Hurt feelings don’t always mean your partner did something wrong.
By LaVerna Wilk , MA, RCC, Certified Gottman Therapist and Trauma Specialist
Something that can derail us in conversations with our partner is feeling hurt by an incident in the relationship. I was recently visiting with a friend and she shared a story about a blowout fight she had with her husband. Being a therapist, I’ve grown used to this over the years.
The wife was sharing a story about how she had hurt her neck and because her range of motion was very limited, for her to turn her head caused pain and spasms in her spine. They had been driving on the freeway and as he was trying to make a last-minute lane change he asked her to check the lanes beside her because it was easier than for him to try to see for himself.
She said she felt hurt and disregarded because his lack of planning ahead required him to increase her discomfort. “If the roles were reversed I would have been in the right lane way ahead of time so that I didn’t cause him pain. I was so mad at him”.
“The past isn’t dead. It isn’t even the past” Obama quoting William Faulkner
What’s wrong with her complaint? Not a thing, but what she isn’t telling you is her history with this issue of feeling like her needs didn’t matter, like she was less important than others. In her family of origin, she was the youngest in a large family that struggled financially. Decisions were always made based on what was best for the larger unit, and her needs were not able to take center stage because the bigger picture was, at times, quite dire. So, she is sensitive to situations where her needs are not acknowledged.
How to know if you matter.
So what was key for her here? She felt like he didn’t listen to her, like her needs didn’t matter enough for him to keep track of the information. Drs John and Julie Gottman talk about the importance of a good love map, of knowing about your partner’s inner world. She felt that if she mattered to him he would have kept that information about her sore back in his mind and made driving decisions to accommodate that. This idea of feeling like you matter is also one of the bedrocks of trust.
What is a trigger?
But here’s the kicker. Of course she would have… this is a trigger for her. Triggers are normal, enduring vulnerabilities from moments in our past that escalate interactions today. These are normal cause they are in all of us and the impact can be reduced, but rarely eliminated. For example, she is sensitive to being ignored, therefore is sensitive to others feeling ignored or disregarded by her and she would have modified her behavior accordingly. This doesn’t make her a better person than he is and it is unfair to compare him to herself and find herself superior.
Does that mean that her partner did something wrong? Nope. Is she just being over sensitive? Nope. That is just not his button, so it didn’t occur to him that this could be an issue.
Further, when we only know what is happening in one person’s subjective reality it is pretty easy to feel indignant on their behalf, to feel protective of my friend. But here’s the reality about subjective realities. However many people are present is how many subjective realities there will be, and they are all valid.
In his world, he grew up in a hardworking Portuguese family where people worked through their pain and didn’t complain. His parents were loving people who worked together as a family to make sure everyone got what they wanted and needed. His parents coached his sports teams, drove him to hockey at any ungodly hour of the morning, knew the names and phone numbers of all his friends and taught him that he could be whatever he aspired to be. They also yelled a lot and were very skilled at demanding what they wanted or needed. So because she had not clearly stated that being upright in a moving vehicle was causing lots of pain for her and that she really needed him to bubble wrap her in love, it didn’t occur to him that he was asking too much.
Why is it important to keep our partner’s sensitivities in mind? The Hurt VS Harmed debate:
Why is this an important conversation for the couple to have? Because we can easily forget that just because someone’s feelings get hurt doesn’t automatically mean their partner did something wrong. It just means your feelings got hurt. The interaction itself was neutral. It was how they managed it that mattered. In a perfect world, he would have been more careful about his driving. In a perfect world, she would have been clear at the beginning of the drive that she was in pain and he needed to be proactive to maximize her comfort. But these things didn’t happen so her feelings got hurt, then she got contemptuous towards him, and then his feelings got hurt.
Even the best couples have regrettable incidents. “Don’t worry about it, Its Normal.”
