A very important part of relationships is having awareness of how we affect each other. Many of us in relationships get caught up in the rights and wrongs of each other’s behaviors and feelings i.e. accusing or being accused of doing something wrong, or telling our partner that his or her feelings are wrong. I think it is so important to shift from a perception of right and wrong to understanding how we affect one another. Also, I am going to discuss how mindful communication (last week’s blog) can influence how we affect each other!
I said this in a previous post, but it’s worth repeating… “One thing that all of us have in common is that we have experienced pain at some point in our life and we will continue to do so.” I am referring to emotional pain here. All of us have experienced hurt by another person and all of us have hurt others. In other words, all of us have injuries that we bring into our relationship. The challenge in a relationship is to recognize and understand our injuries so we can then begin to become aware of how our injuries impact our relationship. Injuries impact how we receive messages from our partner (verbal or nonverbal) as well us how we affect our partner.
Let me share a story with you:
During a couples counseling session, the topic of discussion was the possibility of a job change for the husband. We discussed how a job change would affect both of them individually and as a couple. As our conversation progressed, something very important unfolded. The husband shared with his wife that he feared that she would be disappointed with him in his job transition. His wife was stunned because she could not imagine that she would be disappointed in him. After continued dialogue, I asked him if he felt that she had been disappointed in him in the past. He said, “Well yes, I don’t play hockey anymore because of her disappointment.”
Again, his wife was stunned. She asked him why he thought that she was disappointed in him, and he said that it was because of comments that she would make to him about both hockey and his job change. However, she clarified her intention. Regarding the job, she saw him to be of great talent and wanted his talents acknowledged at his place of work. She worried that the job change was not an acknowledgment of his talent. She further explained to him in regards to playing hockey that she was never disappointed in him, in fact it was that she thought he was a better person than the group of people who he played with on the hockey team. She said the hockey players were immature and not really going anywhere. She thought more of her husband. They both laughed because he agreed with her about the players. So why did he think she was disappointed in him?
I asked him if he had experienced people being disappointed in him when he was growing up. He said “yes, all the time.” He explained that getting a B in his schoolwork was never okay with his Dad, and went on to describe many more instances when his Dad expressed his disappointment.
Here is the lesson for all of us, because this happens to every single one of us!
We tend to draw conclusions in our adult relationships based on our experiences growing up. Without clarity within our current relationship, the misunderstood conclusions can chip away at our relationship. Meaning that the husband in this story may have in the long-term resented giving up hockey. Although he recognized that it was his choice to give up the sport, he loved his wife and wanted her support and approval. He didn’t know it, but he actually already had her support and approval. But, because he experienced disappointment from others when he was growing up, he is deeply affected when he thinks that he is disappointing someone who he loves.
All of us are affected by our partner for one reason or another. This happened to be because of his past. I imagine that without the help of therapy, it would have been challenging to find the ‘emotional trigger’ that affected him.
It’s easy to think about how we are affected by something that is not personal. Such as, maybe you are an introvert, and you find it exhausting to be at a party. No one has done anything wrong at the party, you are simply affected by people, conversation, and interacting.
It is challenging to understand how we affect each other when it is in a relationship because then it feels personal, even if it is not. The wife in my story did nothing wrong (again, I don’t even like the words right and wrong in relationships) however, her husband was affected by her concern of the hockey players. And she had the right to be concerned about the hockey team because she worried that the immaturity of the players would influence her husband and then affect her and their relationship. And he agreed with her conclusion of the hockey players! I didn’t mention this, but she was affected by the immaturity of the hockey players because she experienced pain from an immature parent during her youth. She worried that the players would negatively influence her husband in a way that could cause her pain. You see, both were affected and never really understood. (By the way, I am compelled to say that recognizing ‘emotional triggers’ from our past is not about parent bashing. There are many wonderful parents who unintentionally create emotional triggers when raising their children, but that is perhaps for another blog post!) And this is where the value of mindful communication influences how we are affected by one another. All of us can recognize that words, emotions, and love are powerful. This wife had no idea of the power of her words and love. She said that she didn’t want that much power! But clarification of our intention behind our words as well as sharing with our partner how we are affected by them can diminish invisible power in your relationship.
When your partner approaches you in an attempt to share how they are affected by you, try not to turn to right and wrong thinking. Turn to understanding. I know that it can be challenging to understand how we are affected and then share it with our partner. But when you take right and wrong out of the conversation, you can have a completely different conversation that is not based on accusations and defensiveness. The language of “this is how I am affected” is a healthy shift in the conversation!
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One more thing…..I really would love for you to share your thoughts with me. I know it is not easy to do! Believe me, I know, it took me a very long time to work up the courage to begin blogging! But I want to get to know you! When you feel ready, please feel free to share your thoughts with me in the comment section. Thanks for reading!
Details of the stories told in my blog have been changed to protect the identity of people that I work with in therapy.
Photo Credit Wesley Marc Falardeau@flickr.comShare