interconnected and working toward the same result.
6. Focus on the other person’s behavior, not their personal characteristics.
Personal attacks can be far more damaging and long-lasting. Talk about what behavior upset you instead of what is “wrong” with someone’s personality.
7. Clarify what the person meant by their action instead of what you perceived their action to mean.
Most of the time, your partner is not deliberately trying to hurt you, and getting hurt happened to be a byproduct of that action.
8. Keep in mind your objective is to solve the problem rather than win the fight.
Resist the urge to be contrary just for that reason. Remember that it’s better to be happy than right!
9. Accept the other person’s response.
Once you have shared your feelings as to what a person’s actions meant to you, accept their responses. If they tell you the intended meaning of their action was not as you received it, take that as face value.
Once you’ve both had the opportunity to share your side, mutually agree to let it go. Best case scenario, your discussion will end in a mutually satisfactory way. If it doesn’t, you may choose to revisit it later. When making this decision, ask yourself how important it is to you. If you make the decision to leave it in the past, do your best to do that, rather than bringing it up again in future conflicts.
Conflict can be distressing. If you see it as an opportunity for growth, it can help you become closer and deepen your relationship.
Emotional intimacy is the bedrock of a fantastic marriage.
Couples who can achieve secure attachment and build a strong emotional connection are able to risk being vulnerable.
Erik, 42, and Amanda, 40, a couple who I counseled recently came to my office looking to deepen their connection due to experiencing stress following the sudden death of Amanda’s mother and Erik being away for work and not being able to support her during her period of intense grief.
Amanda put it like this, “The last six months were very challenging after my mom died and Erik was away a lot, and we grew apart. He wasn’t around when I needed him and I built up resentment and developed mistrust in him, fearing that he met someone else or fell out of love with me.”
Erik responded, “Amanda is right and I feel awful about this. I just want a chance to make it up to her. The project I was working on involved travel out of state and I couldn’t refuse it. It was bad timing and I love Amanda and want to prove it to her.”
Cultivating intimacy involves allowing yourself to be vulnerable and trusting your partner.
All relationships have tension at times. Still, it is crucial for partners to use that tension to become more emotionally attuned, physically affectionate, and open about their thoughts, feelings, and desires.
What makes a relationship work?
Happy couples can quickly figure out whether their trust issues stem from their present relationship or are past emotional residue.
If you make a careful examination of your history and your partner’s history, you will stop repeating the past.
It is possible to deal effectively with ghosts from the past by extending trust to each other through words and actions that are consistent with a loving, long-term view of marriage.
For instance, Amanda was able to identify in couples’ therapy that her trust issues started with her childhood since her dad betrayed her mother for years when he was a truck driver and drove to Florida for an extended period of time.
As a result, Amanda told Erik that she now realized that some of her mistrust came from her past and her feelings became more intense when he traveled out of state.
In other words, since all couples come with baggage, it’s essential to openly discuss emotional triggers, past experiences, and trust issues early on in your relationship. This open dialogue will serve to strengthen your bond when inevitable doubts or breaches of trust arise.
Ways to feel immediately closer to your partner
Emotional intimacy and trust go hand in hand, and securely attached couples can express their needs and preferences.
One of the surefire ways to make your partner feel loved is to increase desire and sensuality in your relationship.
Likewise, daily rituals such as touching, good eye contact, listening, and talking about their experiences, will allow partners to be emotionally close and to express more sensuality in their marriage.
Sensuality is the pleasant feeling couples experience when they touch, see, taste, and feel – such as walking holding hands on the beach.
It involves a lot more than sexual intercourse.
Sensuality is a way of connecting with your partner at the moment, according to Howard J. Markman , Ph.D., and reflects feelings of being in love and attracted to your partner.
Surefire ways to make your partner feel loved
Instead of defaulting to the coping strategies you developed in your families of origin, it’s essential to make a commitment to nurture positive emotional connections.
So, what are some of the things to say to your spouse to deepen your connection?
Make a conscious effort to incorporate more positive comments, phrases, or questions into your conversations with your partner.
The following dialogue illustrates some ways Amanda and Erik were able to do this when they reunited at the end of the day.
Erik: “Can you tell me more about your day?” These words express love curiosity while helping your partner get more comfortable with being vulnerable.
Amanda: “Something I’m challenged with right now is my principal’s attitude toward me. It feels like I can’t do anything right.” Amanda’s response shows Erik that she trusts him enough to be transparent about her negative feelings about her supervisor.
Erik: “I’m trying to understand what you’re dealing with. Since I don’t work in a school, can you give me an example of what you’re dealing with? Erik’s response shows empathy and a desire to connect more deeply with Amanda.
Amanda: “It means a lot to me that you care enough to ask. I’m too tired to go into details right now, but let’s just say, it really feels like you’re here for me and that makes me happy.”