This is not actually an argument; it is a regrettable incident. At the Art and Science of Love Couples workshops and in session we teach couples how to repair after an interaction like this. If you can easily list examples like this from your own relationship it doesn’t mean you are doomed, it just means you need to get better at repairing after a regrettable incident, because you will have them. Master couples repair often and they repair well. They remember their partner’s sensitivities and they walk carefully around them. They remember that their partner is on their side, that they want good things in their big picture together and generally try to honor that. You are not a Disaster Couple (verses a Master Couple) because you had a regrettable incident, but you might be or become one if you don’t repair.
“Within Every regrettable incident is a conversation the couple still needs to have. We call this a recovery conversation.”Julie Gottman
All it would have taken for this couple is for one of them to say, “I can see why your feelings got hurt. That wasn’t my intention, but I am still sorry it happened. You and your inner world matter to me”. Repair often and repair well.
LaVerna Wilk, is a Certified Gottman Therapist and works for BestMarriages.ca Counselling Center, in Langley BC. She is not only an expert counsellor, has raised 5 girls while getting her masters degree and loves to get dirty with her own jeep on off-roading adventures. Bestmarriages.ca was established in 2000 to focus not only on couple’s therapy, but has also established successful couple’s retreats and training workshops across Canada.
Over the last few weeks we’ve talked about staying positive as a way of not only improving your relationship, but your overall life as well. There are many benefits to remaining positive, even when times get unbearably tough. If you haven’t already, it’d be a good idea to read a few of our last posts.
But there are times when it doesn’t matter how positive you stay, you’re going to get down. A lot of the times this can happen because someone close to you has harmed or hurt you. We don’t mean physically harm you here, that’s another topic altogether. But if you feel like you’ve been wronged by someone, it can be difficult to get back to that positive state of mind.
That’s where the importance of forgiveness comes in.
But before we go further with this, we need to re-frame what forgiveness actually is and what it’s for.
Forgiveness is letting go of the external things that have harmed you – and it can be very powerful.
But what forgiveness is NOT, is letting the other person “off the hook.”
In fact, forgiveness is not about the other person at all. It’s about you.
You see, if the “wronging” you’ve experienced has affected you badly enough, it can ruin not only relationships, but your own outlook on life and more.
So choosing forgiveness over dwelling on the issue is for your own well-being, not the well-being of the person who wronged you.
Yes, it can be difficult to forgive, but if you re-frame the whole concept in your mind as being FOR YOU, and not the other person, it can become much easier. Dwelling on the past and letting things bother you for an extended period of time can lead to you being in the negative perspective – and we’ve written about what that can do to your relationships and life.
Dr. Carol Morgan wrote about forgiveness on LovePanky.com.
She recommends 15 things that can help you forgive when forgiveness is the last thing on your mind.
Think of them as a child
Think of the Grand Scheme of things
Talk to them
Take responsibility for your part
Think good thoughts
Don’t take it personally
Don’t be offended
Don’t live in the past
Try not to judge
Remember why you like/love the person in the first place
Ask what you can learn from this
Accept that things can’t be un-done
Forgive them for yourself
Those are great tips, but some definitely require a little more explanation. That’s why you should read Dr. Morgan’s full post to get some more insight.
And if you have your own tips on how to make things easier to forgive, leave them in the comments below!
Conflict is normal in every type of relationship – from business to personal, and especially intimate relationships. Every couple goes through it. This is for a number of reasons including the fact that when you enter into a relationship, it isn’t just between two people. It’s between two unique personalities, shaped by unique circumstances.
Conflict can arise when we feel threatened. It’s not about physical danger but relates more to our needs, wants, desires and, most importantly, our expectations of the other person.
What Really Matters
As stated above, conflict is normal. Of course, it’s not normal if the conflict is frequent and severe. But occasional conflict happens to all couples.
How you manage and handle that conflict within your relationships, though, is the key to a healthy one. If you or your partner are prone to losing your temper, getting angry and becoming defensive, things can become very difficult – especially in the long-term.
How to Manage Conflict Effectively
Bernard Golden, PhD and writer for Psychology Today writes about 7 steps to effectively manage the conflict in your relationship.
He begins with sound advice on when to handle conflict.
