What is going on in our relationship?

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There are many challenges in relationships but there is one that we rarely talk about. Before we take a deeper look into this challenge let’s look at a few of the concerns that people often express in their relationships:

~ My partner won’t talk about issues

~ I hate and avoid conflict

~ We don’t have sex or we don’t have enough sex

~ My partner doesn’t understand

~ I do not trust my partner

I have no doubt that you can add to this list. And it is important to note that all of these concerns are legitimate concerns. These concerns often feel as if there is no solution to them. And yet, there is more to explore in these challenges. So, let’s go deeper and further in our understanding of them.

The relationship challenge that all of us face with this list of concerns and many others is this: the challenge of coping, managing, enduring, identifying, understanding, and sharing our emotions that we experience in our relationship.

“It is our “emotions” that impact our relationship in ways that often we are unaware of”

 Most of us have never had a ‘class’ during our education about “emotions” and believe me, they are complicated! Emotions are further complicated when we are dealing with them in a relationship. This is why it is necessary to learn all aspects of emotions to better understand ourselves and what we go through in our relationships.

Let’s take a closer look at a few of these concerns:

 We tend to get stuck in the issue itself rather than digging deeper and looking at the emotion that keeps us stuck. Please take note (in what I am going to address in this blog) of all the different emotions underlying each of these concerns in relationships.

Also, keep in mind that understanding our emotions that lie beneath challenging issues is a ‘first’ step. I will talk a bit more at the end of this post as to what to do beyond recognizing emotions.

~ My partner won’t talk about issues

Most people don’t avoid talking about issues simply because they don’t care. It’s more complicated than that. It is probable that there are emotions present in anticipation of discussing issues.

One reason that one avoids discussing issues is due to feelings of ‘inadequacy’.  Again, we are not taught how to have challenging conversations especially in regards to relationships. Feelings of inadequacy are brutal to endure. And we feel inadequate for many different reasons. For example, you (or your partner) don’t know how to communicate clearly or don’t know what you feel or even why you feel a certain way. You may not be confident in what you think and feel. You may feel inferior or intimidated, especially if your partner is better at communicating. There are many reasons one might feel inadequate (without knowing that you feel this way) and therefore ultimately avoid conversations.

One might also avoid conversations due to feeling fear of being hurt or even unintentionally saying something hurtful (caused by feelings of inadequacy)  to your partner. When one feels inadequate in discussing relational issues, it is likely that they will make mistakes that will upset their partner. Sadly, this confirms one’s feeling of inadequacy.

Additionally, one may avoid conversations due to the fear of shame that may arise because one feels flawed. The fear is that these flaws (and then shame) will arise during challenging conversations. Meaning that your partner will present concerns about you that make them unhappy, which can (unintentionally) elicit feelings of shame.

And finally, many avoid conversations (I’ve heard that men especially express this concern) due to feelings of fear because they believe that nothing good can result from having a conversation (meaning an argument) which will ultimately lead to disconnection. It is true that one will avoid conversations because they believe it will only end in a fight and then disconnection from one another. And most will do anything to avoid disconnection in your relationship.

~ I hate and avoid conflict

Avoiding conflict can be similar to ‘won’t talk about issues’ however, there are times when differing emotions impact this concern. For example, some people fear anger in others. One might feel extreme discomfort being in the presence of any level of anger, ranging from frustration to anger to rage.

Another emotion that may trigger avoidance of conflict is the discomfort someone may experience when their partner (or anyone) is angry or upset with them. This can produce different feelings for different reasons in everyone. Some might feel unloved if their partner is upset with them, while others might feel fear of abandonment.

~ We don’t have sex or we don’t have enough sex

Sexless marriage is the most googled concern when it comes to relationships. One of the most challenging emotions that is connected to sex is vulnerability. One might feel vulnerable initiating sex due to fear of rejection. Or one might feel vulnerable due to poor body image (this is true for both women and men). One might also feel vulnerable if one has been hurt by a partner, and it can therefore feel frightening to get close again.

~ I do not trust my partner

If you’ve been hurt by your partner (and we have all been hurt and have also hurt our partners), trust can become frightening. The fear of trust comes from the fact that one must allow oneself to be vulnerable to being hurt again.

Now what? What do I do with my emotions?

Once you have a better understanding of what you feel, you might want to share this with your partner. For example, I have a client who shared that it takes him three tries to say what it is that he intends to communicate to his partner. The first two tries come out in unintended ways, and then he is able to be clear! It’s hard for him. Words don’t come easy to him.

However, in therapy, his partner has learned that he has good intentions. She is able to extend flexibility when he says things that don’t land well with her. She is now able to hold back from feeling immediately hurt and ask him for clarification. And he has learned to tolerate his feelings of inadequacy by balancing those feelings with knowing that he has good intentions, and knowing that he is working on trying to learn how to communicate his thoughts and feelings more clearly to his partner.

Another example: I work with a couple who have felt disconnected from one another for a long time. They functioned quite well in their day-to-day life but lacked closeness. Eventually things erupted into conflict, hurt feelings, and fear of losing one another.

When they began therapy, I asked them if they fight, argue, or bicker. They said, ‘mostly no’. Both of them fear conflict for a few of the reasons that I mentioned. But one reason was the fear of ‘being wrong’. Meaning that neither one of them wants to ‘wrongly accuse’ the other of something to ultimately discover that it is their fault and not their partner’s fault. My interpretation is that each of them fear feeling ‘shame’. If the problem is ‘me’ and ‘not you’ then one will feel shame.

The work is to counteract their shame with understanding, self-compassion, and recognizing the humanness in each of them.

Final Thoughts:

This is an endless topic because each of us are uniquely different with different experiences and different emotions. The value of self-awareness will guide you in learning to recognize emotions that impact you and your relationship. Self-compassion will also provide you with the ability to endure such challenging emotions. All of us are fragile to some degree which is why all of us need compassion from others and ourselves. I can’t express the importance of learning to build a stronger inner strength enough. Emotions that we experience in relationships are challenging. In this blog post, there is a section on building inner strength!

Aways remember, try not to stay stuck on only the issue in your relationship –  understand the underlying feelings too.

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If you want to learn more about relationships – I wrote this for you “Ten Essential Things I’ve Learned About Marriage & Relationships” I’ve included the lesson that saved my marriage. I care about the work that I put out to you, and I hope you find it helpful. Let me know!

And you can keep up with my writing on relationships, random thoughts and more by subscribing here.

One more thing… I really would love for you to share your thoughts with me. It’s not easy to do, I understand because it took me a 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. And, if you would like me to blog about a specific topic – let me know! 

If you think this blog will help a friend, please share it with them or share it on Facebook and Twitter!

Details of any stories told in my blogs have been changed to protect the identity of people that I work with in therapy.

Photo Credit: GollyGforce@flicker.com

What is going on in our relationship?
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What is going on in our relationship?
The challenge that all of us face with this list of concerns and many others is this: the challenge of coping, managing, enduring, identifying, understanding, and sharing our emotions that we experience in our relationship.

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