At the onset of a new relationship, there is a lot of passion and excitement, but what sustains a happy and healthy relationship is fostering emotional intimacy by being vulnerable and building trust day by day.
Once the daily stressors of living together set in, it can be a challenge for couples to extend goodwill to each other and to remain committed to achieving emotional attunement daily.
The primary way couples can do this is by deepening their attachment through a daily dialogue that is transparent without fear of abandonment or loss of love.
Do you desire a deeper, spiritual connection with your partner?
If you have walked the path of awakening, chances are your focus has shifted away from a relationship that is all about your wants and needs being fulfilled to a relationship that is about a deeper, spiritual connection.
When you create a deeper spiritual connection with your partner, suddenly your focus shifts away from just thinking about yourself and into a more open space that allows you to think about how you can best serve each other so you can both reach your fullest potential.
Of course to do this, both individuals have to have a spiritual relationship with themselves first.
Taking on a more spiritual approach to your relationships can also help you to create more love and longevity, and it can allow you to see things from a more conscious perspective.
If you are looking to deepen the spiritual connection with your partner here are 10 methods that you may want to adopt-
1.Commit to Something Bigger
In order to elevate your relationship into a deeply spiritual partnership you both need to understand that your coming together is so much more than just a give and take, and is more about supporting each other on your own individual paths.
When you can both respect each other’s purpose and work out a way to help support each other to living that purpose, that is when the connection of your relationship will radiate with a higher love.
2. Focus on Being the Best Version of You
Do you ever feel swallowed up by your relationships? Do you ever lose sight of who you really are?
This can naturally occur in a relationship as a way to help you find yourself, however if you feel this way often, it may be a sign that you need to stop and assess the direction you are heading in and if you are giving away too much of your power.
A true spiritual relationship understands that there is no need for power and control and that both individuals are free to express themselves within the boundaries of the relationship. When both people are treated as equals and are supported in their expression, it helps create space so you can both focus on becoming the best version of yourselves.
3. Focus on Completing Yourself
A true spiritual relationship understands that by being together you are not going to complete each other. The only way that you can feel complete is by truly working on yourself and learning how to find your own sense of wholeness.
For a spiritual relationship, all voids, holes and gaps in oneself are opportunities for self healing, and are not simply patched over by the distraction of each other. In most spiritual relationships, when one partner works on being complete in themselves, the other partner will naturally follow the lead as well.
4. Cleanse the Past
We all have past hurts, past relationship baggage and past wounds that need to be cleared. While you could spend the rest of your life unearthing all of your baggage, if you can look back at all the events and send them light and love, then your work is complete. If you can’t look back on the past and feel love for it, then there is a little more healing work for you to do.
The reason this is important in a spiritual relationship is that in order to really support each other, your heart needs be open and free of burdens and pains. Practicing forgiveness also helps you to view your relationship with more compassion and won’t effect how you experience your current relationship.
5. Embrace Your Shadow Side
Relationships can be challenging as they can reveal the deeper, darker shadow side of your soul that you may have buried away. Being in a spiritual partnership, requires you to truly embrace your darker side in order to come into your true, authentic self.
In some relationships, when the darker stuff starts to surface it can result in blaming, conflicts and even affairs. Instead of falling into this trap, try to embrace the dark and give each other permission to bring all of the darkness to the table.
It may be challenging to do this, but the more you can support each other and avoid taking each others problems personally, the more you will both be able to expand your level of consciousness.
6. Understand that Change is an Opportunity
As you change and evolve, your relationship will also change and evolve.
As spiritual partners, your job is to love and support each other through these changes and sometimes that love and support may have to be from a distance and sometimes it may have to be more hands on. Either way, when you have a spiritual connection you both understand that the best course of action is what is best for each others greater good, and not for each others ego needs. While this can be hard to determine at times, with continued support and love, the answer will slowly reveal itself.
7. Be Intimate Everyday
Touch and intimacy are extremely important for any relationship as it can help to develop a stronger bond and attachment between one another.
On a spiritual level, touching and exploring each others bodies helps you to develop energetic cords and helps to create harmony between your mind, heart, body and soul.
These cords will hold the intention of the two individuals, so it is important in any relationship that both are focused on sending light and love to each other, especially when being intimate.
8. Treat Your Relationship as Sacred
We charge our crystals by the light of the moon and we should do the same with our relationships. Spending allocated time with each other or planning fun activities together is a great way to honour your connection and your relationship.
Being grateful every day for your partner and the lessons of your relationship is also important.
9. Love Yourself
Nothing lasts forever, including your spiritual relationship, however what does last forever are the things that your soul takes away from it.
Your soul has been sent here for a mission and part of that mission includes learning how to love yourself.
Understand that everything that happens to you in life and all of the people that you meet are simply part of an intrinsic system that is designed to create more love.