As a beginning point, remember that the worst time to argue is when you’re furiously angry–a moment when you feel threatened and your body is in high alert. During such moments, you’re more likely to focus on your own grievances and be unavailable to hear those of your partner.
The following guidelines offer a clear approach to dealing with conflict—one that’s rooted in mindfulness, self-awareness, and compassion for yourself and your partner. I encourage you to discuss these guidelines with your partner and sign a pledge as a commitment to follow them.
Golden goes on to list 7 guidelines that can help.
Commit to Practicing Healthy Anger
This involves key skills related to communication – listening, sharing in negotiation, and focusing on specific behaviours, not global statements
Only Discuss Differences When Calm, Stop if Things Get Too Agitated
Set limits on the level of “discomfort” you’re both ok with and stop for the moment if things get to be too much
Have a “safe word”
Agree on a phrase that both of you can use when you need to disengage from the discussion because things are becoming too much.
Get Back to Normal
Do your best to resume the activity that was planned prior to the conflict arising
Revisit the Discussion Later
Agree to resume your discussion at a later time when you’re both calm and collected
Be Mindful of Time Limits
Golden recommends a time limit of 30-40 minutes for these discussions. Don’t let them drag on forever.
Do Not Argue in the Bedroom
Arguing in the bedroom can lead to an association of conflict, tension and anger with sleep or physical intimacy – and no one wants that.
These guidelines can help you both deal with conflict better. It’s a good idea to discuss them with your partner so you’re both on the same page of how to act when conflict does arise. Agree to both abide by these rules and hopefully things will resolve easier and more constructively.
Here’s what BestMarraiges’ own Darren Wilk has to say about this:
[The above] reflects many principles in the Gottman method we use. We always say to not avoid conflict as it is necessary for growth as a couple.
“If you avoid conflict , you avoid closeness.”
Couples should get into the habit of bringing up small complaints on a regular basis, in a gentle way, because this is how needs can get met. And partners are not mind-readers.
By gentle we mean focusing on your feelings about the situation, and not about how your partner is the problem.
If you or your partner are unable to follow these guidelines or arguments and conflict become far too intense/angry, far too often you may benefit from couples therapy. Call us today at 1-604-539-5277 to speak confidentially with a Gottman-certified couples therapist. Just speaking with someone who is qualified can help immensely.
Continuing on the theme of perspective, this week’s post is courtesy of BestMarriages counsellor Lawrence Stoyanowski. Lawrence is Co-owner of BestMarriages and has been a Marriage and Family Therapist for 26 years. He is also a Certified Gottman Therapist and a Gottman Master Trainer.
Over the last couple of weeks we’ve been talking about the negative perspective. This is something that I see a lot in my clients and in my office on a regular basis. It’s quite common and normal to be in the negative perspective but it doesn’t have to be that way.
Today I want to share ways to tell if you’re in the negative perspective and, more importantly, what you can do about it!
What is The Negative Perspective?
The Negative perspective as we learned earlier is a distortion of your view of your partner. It’s not just always seeing the worst in your significant other.
It’s an over-riding sense of negative regard, where even neutral or positive actions from your partner are skewed in your mind to be perceived as negative.
No matter what they do, you perceive it as a negative thing.
What is The Positive Perspective?
So, what this means is when we are in the positive perspective we are not taking things personally and we are seeing things for what they really are.
Negative Sentimental Override
The negative perspective is something quite different. When we’re in the negative perspective we have a lot of “negative sentimental override” going on. And once again this is another fancy way of saying there’s a lot more negativity going on in the relationship than positive.
But it’s just not quite that simple either.
What this means is:
We are seeing a lot of our partners positive behavior and words as being negative we are seeing
We are seeing all neutral behaviors and words as being negative
We are seeing all negative behaviors as really, really, really, negative!
Negative Sentimental Override is related to the development of negative attributions about one another and the relationship.
The Research Behind Negativity
Once again we need to step back and we ask ourselves “was malice intended? Did our partner really mean to hurt us or was this just a mindless behavior that they did due to some other circumstances going on in their life?”
