I stub my toe I give a little yelp, or a big yelp depending on the stub. It’s my natural reaction and there’s not much space to reasoning about that. Or is there? In a lecture hall where a hundred attendees are listening to a speaker and I stub my toe, I’m probably not going to yelp! Somehow, the situation interrupts my natural reaction and I can choose a more appropriate response.
Many relationship interactions are the same. We react to discomfort and fail to censor our reactions. My husband tells me he doesn’t like my haircut and I snap at him followed up by the cold shoulder all because I can’t handle the discomfort his “criticism” caused me.
The problem with reactions is they rarely make a situation better and in most cases, really mess it up. It represents the paradox of emotions in that what we want, we make less likely because of how our emotions drive our behavior. It can be really worthwhile to spend some time in discomfort learning about yourself and responding in more effective ways.
Take my example: my husband says he doesn’t like my haircut. I feel upset, uncomfortable, but I catch myself and rather than reacting, I explore why I’m having such a strong feeling.
So, my thoughts might run like this: Who does he think he is? I like this haircut! His haircut really sucks. (You might agree, this isn’t helpful) You might employ the Five Whys here. Why am I feeling so upset? Because his comment feels like criticism. Why do I have a problem with his criticism? Because I want him to think I look nice. Why do I want him to think I look nice? Because I want him to love and accept me. Why do I want him to love and accept me? Because if he doesn’t, he might not want to stay together. That’s only four whys, but I’m starting to get a much clearer idea of why his comment bothers me. My insecurity is triggered a bit and that fear fuels my anger. Of course the rational part of my brain understands this is ridiculous. Armed with that understanding I can now respond very differently. This process requires spending a time in discomfort (that’s how growth occurs). How much discomfort is there when you snap and withdraw? I’m betting MORE than my way!
So Practice Time! Think about the last time you had a strong reaction to something. Can you allow yourself to sit with that memory and analyze where it came from? Spend some time with the Five Whys to lead you to a deeper sense of where your fear or pain lies. This is excellent material to share with your partner if you can.
Let me know how it goes! I’d love to hear from you. Comment or email me privately at Allison@allisonvelez.com
Q-I think of myself as an optimist, but my wife seems to be a pessimist. I love my wife, but it feels like she is always complaining about something, and it’s starting to bother me. In a way, I think she is trying to express her feelings. I want to support her, but I’m not sure how.
A-You’re right, she’s trying to express herself. John Gottman says a complaint is an unmet desire expressed.
That being said, complaining is a habitual behavior most of the time. Try having a compassionate, supportive conversation with her about how it bothers you. It probably bothers you because you want to help correct whatever’s going on. Don’t start off telling her how wrong she is to communicate in that way. Try to make her feel understood and she won’t be defensive.
She may also have realized this is a problem and be open to changing this about herself. If she isn’t, don’t waste your time coercing her. Don’t respond to the complaining behavior, but fully engage when she’s being positive.
I, too, sometimes complain, and my husband just abruptly changes the subject! I’ll be going on about something and he’ll say, “Man, look how pretty the sky is today!” It’s kind of a joke between us now and we’ll just both laugh.
I assume from your question that she is not complaining about YOU specifically. If she is, there’s an opportunity for you to decide if there’s something you need to work on. If not, approach this as a team in trying to reduce a bad habit.
f she is depressed, seek professional help.
Best of luck, hope this helps!
As a 20+ year veteran of marriage and family counseling, I have often been dumbfounded at how a previously loving couple will be cruel to each other. Often they will intentionally insult, disrespect, and otherwise belittle each other. Although we can assume that most relationships begin with a level of love, hope and commitment that convinces the couple that they want to be together for the forseeable
future, several years later they cannot carry on a civil conversation.
Often by the time a couple seeks counseling the relationship is doomed to fail. For this reason counseling couples is often frustrating and tedious work. I have often said I wish I could be with my patients all day to coach them through their interactions. Many of the things I coach people on are repetitive and need to be applied on a daily basis rather than one hour a week in my office.
Winning Your Relationship Game means you reach a level of happiness they’ve only dreamed of or haven’t felt in a long time. Let me begin by telling you what no one can help you do. No one can tell you how to convince your partner that they are wrong and you are right. No one will excuse your behavior because of what your partner is or isn’t doing. If you’re looking for a way to change others, good luck! Chances are very good that there are some things that you can change that will make a positive difference in your relationship anyway.
Relationships rest on 3 foundational pillars of Compassion, Communication and Commitment. You must have all 3 for your relationship to remain stable. A shaky relationship will have weaknesses in one or more areas. Development in all 3 areas will grow the closeness and happiness of the relationship. Your relationship will be a winning one.
My philosophy is also one of acknowledging the role of attachment. Insecure attachment fears seem to be at the bottom of every conflict within a relationship. If we can own that our responsibility is to make our partners feel securely attached, our relationships will be amazing!
Things that impact relationships are issues of addictions, mental illness, domestic violence, or infidelity. These introduce irrationality into any situation. It’s difficult to work with someone who does not think in a rational manner. Please get professional help if you need intervention which focuses specifically on those areas. If you’re in an unsafe situation, I urge you to get outside help immediately.
There are 3 areas of our reality that has to be examined. Those are areas of thoughts, feelings and behaviors. While thoughts and feelings are important, behaviors are what wins or loses in relationships. Sometimes, changing behaviors is dependent on addressing the thoughts and feelings behind them. Don’t be afraid, I think you’ll find this simple, but maybe not easy.
All things in life occur in cycles. Relationships are no different. Closeness occurs and distance occurs. There’s the falling in love part and then there’s the settling in part. Each change in stage represents a new set of rules for your relationship. Our actions during and reactions to these times create a stronger or weaker relationship. Sometimes we read difficult times as the end of a relationship, but it may just be a natural stage of moving closer.
I also see a relationship as a system. This system cannot change in one area and be unchanged in another. Therefore any change you make will impact the relationship. So, CAN you change your relationship? Yes. And you should if you’re not happy with it now.
Love and Be Lovely!