Embrace yourself and your relationship and understand that part of your journey with this is to learn how to love yourself and then deliver that love to the world.
10. Reflect on the Beauty of this Poem by Kahlil Gibran
This sums everything up perfectly-
Do you have a spiritual relationship with your partner? Would love to hear your thoughts in the comment section below.
W hen it comes to relationships, conflict is inevitable. But it doesn’t have to be emotionally distressing or callous. Couples can disagree and, yes, even fight while still showing compassion and respect for each other, according to psychologists.
In fact, clinical psychologist Deborah Grody says, married couples who don’t have any conflict are often the ones who end in divorce. “Relationships that can’t be saved are relationships where the flame has completely gone out, or it wasn’t there in the first place,” she says. When one or both partners are indifferent toward their relationship, they don’t care enough to even fight, according to Grody.
That said, frequent heated and hurtful conflict is certainly not healthy or sustainable, either. You can have conflicts with your partner in a constructive way, and it may actually bring you closer together, according to a 2012 paper published by the Society for Personality and Social Psychology. Researchers found that expressing anger to a romantic partner caused the short-term discomfort of anger, but also incited honest conversations that benefited the relationship in the long run.
If you want to navigate conflict with your partner in a healthier and more productive way, keep these things in mind during your next argument:
Be curious about your fights
During counseling sessions, Noam Ostrander, an associate professor of social work at DePaul University, often asks couples, “What does the 5:30 fight look like on weekdays?”
“They sort of smile because they know,” says Ostrander. That’s because, Ostrander says, couples often have the same fight over and over — almost following a script — without solving anything.
A common cause of “the 5:30 fight,” Ostrander says, is one partner wanting to tell the other about their day, and the other partner avoiding it — needing a minute to decompress after getting home from work. This likely leads to one partner accusing the other of not caring about them, and the other partner feeling attacked.
Instead, Ostrander encourages couples to pinpoint what triggers this repetitive fight, and try out ways to compromise instead of allowing the conflict to erupt. Rather than following the same old script, notice that you fight when one person gets home, and suggest a new way around that. “You can say, ‘What if we just pause, say hello or kiss hello, give it 15 minutes, and come back together,’” Ostrander says. This way, both partners can communicate that they do want to hear about the other person’s day and together, find the best way to do that.
Schedule a time for conflict
Despite having even the most open lines of communication, conflicts are still bound to happen. And when they do, it’s helpful to choose a time to talk through problems, according to Grody. “If you start to have a fight, say, ‘Let’s pick it up this evening, or another time when there’s time to discuss things,’” she says.
Setting aside time to work out disagreements allows both partners the space to regroup and prepare, Grody explains. They can think about the best way to communicate their feelings in a calmer, more rational way, so as to avoid the instinct of being defensive or accusatory. “Most of the time, things are said on impulse in the heat of anger,” says Grody. “But the words stay with us.”
Call a timeout if you or your partner needs one
During an argument, it’s common for one or both partners to enter “fight, flight or freeze” mode, according to Ostrander. Humans enter one of these modes when they think they may be in danger, he says. “Fight or flight” refers to when stress hormones activate to give people more energy to either fight the stressor or run from the situation. And “freeze” mode occurs when a person simply does not react at all, in hopes that the stressor loses interest in the fight, he says.
When a couple is in this precarious zone, problem solving is highly unlikely, because each person is solely focused on reacting to the perceived threat they feel from their partner. And if only one person is in the “fight, flight or freeze” mode, while the other is trying to resolve the issue, it can frustrate both people and escalate the fight, Ostrander says.
“If you’re really upset with someone and they’re trying to problem solve, it can feel like they’re not even listening,” he says. “I often encourage, in those moments, that someone needs to call a timeout.”
And you can frame this timeout in a way that doesn’t make your partner feel like you’re simply walking away. “Perhaps somebody says, ‘Okay, I want to have this conversation. I need like 10 minutes to calm down. I love you, I’m not going anywhere,’” Ostrander says. “‘We’re going to come back to this, we’re going to figure it out.’”
When returning to the discussion after the brief hiatus, both people will be in a better place to make real progress, Ostrander says.
Make requests instead of complaints
Fights often start with the same two words: “You always.” Rather than asking their partner to do something they’d like them to do, like cleaning up around the house, people jump to make accusations, according to Ostrander.
“You’re not getting what you want, because of how you’re asking for it,” he says. It’s easier for people to ask their partner why they never do something than it is to simply request that they do it.
Saying, “I’m not feeling great. I’m stressed about the way the house looks. Would you mind picking some stuff up?” is more direct and respectful than putting your loved one down for his or her failure to meet your need, Ostrander says. It’s also more likely to result in your partner completing the task.