We need to step back and we need to decide if this is a hill to die on. We can get into a big old battle about this but if there was no malicious intent and it’s not really that big of a transgression, why go there? Why keep score and get into a potential fight.
If we can let go from that frustration for the moment when our partner turned away from us, and the negative feeling goes away in the next 10-15 minutes, it probably wasn’t a big enough issue to bring up. It’s better that we just sweep it off our shoulders.
Last week, we talked about how changing your perspective can truly change your relationship. It’s amazing how perspective can influence what you see and how you feel to such a great degree. That’s why we wanted to build on that idea with some actionable tips to help you become happier in your relationship. Think of this week’s post as a sort of “part 2” to last week’s topic.
Over time, we as people change. It’s a fact of life. If you could ask the you from 10-20 years ago some life questions the answers would probably be much different than from the you of today.
Add to that our changing expectations over time and it’s a dreadful mix. Do you remember how at the beginning of your relationship you were much more likely to let little things slide, or see the good over the bad? After a few years, that attitude and perspective can change. You start to expect more of your partner. The “cute quirks” can start to become annoying and irritating.
Sure, there are some negative situations where perspective doesn’t play a role. Abuse or constant neglect, for example.
But for many who have become used to only seeing the bad in their partner, it truly can be a matter of toxic thoughts influencing your reality. And a fresh perspective can actually make you fall back in love.
Here’s what our very own Darren Wilk has to say about this:
John Gottman calls this concept being in a negative absorbing state. It means that we distort reality to fit our current feelings about the friendship. In other words you always find what you look for.
When a couple feels like friends they tend to let things go and give their partner some slack. The Gottmans are famous for watching couples and video taping them in their natural environment, like home.
Kinda creepy but do you know what they discovered?
When the couples watched the video tapes of their own interactions, the couples who did not feel like close friends only noticed half the good stuff going on between them that three objective observers noticed.
When couples got along, they noticed 86 percent. What this means is once in a negative perspective couples distort reality, which creates a vicious circle of negativity. Bad stuff sticks like Velcro.
So couples need to not only change their perspective, which is difficult to do, but also change their friendship, which is easier. How to do that will be the focus of future articles.
Darren is absolutely spot-on with this analysis. And though it is difficult, there are some ways you can help change your overall perspective.
Jeffrey Bernstein, Ph.D. from Psychology Today thinks the remedy to these toxic thought processes is actually quite simple: “gather evidence to dispute them.”
Toxic thoughts…are simply distorted explanations for how you experience your partner’s actions, words, and behaviors. What most people don’t ever realize (but how exciting that now you will!) is that challenging your toxic thoughts with sound, positive, alternative explanations based on evidence and not emotion will make your relationship stronger and more rewarding.
Bernstein almost suggests acting like a defence attorney or expert witness called to testify on your partner’s behalf. Gather evidence to refute the negative thoughts you have about your partner. He continues…
When it comes to toxic thoughts like “He’s constantly criticizing me,” I say put your money where your mouth, is but with a twist. I ask that prove that your partner is not always criticizing you.
Wait a minute! Shouldn’t that be the other way around? Don’t you need to prove that he is constantly criticizing you? No, and here’s the reason: Once you’re in the throes of toxic thinking, you’re already going to be so honed in on evidence that supports your toxic claim that he’s constantly critical (He told you last week that you talk too much and the week before he said you’re always frowning…) Instead, you need to gather evidence against your toxic thoughts by challenging your interpretation of your partner’s words or actions.
Every relationship has it’s ups and downs and takes work – there’s no getting around it. But oftentimes, the key to a healthy relationship lies in you and your partner’s perspectives. There are going to be times when conflict arises or your loved one irritates you – and vice-versa.
But how you approach the situation in your mind can determine how the conflict will go. Every relationship has conflict, but not all conflict needs to be destructive to your relationship.
A Negative View
Your perspective, however, can make all the difference in the world. Simple conflict doesn’t have to spiral down into what Drs. John and Julie Gottman call “Negative Sentiment Override” or NSO.
So how do you do it?
