Relationships are hard. No wait…..relationships are challenging!! Wait…..sometimes they feel impossible!!! Yep, that’s the one, sometimes they feel impossible. And yet, understanding the complex issues that couples endure, and helping others with their relationships is my passion. I am referring to the one we love, romantic relationships. Yes that one, the person that was easy to fall in love with, and yet, at times is unbelievably hard to stay in love!!
Recently, I recognized that I often say: “relationships are challenging!” Sometimes I worry that I sound pessimistic and possibly discouraging. That is the last thing that I want to convey. My intent is to be realistic and encouraging. If we don’t understand that relationships are challenging, we might be too quick to leave them or feel hopeless when we experience challenges. There is hope in recognizing, and acknowledging that relationships are challenging.
There is so much that I want to say on the topic of relationships but let me focus this blog entry on the value of bringing “understanding” to our relationship. Most people want to feel understood by the one we love. We want to be understood and yet we struggle to extend understanding to our partner. Believe me, I know, I’ve struggled to extend understanding time and time again.
This is a tricky subject because understanding can be challenging depending on the degree that we’ve been hurt by our partner. We can easily attribute a minor hurtful exchange to a bad day. However the more we feel hurt by our partner the harder it is to get to understanding.
When we fall in love, we are very positive toward our partner. I always ask someone when they fall in love, “what don’t you like about this person.” I am often met with a confused look. But for those of you who are in a long-term relationship, you know that this time will eventually come. My concern is that when we face challenges in our relationships, we draw mostly negative conclusions about our partner. For example, if our partner avoids difficult conversations we tend to say “he or she just don’t won’t take the time to talk about it” or “he or she just doesn’t care” or “he or she has more important things to do.” We do not draw conclusions with understanding, such as, “my partner is fearful to talk about our problems because he or she is scared that things will get worse” or “my partner doesn’t talk about our problems because he or she was never taught how to talk about their feelings in a vulnerable way.”
I realize that some negative conclusions may be true, however I find more often than not, people simply struggle in knowing how to get to understanding for themselves and their partner. We never really learn how to be in a relationship, therefore extending understanding in relationship can be extremely challenging. And if one chooses to hold on to the negative belief, I have to ask why? For me, when I do not want to extend understanding it is because I am hurt and I do not want to let go of my hurt until I felt understood. But the truth is, when I stay in that place, I am stuck. When extend understanding, I feel hope.
One important thing to recognize is that “understanding” does not mean that you “agree”. For example, if you have a partner who avoids conversation, understanding does not mean that you agree with your partners avoidance of dialogue. Or if your partner withdraws after an argument, it does not mean that you agree with the withdraw. But we can attempt to understand. Sometimes people withdraw because they feel shame, or because they simply feel lost, and don’t know what to do. Understanding simply means that you seek to learn the underlying struggle that your partner goes through, and you do it with compassion, and empathy as opposed to drawing negative conclusions. When you approach someone with understanding, compassion, and empathy, chances are higher that you may get a better response. Of course, this is not always true. Relationships as we all know are complex. But there is more hope when expending understanding.
I find that when I work with people who feel hurt and/or angry toward their partner, once they feel that I understand how they’ve been hurt, they feel even better when I help them understand the side of their partner. It softens them, gives them hope, and something to work with rather than feeling stuck. It is also important that when you’ve been hurt, be kind to yourself, extend understanding to you. And maybe even more important, if you have hurt someone…..try to get to understanding why you hurt a loved one and do it with self-compassion.
I wish it wasn’t the case that we hurt each other in relationships. It is the humanism in all of us, and most of the time we do not intend to hurt our partner. I know that it doesn’t always feel that way which is why it is necessary to take care of yourself, and then try to get to understanding toward your partner.
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