Listen, and ask your partner for clarification
When the time comes to sit down and talk about solving conflicts, Grody says the most important thing couples can do is to listen — without interrupting. This can be more challenging than it seems. If your loved one says he or she doesn’t feel heard, for example, you should listen until your partner is finished speaking, according to Grody. Then, ask for clarification if there is something you don’t quite understand.
Asking, “what makes you feel like I’m not listening?” is a much more tactful way to address your partner’s complaint than simply saying, “well, I’m listening, so you should feel heard,” Grody says. Making sure you’re holding eye contact and positioning your body toward your partner when he or she is speaking will also signal that you are listening. These small adjustments can prevent countless fights down the road, Grody says.
And of course, during any fight, insults and character assassinations should be avoided at all costs, according to Grody. “Once it gets to the point where there’s name calling and things like that, the discussion should stop,” she says. “It’s not going to go anywhere.” Couples can come back to the conversation when both parties have had time to cool down.
Learn the right way to apologize to your partner
Just as people have different love languages, Ostrander says we have different apology languages, too. It’s not enough to recognize that you’ve hurt your loved one and you owe them an apology: You have to know them enough to tailor your apology to their needs, according to Ostrander.
“Some people want big gestures and some people want, ‘I’m really sorry I hurt your feelings, and I will take steps not to do that again,’” says Ostrander. “The process is figuring out what’s meaningful for your partner.”
Disagreements happen in all relationships, but what matters is how they are dealt with. The way you deal with an issue with your partner can determine if your relationship is healthy or unhealthy, so here are some tips to keep in mind that will help you handle your next argument in a healthy way.
1. Create a welcoming environment for open communication.
In a healthy relationship, you and your partner can communicate openly about what is bothering you and what is going well in the relationship. It’s important to not only talk about the problems in the relationship, but also the positives so no one feels like they are doing everything wrong. If you feel like you can’t talk openly about important things, like life issues, money, aspirations, and anything big picture that scares or matters to you, then that is a sign that your relationship may be unhealthy. If you can’t express your feelings without fear of retaliation from your partner or them getting overly upset and defensive, then you may be in an abusive relationship.
2. Maintain a calm and respectful demeanor during heated conversations.
Don’t cross lines and start insulting your partner. Keep the focus of the dispute on the issue at hand and don’t bring personal jibes and put-downs into it. Also, if your partner consistently gets very heated, aggressive or starts cursing, then those are signs that your relationship may be abusive. No matter what caused the argument, no one should yell at you, curse, or otherwise make you feel uncomfortable and/or scared when you are arguing. You should never feel like you are being attacked or need to tread carefully to not make your partner any angrier.
3. Get to the root of the problem.
Sometimes when you argue with your partner it is because someone’s needs are not being met. If it seems like your partner is sweating the small stuff, take a moment to evaluate whether there is a larger issue at hand. For instance, if your partner is upset that you are partying in the middle of the week, they might want you to designate more time for your relationship or be worried about you keeping your grades up. Consider things from your partner’s point of view and put yourself in their shoes – how would you feel if the roles were reversed? Be understanding of your partner instead of just trying to push your point across.
4. Watch out for arguments that stem from a need for control.
If you feel like your partner may be trying to control what you do, then that is a BIG red flag. If your partner is mad that you text other people, doesn’t like you prioritizing school and responsibilities over them, pressures you to hook up with them, or tries to limit the time you spend with friends, then those are signs that your partner may be trying to control you. Even if they try to rationalize it by saying they “I’m just over-protective,” “it’s my trust issues,” or it’s “because I love you,” no one should ever try to control you, especially not your partner. If any of these behaviors sound familiar, your relationship may be abusive and you should seek help.
5. Find some middle-ground.
Finding a balance between what both partners want and are comfortable with is very important. If you both care about making the relationship work you will come to an agreement on things without feeling like you are making huge sacrifices for your relationship. Compromising is a key way to resolve conflicts, and finding a middle-ground might be easier than you think! If you are arguing about spending time with your friends or your partner’s friends, alternate days to spend time with each friend group or do your own thing for a night. If you feel like your partner is always eating all of your food, ask them to chip in the next time you go grocery shopping.
6. Agree to disagree and choose your battles.
Sometimes we need to consider whether what we are fighting about is really worth arguing over. Is it just a matter of what to eat for dinner? Sharing the covers? What your next Netflix binge should be? If the problem is small, sometimes it’s best to just drop it. If you won’t be mad about it next week, then it’s probably not worth your energy. You won’t agree with your partner on absolutely everything, and if you feel like the issue is too big to drop then you should contemplate if you and your partner are really compatible.
7. Consider if the issue is resolvable or not.
Sometimes we argue with our partner about something that is REALLY big and impacts our lives – like transferring schools, if you do or don’t want kids, and where to live when you graduate. If you feel like you will need to sacrifice your beliefs, morals, or dreams to make the relationship work, then you should think about whether this relationship is really worth staying in. For a relationship to succeed, you and your partner should see eye-to-eye on the bigger picture. Having aligned goals, dreams, values, and beliefs is a major part of being compatible with someone.
