We all use a defense mechanism called denial. Denial is a refusal to recognize or believe the reality of a situation, a truth or a fact. It’s subconsciously used to protect us emotionally. It’s not necessarily lying, but it is dishonest. Denial clouds judgment so that we cannot clearly see ourselves or others.
Defensiveness is often a sign that denial is present. You may change the subject, avoiding the problematic belief. Ignoring important facts like in my above example is denial. Minimizing the consequences of your behavior when your partner complains is denial.
As humans, we become very emotionally conflicted when we behave in ways that don’t match our belief systems. This situation cannot peacefully exist for very long. We must create a new reality and find a logical explanation.
Story: Sally met and fell in love with Sam and they were married. Sally had a poor self image and had a subconscious belief that she was unlovable. It was fine initially during the romance part of their relationship, but as Sally’s insecurities began to emerge, she found herself unable to feel love from Sam. Sally is unable to see that her insecurities caused her to see proof of Sam’s waning love in everything he did. Sally developed a logical explanation (Sam treats me like crap) to protect herself from looking at her own issue. Once Sally could be honest about that insecurity, it created opportunities for Sam to reassure her of his love in a healthy way. Without this realization, Sally may have continued with her denial and resentment until the relationship withered.
When we can recognize our own denial, we begin to heal. Blaming our partners for problems or issues is a red flag for denial. Do you believe your partner is a jerk sometimes? Do you tell your friends your partner doesn’t know how to treat you? Does your partner tell you something yet you refuse to believe? Take some time to look at your own belief system around that issue.
Ok, this may be a little difficult for you, but winning is never easy. Remember, anytime your answer to a problem is “my partner needs to change”, it’s a sign you have a problem. Even if your partner is physically abusive and he SHOULD change, your problem is allowing yourself to be treated abusively.
Game Changer: Where are you blaming your partner? Explore the situation. What are you in denial about in regards to your own beliefs? Share this with your partner if you can. Let me know what you discover in the comments below.
People who are selfless and “acts of service” oriented may minimize words of encouragement because they don’t feel a strong need for them. What if your partner needs acknowledgment? If your partner points out they’ve taken out the trash although you’ve done it the last 99 times, they’re asking for a word of encouragement. Don’t fall into resentment, give it to them! What gets rewarded gets repeated.
Now, words of encouragement are only valid if they’re valid! That means you have to actually note something positive before you remark. Sometimes that’s difficult when you’re in conflict with your partner. You might have to dig deep, but you can do it!
I ask couples to make a list of wonderful qualities their partner possesses and keep it handy. When they fall into negative feelings about their partner, I encourage them not to stay there. I challenge them to grab their list and read it, and reread it until they shift into gratitude and appreciation.
I know this is valuable for everyone, so make your own list. If you need a kick start, here’s some ideas:
Good for you!
Thank you for making my day.
Thank you for… taking out the trash…..picking up the milk….putting the laundry in the hamper….making coffee this morning…..working so hard.
That was really smart.
I feel safe with you and you’re safe with me.
I want to go on a date with you tonight.
Thanks for fixing that.
You put a lot of work into that.
It’s fun to take walks with you.
Keep it up.
It’s always nice when we can watch our favorite TV show together.
That was very nice.
You always make me laugh.
You’ve made my life so wonderful.
We’ve raised some great kids.
I hope you have a great day.
You make a great point.
I’m glad you’re my friend.
Wouldn't anyone be stoked to hear some of those things? Your task now is to make your own list of words of encouragement. Search as long as you need to; discard the negative. Find honestly good things about your partner that you can consistently and persistently compliment them on. Keep that list handy and refer to it whenever you notice some negative feelings about your partner. It’ll shift your thoughts into a more positive space and that’s a winning move.
In the comments below, let me know how it goes. I’d love to hear from you via email too.