In the above quoted article from the Gottman Blog, they offer 3 ways to keep yourselves in a positive perspective.
Let Your Partner Influence You – accept their opinions and ideas
Show Your Appreciation – tell them daily what you appreciate about them
Respond to Emotional Cues – eye contact, smiling, validation
Read the entire article to learn more about the 3 methods mentioned above. The important takeaway here is that by keeping yourself in a positive perspective you’ll be able to nurture a healthier and happier relationship.
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Let’s face it – relationships can be tough. Two different people coming together to share their lives’ ups and downs is bound to bring about conflict. We tend to expect so much from the ones we love and those expectations can lead to sometimes negative outcomes.
Certain things our partners do can be annoying, irritating and even hurtful to us. If it’s bad enough, it could even be the end of a relationship. But this article isn’t about the major things that can come up in a relationship. It’s about the everyday conflict we have with our partners.
When one person perceives themselves to be hurt, the typical reaction is to confront their partner and discuss what went wrong until it is resolved.
But some people hold on to those negative feelings, even after achieving what appears to be a resolution. And holding grudges, instead of forgiving and moving forward, can be very detrimental to the relationship and your own well-being.
Here’s what Rob Pascale and Lou Primavera say about grudges on PsychologyToday.
Holding grudges is a lot of wasted work and destructive to our personal wellbeing, not to mention our relationship. More specifically, such behavior actually runs counter to our own self-interests—when we hold a grudge, we give power to those whom we believe harmed us.
We can feel less in control of our lives because we’re focusing inwardly on the hurt and not outwardly on our own lives. In other words, we allow ourselves to be ruled by negative emotions springing from past events. And as grudges are likely to fuel our anger, there’s a good chance we are setting ourselves up to exacerbate the problem by taking revenge, which is always a bad idea.
It has been suggested that taking revenge is like drinking a cup of poison and expecting the other person to die.
This week’s post comes from Michele Gruenhage of the Affinity Counselling team. Michele is a Registered Clinical Counsellor and a Canadian Certified Counsellor in the Langley, BC area with vast experience helping couples of all types.
There’s One Way to Do Things, and it’s My Way!
Pretty much every day when I work with couples trying to manage conflict in their relationship, we hit a wall around the way things ‘Should’ be done.
I often hear comments from one partner to the other like…
“Why can’t you ever put your dishes in the dishwasher?!” or “Seriously, how hard is it to just put your shoes on the shoe rack?!” or even “S/he knows I can’t stand it when….”
Relationship Clone Wars
But the point of being in a relationship is not to turn your partner into another YOU.
Each person in each relationship is allowed to have a different perspective or belief about how s/he would prefer the laundry to be folded. You don’t have to agree with your partner. Your job is to try and understand your partner’s perspective.
People in happier relationships are willing to listen to their partner’s preferences and – sacrificially, intentionally, and/or lovingly – consider their partner in those daily things like folding the laundry.
Change Your Perspective
But sometimes we are harder on ourselves than we are on our partners.
The next time you think “I/they should ___” try changing that to ”I/they could ____” Maybe you will and maybe you won’t.
The thing is – there’s some flexibility for other possibilities with the word could.
Now… how do you prefer your socks to be folded?
Want research-based tools and strategies for the best marriage or relationship ever? Call us today at 1 (604) 539-5277
It’s a common thing for many couples to experience something similar in their marriages after the kids move away from home.
But it’s not something that has to linger on until it’s too late to change.
Marriage counseling can help by giving you the insight, resources and tools you need to make a lasting change. You can learn to rekindle the sparks that made your marriage work so well.
You need to revive your dreams of what your marriage was “supposed” to be like by finding shared meaning and connection with each other.
Empty Nest Syndrome is a real thing, but it doesn’t have to be something that leads to an unsatisfying marriage.
Definitely read the full article at the Gottman website for more. And if you’re experiencing Empty Nest Syndrome or you’d just like to speak a certified Gottman therapist about your marriage please call us today at 604-539-5277. The call is completely confidential and obligation-free.