If you keep these tips in mind during your next argument, you’ll be sure to handle your future conflicts in a healthy and constructive way. No one wants to be like Noah and Allie from The Notebook – never agreeing on anything and fighting all the time – even if it means you get to turn into birds together in the end. Constant arguing, overly-heated battles, and fights that spiral out of control are all signs of an unhealthy relationship. If you or someone you know may be in an unhealthy relationship, here is what you can do to help them.
For more tips on having a good relationship (#goals), you can check out the 5 Essentials to a Healthy Relationship.
I t’s one of the most uncomfortable places to be – deep in a fight with the person you love most. You’d do anything to come to an understanding. You’d like nothing more than to stop the bickering and get back to having a good time. But as we all know, it’s difficult to end a fight once it’s underway.
Sometimes fights with your partner are about core issues in the relationship that need to be hashed out, and these types of arguments can be productive. But other times fights are the result of people trying desperately to get their point across, while failing to understand the other person’s point.
These types of fights are far less productive. Luckily, there’s one question that can shift the dynamic of these fights almost instantly. That question is…
“What do you need from me?”
Why does this question (said, of course, in the most loving and compassionate way possible) have the power to neutralize unproductive fights fast?
1. It shifts the focus from trying to explain yourself to trying to understand your partner.
One of the biggest mistakes people make when they fight is they spin their wheels trying to explain their point of view. They explain it one way, and if that doesn’t work, explain it another way and another way until both parties are frustrated and exhausted.
“What do you need from me?” interrupts the pattern of repetitive explaining and actively asks the other person to take the spotlight. It basically communicates, “I’m going to be quiet for a moment and let you tell me what matters to you.” Though simple, this is a profound shift.
2. It works no matter what you’re fighting about.
Much of the advice that couples receive about how to communicate is topic-specific. “How do you think we should handle our finances?” is a great question to ask your partner when you’re discussing finances, and “How could we make our sex life better?” works when you’re discussing sex. But “What do you need from me?” works no matter what aspect of the relationship you’re discussing.
3. It captures the big picture.
When you’re fighting with someone with whom you share a life, it’s easy to get lost in the details. You likely have lots of day-to-day minutia to dredge up in the fight. “What do you need from me?” helps you stop debating the details (which often lead nowhere) and see the big picture.
It asks: What does your partner really need from you? What do you need from her? This shifts the conversation from wants to needs. He may want you to clean up the house when you say you will, but the underlying need may be: I need to know you will keep your promises. This is what the fight is really about, and getting to the core of the issue is the first step towards resolving it.
4. It implies willingness to change.
Notice that the question is not simply “What do you need?” which puts the burden of fulfilling said needs squarely on the other person. Instead it’s “What do you need from me?” which, although subtly, implies that you are open to helping your partner get his needs met. If stubbornness has infiltrated the fight, this small gesture can open the door to resolution.
5. It’s neutral.
First of all, “What do you need from me?” holds no assumptions – except that the two people in the relationship need certain things from each other. And when you think about it, all people in relationship need things from each other.
A woman may need her coworker to complete her fair share of work. A parent may need his child to own her schoolwork. If you don’t need anything from each other, there’s likely nothing to fight about in the first place.
Beyond assuming that needs are involved in the relationship, this question is completely neutral. It’s not something that only wives can say to their husbands or only parents can say to their children. Anyone can say it to anyone and yield productive results.
6. It communicates caring.
The final reason that “What do you need from me?” can save your relationship is that, imbedded in it, is a profoundly caring sentiment. If you didn’t care about the other person’s happiness and well-being, you wouldn’t bother asking what she needs in the first place. While your partner may not consciously pick up on this sentiment, she will sense it subconsciously. She will feel it in her heart and it will stop her in her tracks.
The next time you find yourself knee-deep in a messy fight, whip out “What do you need from me?” Say it with the most compassionate tone you can muster and watch the magic unfold!
How to clear out resentment and rediscover empathy.
Posted November 21, 2017 | Reviewed by Lybi Ma
- The Importance of Empathy
- Find a therapist near me
As a relationship therapist, I am often asked: “What’s the biggest problem couples face?” The easy answers are money and sex, but neither would be exactly true, or at least not what has walked into my office or my life. The most common problem I see in intimate partnerships is what I call the battle for empathy.
