Navigating emotional terrain with your partner can often be challenging, particularly when it feels as though they’re impervious to your frustrations. However, figuring out the best ways to communicate your feelings to your partner is crucial. The following offers an approach for articulating your emotions in a way that not only facilitates understanding but truly helps in resolving issues.
This is a typical dispute cycle that many couples have experienced: When one partner doesn’t provide the emotional support the other needs, that person feels overwhelmed and irritated. The person who is upset may come across as annoyed, which makes their partner either try to avoid them (by, for example, scrolling through their phone or going for a run) or try to protect themselves. Both partners feel they were treated unfairly throughout the entire process.
Counseling a variety of heterosexual couples throughout the years, I’ve seen that men and women often approach emotional issues in their relationships in different ways. My female customers are more likely to broach sensitive topics and believe that talking about it will improve their mood, while such an approach typically puts off their male partners. They’re petrified that their partner will become mad and terrified of being labeled as “the problem.”
Decades of research on heterosexual married couples shows that husbands’ negative emotions are a source of stress for their spouses. When one partner in an LGBTQ partnership has more stress than the other, the same pattern emerges. Accelerating heartbeats, a rush of adrenaline, and the onset of “fight or flight” mode.
While this response served humans well when they were hunters long ago, it isn’t ideal today. When males treat their partners’ emotional crisis as an opportunity for emotional survival, their partners’ misery leaves them feeling abandoned. He says, “If you’d calm down, I’d talk to you,” and she replies, “If you’d talk to me, I would calm down.” If you feel this way, maybe you can fix it by trying one of these approaches.
Exhibit Weakness When in Charge
It’s considerably more beneficial to share a sensitive emotion like grief when you want to be heard than it is to go on the offensive. Many of the couples I see in treatment are just like Johanna and Sean. She felt like she took on the bulk of the household chores. “I need some support,” she sobbed. My mother is problematic, and she only lives ten minutes away, but I also have a full-time job, two little children, a dog, and a house. Why does it constantly seem to come back to me?
Sean appeared uncomfortable, and her tone had turned aggressive. He might have ignored her entirely if he had been able to focus on something else, like his phone or the game. Nonetheless, he sought to make the best of his situation in the therapist’s office by defending himself: “What do you mean, everything’s on you? Also, I’ve been working continuously. Without focusing on complaints, I sought to help Johanna express her anguish. Sean paid more attention as she became adept at asking for help rather than expressing disappointment in him.
Pay Attention to Feelings and Respond Appropriately
Pay attention to how your partner is feeling to learn more about them and what might be bothering them. For my patient Sean to make progress, he needed to use his “emotional-engagement muscles.” The difficulty for him lay in understanding Johanna’s need for help before she became upset.
Sean, like most men, was trained to “fix” problems, yet by helping Johanna out when she asked, he had already solved the most pressing one. The tension in her tone, I told him, is a sign that he should approach rather than avoid her.
The simple act of extending a helping hand and saying, “How can I help?” or “Sorry, things are so tough” had a profound impact, breaking the pattern they were in. Recognizing your partner’s difficulties is a first step toward healing your relationship.
Accommodate One Another’s Needs
When we’re in a pinch, it’s easy to lose sight of our partner’s point of view in favor of our own. Your partner is not the devil if they want to watch TV to relax after a long day at work. They are a weary individual squeezing in some self-care when they can.
But if you’re already at your wit’s end, you might assume the worst of them instead of realizing that they’re having a tough time, too. Instead, you should consider how you may better accommodate one another’s demands in your hectic schedules.
Communicating openly about what works and what doesn’t is also crucial. Instead of having these talks when either of you is feeling anxious, try to schedule them at a time when you can both relax. That way, you’ll be able to focus on actively listening to one another and collaborating to develop solutions.
Change the Way Tasks Are Assigned Constantly
The question of “who does what” is common tension among families with small children. Mothers with young children, in particular, are more likely to feel anger when they perceive the family duties aren’t shared evenly, whereas fathers report better levels of trust and warmth when they feel their divorce was fair.
My patient Amy recently voiced a common complaint to her husband, Jeff: “Why don’t you just do what needs to be done?” You consider it sufficient to request that I assign you work simply. At times, you remind me of a younger sibling. This hurt Jeff a lot. Amy eventually stated that she didn’t think he was a shirker and that calling him a kid wasn’t helping matters.
Rather than trying to fix their weaknesses, I proposed that they focus on developing their strengths. We reached an agreement that since Amy is the more qualified of the two in the family’s organizational matters, Jeff should delegate some of his time-consuming duties to her. They felt better when he promised to handle all the bill paying and weekend cooking.
Stay Focused on the Team Goal
Your spouse is still your friend even if you are unable to meet each other’s needs or communicate well. It’s understandable to be aggravated when they misinterpret your signals, but in the end, you need to do your part and interact. You should talk about how you feel without getting defensive or angry. Remembering that you and your partner truly care about each other and want the best for each other will make that effort much more likely to succeed.
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