Stay encouraging! Namaste,
What if our conflict in relationship could all be linked to the level of attachment we feel? Now, I’m not talking about affection or commitment or any of that. I’m talking about true, to the core, I belong to you-you belong to me attachment.
I’m reading some interesting research on attachment. Some theorize that all our conflict is the result of insecurity somewhere in our relationship. There is a biological need that drives a fear of rejection in us.
Think about it. What’s that one big thing that you argue about with your partner? I’m thinking of one…..and it’s true. If I look past the high emotion of the moment, I’m interpreting this issue as evidence that my husband is not putting me first. That strikes my insecurity cord and I respond by making demands that he respect and meet my need to be reassured. I haven’t exactly posed my point of view in that way, but maybe I will!
So research shows we are always seeking safety. One way humans find safety is in belonging to a group. Our significant relationships represent that group in our modern times. When that safety is threatened in some way, our primal brain is activated and we attempt to repair the situation. Our fears of insignificance and abandonment may be the root of our conflicts. Some say that conflict is always the result of us trying to reestablish a connection that gives us a feeling of safety. That may seem simplistic, but let it marinate.
What if we examine our complaints to detect what our fear is? This allows us to better know ourselves and gives our partner an opportunity to know us better as well. What if we are curious enough about our partner’s complaints to reach for their fears? This allows us to have empathy vs. getting defensive. Curiosity is one of the healthiest of emotions. When we’re curious about ourselves and our partners, growth happens!
I’m including this video to further illustrate some of this research into attachment.
Like the baby in the video, we cry, gesture, and squeal in our own way with intention to engage our partner.
If attachment is such a significant influence in our love relationships, ensuring a strong attachment bond will help in Winning Your Relationship Game.
Think about the last time you got angry with your partner. Find where the attachment fear was. If you’re brave enough, leave it in the comments below!
Wishing you safety,
We are biologically designed to seek belonging, both to communities and to other people. The stronger and more secure that sense of belonging, the more confident we are taking other risks in life.
From our early years, we learn to behave so we’re accepted by our peers and families. Anyone who’s experienced the pain of being bullied or ostracized from their peers knows that it can shake your confidence.
One benefit of being in a committed relationship is the feeling of a solid foundation with our partner. From this foundation, we can face greater risks of “not belonging” out in the world.
Our level of self-doubt is based on this feeling of belonging. As children, the more our families created that attachment, the more confidence we tapped into. Research shows our level of self confidence increases as our sense of belonging with our partner increases. This promotes greater personal and family functioning as the basic anxiety of belonging moves out of the forefront.
Attachment security sets us up to take risks in other areas of our lives. We see things more rationally, aren’t as needy of approval. For example: That old saying, “behind every successful man is a good woman” illustrates this for us. Feeling that belonging at home allows work life to be more effective. When we KNOW we belong, it’s easier to risk rejection from other arenas.
Exploring our self-doubt both individually and with our partner helps us learn. We begin to recognize how self-doubt causes us to behave in less than productive ways. Our partner begins to understand how to nurture our sense of belonging. And, if you’re lucky, vice versa.
Is there an area of self-doubt that you struggle with? Can you make the link to your sense of belonging? Take time to work this out by asking a series of 5 Why questions. (Search this site if you don’t know what that is.)
Share any insight below in the comments.
Wishing you security,
We all suffer from time to time. Suffering is any form of distress. In relationships, emotional distress is a signal there’s something to learn. With practice and discipline, these places of discomfort are where growth happens.
Suffering is present when our current situation is not congruent with our beliefs. For example, my husband wants to stay home from a shopping trip and I get irritated. What is my belief that is causing my pain? Maybe I believe that we should go everywhere together. Maybe I believe that we should equally share in household shopping. Maybe I believe that it’s a great opportunity for us to check out a new purchase.