Paula tells Jon that she’s upset and hurt by something he said, a way he responded to her opinion on a family matter. She asks if, in the future, he could say that same thing with an attitude of kindness and/or curiosity and not be so critical, simply because her opinion differs from his. Jon reacts to Paula’s feelings and the request by aggressively inquiring why he should offer her kindness and curiosity when last month she had shut down his experience over a different family matter and treated him unkindly. Paula then attacks back, explaining why she deserved to behave the way she did in the interaction last month, and why her response last month was a reaction to what he did two months ago, which she believes was unkind and aggressive. Jon then barks that he was entitled to his behavior two months ago, because of the unkind and critical thing she did three months ago…and back in time it goes, to a seemingly unreachable place before the hurting began.
Couples do this all the time. They fight over who’s deserving of empathy, whose experience should get to matter, whose hurt should be taken care of, and whose experience should be validated. Often, partners refuse to offer empathy to each other because they feel that to do so would mean admitting they are to blame, thus giving up the chance to receive empathy and validation for their own experience. Boiled down, if I care about how my words hurt you, then I’m admitting that I’m to blame for causing you that pain. And perhaps even more important, the truth of why I said those words, or more accurately why I was entitled to say those words, will never be validated or receive its own empathy. Empathy for you effectively cancels out empathy for me.
As hurt and resentment accumulate in a relationship, it becomes harder and harder to empathize with your partner’s experience, because you have so much unheard and uncared-for pain of your own. When too much unattended pain is allowed to sedimentate between people, it can be nearly impossible to listen to, much less care about, each other’s experience. Over time, unhealed wounds create a relationship in which there’s no space left to be heard, and no place where some injustice or hurt from the past doesn’t disqualify your right to kindness and support — which just happen to be the essential components of intimacy.
For this reason and many others, resentment is the most toxic of all emotions to an intimate relationship.
So what is to be done if you’ve been in a relationship for some time, and hurts have built up and led to resentment and unresolved anger and pain? Is there hope for empathy to regain a foothold in your relationship, so that true intimacy can begin flourishing once again? What is the way forward when it feels like there is too much toxic water under the bridge, too much wreckage under your feet, to find your way back to a loving bond? When the past is a minefield, can the present become peaceful ground?
If you asked me if it’s possible, if there’s hope for empathy to re-emerge in your relationship, even when resentment abounds, the answer is: probably. But if you asked me whether there are ways to try and rebuild the empathic bond in your relationship, I would answer with a resounding yes. Yes, you can try. And yes, the only way you can know if what’s probable can become possible is to name it as a problem and give it your very best effort. One thing you can know for sure is that if you don’t try to address the resentment, it won’t go away by itself. Resentment is a cancer that metastasizes and eventually makes it impossible for a healthy relationship to survive.
So what to do? I suggest, first, that couples set an intention together to recreate empathy in their relationship, because it helps to start with a conscious decision that’s named. Perhaps both of you want to deepen the intimacy or trust, or perhaps just ease the resentment. The intention can be different for each of you, but what’s important is that there’s an agreed-upon desire and a willingness to bring attention to this issue. Sometimes one partner is not willing to set such an intention, often because of precisely the resentment that’s being addressed. Even if that’s the case, you can set an intention on your own; that’s not ideal, but it can still bring positive results.
- The Importance of Empathy
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Once an intention has been named, I recommend making a deal to officially press the restart button on your relationship. You can ritualize/celebrate this relationship restart date as perhaps a new anniversary — the day you committed to begin again without the poisons of the past. It’s important that you mark this restart date in some tangible way that makes it real and sacred. A restart date means that as of a certain day and time, you are beginning again, so that when you express your feelings to your partner, those feelings matter simply because they exist and cannot be invalidated because of something that happened in the past. Pressing the restart button means you get a new point zero, a point at which you are both innocent and entitled to kindness and support; a clean slate. This one step, albeit manufactured, if agreed upon and followed, can open up a brand-new field in which to re-meet, be loving, and take care of each other again.
Along with this, I recommend beginning a new way of communicating with each other — the taking turns way. Taking turns means when one partner brings upset or anything difficult or less than positive to the other, she is heard and understood fully, without rebuttal. The experience of the other partner, what we might say caused him (or her) to behave in the way he did (which created the upset), is then held for the next day. The next day, if he desires, he expresses his experience of what his partner presented or something else entirely. And once again, he presents with no rebuttal on her part.
Photo by Alice Donovan Rouse on Unsplash
Have you ever experienced insecurity in a relationship and questioned whether that meant that your S.O. was not the right person for you? Those with a secure attachment style in relationships usually have fewer problems, are often happier, and are usually better at supporting their partner, so this made us wonder: Can you actually teach yourself to stop being insecure in your relationship—and if so, how?
Keep reading to learn six signs you may have insecurity in your relationship—plus expert-approved tips and tricks to combat each issue from Alysha Jeney.
Meet the Expert
Alysha Jeney, MA, LMFT is a millennial attachment-based relationship therapist and the owner of Modern Love Counseling in Denver, CO. Jeney is also a co-founder and relationship expert at Modern Love Box, a subscription box meant to inspire the modern relationship.
