My client Cathy has a love/hate relationship with her partner, Julia. When Cathy is in a good mood, the world is perfect, their relationship is wonderful, and everything is “kittens and rainbows.” When Cathy gets upset about something—whether it’s related to Julia, work, or something else—everything becomes “doom and gloom and the worst ever!”
Cathy adores her partner, and values their relationship. However, she is very much controlled by her emotions, and allows them to dictate her behavior. She also gets caught up in “all or nothing” thoughts, and needs help with learning how to separate what is real from what her emotions are telling her is the truth. As you will see, those are not always one and the same.
Why do we get so triggered when we have a spat with our partners? Our partners are the ones we are usually closest to—both physically and emotionally—so the stakes feel higher when there is disagreement. But that also can lead to gross miscalculations and misjudgments about our partners’ true intentions.
Do you make any of these five mistakes when in a rough spot with your partner?
- Believing every hurt is intentional and deliberate: Our partners know us the best, and therefore, it might seem to make perfect sense that they also know just how to hurt us. Are you insecure about your body? A comment about appearance might cut you to the core. Anxious about sexual performance? A joke about a Viagra commercial or a comment about an attractive male actor might sting. The only way to truly know what our partner was intending when making comments that hurt is to ask. Otherwise, we fill in the blanks, and usually, our feelings get hurt in the process because we go to the place of “intended malice” as opposed to “innocent, non-intentional remark.”
- Thinking in black and white: Do you find yourself saying to your partner, “You always…” or “You never…” When feeling threatened, we tend to forget that there are many shades of gray between the ends of “always” and “never.” Hurling statements like, “You are always late!” or “You never stop to consider my feelings!” may feel true in the moment, but they probably are not accurate.
- Comparing your current partner to someone who hurt you in the past: This one can be difficult to disentangle yourself from, but it is essential if your current relationship is going to survive. If every time your partner does something that reminds you of an ex, you react with anger, fear, or distrust, it’s going to get old for your current partner quickly. Your current partner is not your ex, your mother, your father, or your former [fill in the blank] who hurt you.
- Being 100% certain that your perspective is the correct one: Similar to thinking in black or white terms, thinking that your perspective is the only one that could possibly be correct is going to land you in hot water more often than you’d like. A great example of how perceptions can be off is this: when eyewitnesses to an accident are asked to recount what they saw, they almost never tell the same story, even though they were all watching the exact same scenario. Could that possibly be true in your life as well?
- Convincing yourself that every disagreement is evidence that your relationship is doomed: Of course, if you and your partner clearly are not getting along and your partner is trying to cut you down, then yes, this may be a sign that the relationship is not meant to last. But if your partner is genuine in their apologies and explanations of what triggered you, then relax. All partners have issues. What is important is how you work those issues out.
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