Whatever the discomfort is, at the root is a belief. For simplicity sake, let’s say I believe in equally sharing household shopping. Is that an absolute fact? No, of course not. Many couples have different arrangements. Is my partner aware that I even believe he should be shopping with me? Probably not. We’re not very good at sharing or even identifying beliefs most of the time. Once I’ve identified and disclosed, it opens the door for compromise. Maybe we can adopt chore responsiblities in a way that feels more balanced.
It’s empowering to recall that your beliefs are under your control; you can change them. If you work longer hours than your partner, maybe it’s more balanced for them to do more of the shopping. Maybe your partner really enjoys shopping! I don’t like to shop with my partner because we end up spending more money than when I go alone! Maybe your partner influences you to spend less. There’s lots of good reasons to change that belief that shopping should be a shared chore.
Most importantly, examining beliefs which cause suffering is an excellent vehicle for your own self growth. If you understand the deeper “why” of your pain, you can be more open with your partner. The more emotionally intimate you are with each other, the stronger your relationship will become.
When you experience suffering (a painful emotion) take some time to explore. Ask yourself, “what am I believing right now?” Are you beliefs absolute? If they aren’t, can you change them up a bit?
Think about the last suffering you had in relation to your partner. Were you believing something that is perhaps not absolutely true? Can you imagine believing something different?
Tell me in the comments below how the situation would be different if you changed what you believe.
I worked with an adolescent girl a few years ago. We were working with cognitive behavioral therapy (an approach that examines thoughts and supports changing them). I asked if she trusted a certain thought she had. She replied, “No, my thoughts lie to me all the time.”
A more profound statement has rarely been made! All of us develop thoughts and beliefs early in life, before we have the cognitive ability to discern the truth of them. Those thoughts and beliefs become fixed. I compare them to a railroad track. As long as the track exists, the mind runs right along on that track. With effort, you can move the track. Little by little, you can challenge the belief, like putting drops of water on the track, eventually it will wash out. Or sometimes, our beliefs get completely derailed by a dramatic insight. You have influence over your thoughts and can make advantageous changes.
Why should you look at your thoughts? Well, thoughts can be real, but not true. We have a laundry list of beliefs about ourselves influencing our feelings and behaviors all the time. Ever felt that you looked nice and put together? Did that influence how you acted? Of course it did. When your thoughts and feelings are aligned, your behavior can’t help but follow.
On the flip side, ever gone to the grocery store in sweat pants and no makeup? I know that influences me! I leave my sunglasses on and hope I don’t see anyone I know! I feel frumpy and I think I shouldn’t be in public like that!
Since our thoughts impact our feelings and behaviors, it serves us to make them the most positive influence we can.
Sometimes thoughts can be tricky to identify and to change. Remember they work in concert with feelings and behaviors. If you behave shyly for example, visualize behaving in a non-shy way. What thoughts stop you? This gives you some insight into what thoughts are keeping you sitting quietly in the corner.
You can also imagine yourself as a non-shy person. How does that version of you feel? Let’s say one way a non-shy person might feel is self-confident. Can you think of a time you had a feeling like that? Experience that feeling in your memory and keep yourself in that state. Imagine you, feeling self-confident, and approaching a normally shyness inducing situation. What thoughts are coming up for you? Again, this gives you some information for self-exploration.
Are those thoughts true? I know they are real, but are they true? I believe I shouldn’t go to the grocery store in sweatpants, but is that true? Can I relax my belief just a bit?
Changing thoughts can impact us in many positive ways. That’s the best argument for examining the thoughts that automatically run through your head. Beliefs such as I’m too old, weak, dumb, shy, etc. hold us back every day. If you can choose to believe a slightly more rewarding thought than the one you have, and you do that over and over again, won’t you be pushing yourself to be a better version of yourself? The best version of you is all you can ask of yourself.
Want to change your experience? Challenge some of your thoughts. Change them into slightly better ones. Just like water drops on a railroad track, eventually you will displace the track you don’t want. Name a thought that you can challenge today. How would things change for you if you shifted it a little? Tell me in the comments below.