Closeness does not exist without emotional risk and a willingness for each person in the relationship to hear and validate the other.
In many ways, the person we love most in the world is a person who can both make us feel the happiest and who can enrage us the most. When each partner feels heard by the other partner however, these moments of intense anger and frustration can be worked through. In fact, these moments can ultimately end up strengthening a marriage/relationship.
What is most important in a relationship is that each partner takes ownership of the intensity of their own emotions and feelings. Each person brings to their relationships the influences from their physiological make-up, their families they were born and raised in, and their previous life experiences. It is often surprising to couples that they unconsciously exhibit behaviors that are both subtle and not so subtle from members of their family of origins. In fact, numerous studies have shown that we often unconsciously are drawn to people whose behaviors seem more familiar to us. While we think we are consciously choosing someone different in a relationship than our parents, we tend to select partners who have characteristics that are similar to our own families of origin.
Being in a relationship that matters does not happen by accident, but by choice. Understanding how you arrived at where you are today in that relationship can be the difference in how you will move forward together or apart. It is important that each partner learns how to read their partner’s emotional cues and understand what types of threats tend to activate their defense systems that lead to behaviors and arguments that negatively impact the relationship. One of these defensive behaviors is emotional dismissing. Emotional dismissing or invalidating is when one partner treats the feelings of the other partner as unimportant, wrong, or improper. Dismissing is what often shuts down or escalates a discussion between couples or within families, making it impossible to talk it through. While you may not agree with how or what your partner is feeling in a certain situation, it is important to acknowledge that what they are feeling or experiencing may be different than your own experience.
Over time, if these moments keep happening each partner can grow to feel angry, alone, and trapped, believing that their only solution to this conflict is to end the relationship through separation or divorce. The problem with this solution is that often partners will continue to repeat this scenario with other partners if they never learn different ways to communicate their own needs and understand what their partner needs, in order to know what it means to be in a committed, secure, and trusting relationship.
Relationships/marriages can be helped when each partner learns new tools to communicate that build on each other’s strengths and addresses both partners’ challenges. By becoming aware of what triggers tend to activate each other’s defensiveness, individuals can find ways to address reactions and behaviors that are destructive to their relationship/marriage.
Patricia Mendell, LCSW