Where Insecurity Comes From
It’s worth mentioning that insecurity is so much deeper than trust since it fuels a lack of emotional confidence and security. “You may have all the trust in the world that your partner isn’t going to cheat on you but still feel insecure,” says Jeney.
According to Jeney, our core insecurities often stem from attachment wounds, which is a way to describe any time there was a significant relationship that has ruptured our trust in the past. “This can create defensiveness that pushes people away and robs us of the opportunity of ever letting anyone truly in,” she explains.
This is where being insecure in your relationship and wondering whether you’re with the right person comes in. “You can be insecure in your relationship and absolutely be with the right person,” Jeney explains. “You may just be self-sabotaging because you are afraid to let anyone in too closely.” When this happens, it can be because of the fact that you’re not aware of (or just don’t know how to handle) your insecurities, projections, assumption, attachment style, and behaviors. Jeney says if you find you’re insecure, she’d suggest counseling as well as self-awareness work to determine if it’s coming from external sources or you are just in an incompatible relationship.
Ahead, the six signs you are insecure in your relationship—and what to do about it.
You Don’t Trust Easily
Sign: You doubt every little thing, you stalk social media sites, you snoop on your partner, or you feel threatened easily.
Action to Take: Practice mindfulness and journal about when you feel this way. “Can you challenge your thoughts and look at a scenario giving your partner the benefit of the doubt?” asks Jeney.
The Why: “It helps you challenge your negative thought patterns and helps you become more aware of where your feelings are coming from. You will learn how to better cope with reactions and thoughts rather than projecting them onto your partner and then laser focusing on something potentially superficial and irrelevant,” she says.
You Struggle With Intimacy
Sign: You struggle with feeling close sexually or emotionally (or both). You can feel your guard up during intimate moments.
Action to Take: You need to first understand intimacy and what it means to you and your partner. Ask yourself whether you and your partner experience closeness and intimacy in the same way. Then work on where your guards come from—society’s expectations, insecurities, past abuse, and/or fears.
The Why: “It will help you communicate with your partner so you can both be on the same page. Be patient with each other and understand your differences,” Jeney says.
You Become Panicked Easily
Sign: During a conflict, you panic that your partner will leave, will reject you, or may judge you.
Action to Take: Identify the first time you felt this sense of panic and pinpoint it to an event to see how it’s playing a role in your current situation. What did you need to hear then, and what do you need to hear now? If it’s the same, try telling yourself that message when you start to feel triggered again.
The Why: “It gives you permission to feel how you feel, which is actually validating and soothing,” Jeney says. “It also gives you insight into past patterns and influences which can help you see things from a different perspective so you can de-escalate the panic and communicate more rationally.”
You Easily Feel Attacked
Sign: You feel immediately offended, hurt, or shut down by something your partner asks of you. You instantly feel criticized and want to defend yourself by arguing or by shutting down completely.
Action to Take: Ask yourself these questions:
- “How many of my thoughts are assumptions?”
- “What did my partner actually say?”
- “Can there be a possibility I’m internalizing this scenario and making it something it’s not?”
The Why: “It helps you challenge your thoughts and look at the scenario from an objective lens. You’re able to understand what your partner is trying to communicate without the hyper-emotion,” says Jeney.
You Create Mountains Over Molehills
Sign: You pick fights and make them extreme issues, you use hurtful or definitive words, and create huge arguments around something that isn’t very big once you’ve taken a step back.
Action to Take: Reflect on three to five fights you’ve had in the past and look at them objectively. Ask yourself what was underneath the content you were arguing about and try to identify patterns.
The Why: “You may be able to identify internal patterns you weren’t aware of. Maybe you are making bigger arguments out of smaller details because you never felt a big issue was repaired fully; maybe you struggle with allowing yourself to feel truly close to someone so you’re sabotaging happiness; maybe you have needs that aren’t being met in your relationship but it’s easier to fight about the laundry or who they added on Instagram rather than directly address them.”
You Don’t Accept Yourself
Sign: You struggle when it comes to giving yourself permission to just be you, you judge yourself often and hold yourself to high standards.
Action to Take: Work on yourself so you don’t fall into a trap of co-dependency and never allow your authentic self to grow. Go to counseling, read books, practice your spiritual or soulful work. Look at how your past has influenced your present, and give yourself permission to work through it. Most importantly, give yourself grace and love.
The Why: “You learn not to rely on others in an unhealthy way to ‘fix or soothe’ your perceived issues. You will get the emotional confidence and empowerment to show up authentically. It also helps you to identify triggers and subconscious influences so you can soothe, repair, or avoid them in the future.”
Have you ever found yourself afraid to open up to a romantic partner because you just couldn’t trust them completely?
