Why is it that the person we love, care about, and trust the most, can also hurt us or make us feel sad more than anyone else? The answer is simple. It is not so much what our spouse or partner does, it is our expectations and our hurt that the person that we trust to protect us and love us more than anyone else could ever do something that would make us feel bad.
When my husband and I first married (the dreaded first year everyone warns about) I found myself getting my feelings hurt quite often. When this would happen I would pout, leave to my room, probably cry, and then sit there and wait for him to come say sorry and tell me he loves me again. The times when it would take him longer to come in, or when he didn’t at all, I would start to tell myself things like, “He doesn’t love me as much as I love him”, “How can I live with someone that doesn’t even realize he does these things that hurt”, “He should know me well enough to be able to tell when I am in a bad mood, and he should be more sensitive”, “He doesn’t know me at all”…. Those nights were what made the first year hard.
Throughout my studying and my experience now working with couples, I have discovered three very simple things that have made a world of difference in my own relationship, and have seen how it can help in others’ relationships as well. I do want to warn that while the concepts are very easy, the actual doing them can be very hard when emotions are running high. They become easier and easier with practice and result in more understanding and less hurt.
1. Ask For Your Needs To Be Met
This one can be tough because this is where we get stuck saying, “I shouldn’t have to tell him/her what I need, they should know, if they even know me at all!” I find that getting past this belief is what makes this step the most difficult. But, whether we want to believe it or not, sometimes our partner is clueless to what we really need, and may not even be aware anything is wrong. So instead of festering and making myself angry by wondering why my husband doesn’t know me well enough to see I am in a bad mood and comfort me, I have started to simply say, “honey, I am kind of in a bad mood right now, I really just need you to listen to me vent and comfort me and let me be mad for a bit.” It is the easiest thing for me to say and when I do, he is more than happy to do just that for me, probably even relieved to know how to help rather than getting frustrated and ending up in a bad mood himself. So, take that step, swallow your pride and ASK for exactly what you need. You might be surprised at how nice it feels to get exactly what you want and how more than willing your partner is to give it to you.
2. Use “I” Statements
I have learned that my husband is much more willing to discuss something when I do not attack him. When a statement like, “You never help me with cleaning the house!”, turns into an I statement like, “Sometimes I feel that I am the only one cleaning the house,” it seems that my husband doesn’t have to jump to his defense and start angrily listing everything that he does do. It turns into more of a discussion of our needs rather than a battle to the death of who does more. You statements are what lead to escalated fighting. If you make it all about “I” instead of “you”, emotions are protected and can be discussed rather than argued.
3. Be First To Say, “I’m Sorry”
It feels like it is easy sometimes to get caught up in a cycle of defending ourselves to the bitter end, rather than just validating our partner and saying “I’m sorry”. When I have done something that upsets my husband and he tells me that I have hurt him, my first reaction is to defend myself and share all of the reasons why he should not feel that way, and why I am a great wife. Doing this invalidates his experience and he gets even more upset. As hard as it is not to defend myself, I have found that if I can say that I am sorry, swallow my pride, and apologize then we move past the upset more quickly.
My hope would be that we can all overcome that sense of pride that drives a wedge between us and our partners and just find the courage to ask for what we need, use I statements, and say I’m sorry and validate our partners; and I know that those three simple things make a world of difference in relationships.
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