Have you been in a relationship with a partner who had trouble depending on you?
If so, you may have an avoidant attachment style.
Attachment style refers to how we connect with others.
Think of it as the lens through which we see our relationships. Avoidant attachment is characterized by a fear of closeness and the tendency to avoid depending on others.
You might even find that relationships don’t really seem all that appealing to you in the first place.
How to Communicate With an Avoidant Partner?
Psychologists from China have conducted a number of scientific studies to discover how avoidant individuals can still have healthy and intimate relationships.
Their suggestions are:
1. How to Work on Intimacy
Avoidantly attached individuals often have difficulty connecting with others. They seem like “closed” individuals who are afraid to share their intimate feelings or desires with others.
What you can do: An avoidant individual may be acting this way because they have dealt with betrayal, abandonment, or hurt in the past–usually from a trusted friend or relative. Know that the small amount of trust they have placed in you took a tremendous amount of effort on their part. Be grateful for what you have at the moment, don’t abuse the trust they have given you. Show them that you trust them to know what is safe for them to share with you.
If you are the avoidant partner in the relationship or have been experiencing difficulty opening up to your significant other, try experimenting with sharing your emotions. Test the waters with trivial things like a movie–get in the habit of sharing your emotions little by little with your partner until you feel safe and secure enough to share deeper feelings.
2. How to Support Your Partner?
Avoidantly attached individuals might feel like they are not being supported in their relationships. As a result, they may begin to withdraw and appear unsupportive themselves sometimes.
What you can do: Although you may think you know what to do for them, don’t try to take over their life and do everything for them.
Let them be in charge of the things that are most important to them, but offer to help with smaller things that they may be more willing to let you handle.
Show them that you are dependable and reliable with the small things first, and eventually, they will come to you if they need your help with something bigger.
If you are avoidant, realize that your partner is often trying to support you in ways you may not notice. If you feel unsupported, work on expressing this in a calm way to your partner and allow them to explain their intentions of support.
3. Respect Relationship Needs
Avoidant individuals are more likely than any other type of person to withdraw from relationships. This is usually a defense mechanism they use to avoid being hurt.
What you can do: Don’t take it personally if they need some emotional space for a short time. Let them feel safe with their own thoughts and desires, and don’t push them to talk to you about it until they are ready. Pushing them too much could cause this individual to withdraw more.
What your avoidant partner can do:
Recognize when you withdraw and recognize why you withdraw. There’s nothing wrong with taking a timeout, but be intentional about your efforts to re-engage with your partner after you’ve taken a break.
You and your partner will have individual needs. It is best to communicate openly about each of yours and your partners needs so you both know how to respect each others need for:
- space to think
- physical touch
- personal time
- time with friends
- emotional support
Communicate, in advance, if possible, of these needs so you and your partner can make individual plans. This will show your partner that you respect their needs and your needs will be respected also so you can plan on taking personal time while they focus on what they need.
Planning time together is just as important.
You must spend time enriching your relationship just like spending time developing yourself. Developing physically, emotionally, mentally, or spiritually together can greatly improve your relationship.
Examples to do together:
- Musical instrument
- Serving others through charity
- Working out
This can even take the form of taking an interest in your partner’s favorite hobbies and letting them serve you by teaching you what they love about it and how you can improve at what they are great at.
4. How to Use Positive Reinforcement in a Relationship?
When the avoidant partner does something you like, let them know! Reinforce these positive actions with praise and encouragement.
Talk about what you value in the relationship and what is working. Focusing on the positives can help to balance out the avoidant partner’s tendency to focus on the negative aspects of life.
Positive reinforcement in a relationship is a way of rewarding the behavior that you want to see repeated. This can lead to a behavioral change as people often repeat behaviors that lead to positive feelings.
The following are ways to positively reinforce your partners actions:
- Praise Actions
- Express Gratitude
- Give Attention
- Celebrate Wins
- Physical Touch
- Speak Forgiveness
- Be Consistent
5. Being an Individual in a Relationship
It’s perfectly acceptable to cultivate your own interests, have your own friends, and do your own hobbies. It is very important in a relationship for both partners to continue to develop themselves separately from one another.
Being true to yourself is important while in a relationship. You will develop an ability to ensure that during the difficult times you can still be there for yourself.
Will allow you to be able to be stronger for your partner when they have difficult days.
When avoidant partners see you being self-sufficient with your own interests, it may spark their attention and draw them to you. They will worry less than you will become overly dependent on them and open themselves more to you.
Being in a relationship with someone who seems to avoid closeness and openness can be very frustrating. Many of us want to know what our partners are thinking, and we feel a sincere desire to help them through their struggles.
Maybe avoidant individuals can learn to open up to you like this further down the road, but for now, take things slow and when they do open up show them you will keep it safe for them.
To see what attachment style you might have, take RELATE today