When needs go unmet in a relationship, it is common for the relationship to show signs of distress. As disappointment with your partner increases, your frustration may turn into criticism or withdrawal. If this continues, the result might be defensiveness or even contempt. Generally, couples use destructive behaviors in their relationships to express the fact that their needs are not being met. However, another way of looking at these undesirable situations within relationships, is as an opportunity to learn from information gathering. Below is a more specific view of information gathering during the signs of relationship distress.
Criticism is a sideways attempt to get needs met. If you or your partner has a fear of asking for things directly, chances are, one or both of you will use criticism to hint at what you desire. Although criticism may sometimes get your partner’s attention, it is not mutually satisfying. It does not feel good to your partner and will not bring you to a closer and more loving relationship. To learn from criticism within your relationship, look at it as an opportunity to ask or answer a question. If you are the criticizer, ask yourself what it is you need and then request it in question-form to your partner. If you are the criticized, ask your partner what exactly it is he or she needs from you and explain that you are open to providing an answer. Also, do not forget the power of compliments. When your partner does something that does meet your needs, voice that aloud and show your appreciation.
Withdrawal is another way of dealing with the fear of asking for what you want and letting others know how you feel. If you or your partner is prone to withdrawing from the relationship during times of distress, think about what is best for the relationship overall. Neither you nor your partner is a mind reader. If you are expecting something but withdrawing rather than asking for it, put yourself in your partner’s shoes. How is he or she supposed to know what you would like without your communication of it? Likewise, if your partner is withdrawing, be sensitive to his or her anxiety to ask and gently and respectfully ask what you can do to help. In both roles, shifting perspective to that of your partner can aid greatly in learning from your distress.
Defensiveness can come out of a number of triggers and situations within a relationship. It can come out of being attacked through criticism and accusation, but it can also come from the hopelessness of believing you will never be able to please your partner. This is another situation where communication within the relationship is key to relieving distress. When expectations are unclear or unrealistic, then defensiveness is the natural response. Use this as an opportunity to gather more information about what you need from your partner and what your partner needs from you in order to avoid defensiveness in future situations.
Contempt is the ultimate form of disrespect and is not a part of true love. It can come in many forms, including name-calling, sarcasm, ignoring, or making a list of your partner’s faults. Acting out of contempt will not benefit either of you in the long run. If you and your partner are guilty of partaking in these behaviors, think about your view of your partner. Do you have an image of your partner that is forever frozen and must continue to exist a certain way in order for the relationship to survive? Hopefully, your relationship is a fluid force that shifts and grows. As humans, we will all fall short of someone’s expectations from time to time. However, keeping an open mind keeps us improving for the sake of our partner and accepting our partner’s shortcomings at the same time.
So, how can you avoid falling into these distressing relationship traps? Consider keeping the following points in mind.
- Instead of criticizing, ask for what you want, and when criticized, ask what is needed
- When you feel yourself getting defensive, stop, apologize, and ask for more information
- When your partner withdraws, give him or her space and when you withdraw, communicate your need for space
- When there is contempt between the two of you, note that this is a sign of distress and take the time to restore the good feelings between you
Throughout all distressing situations in your relationship, work as a team to make positive changes and observe your relationship grow into a stronger connection.
Dr. Fibus will create a customized program specifically designed for your Relationship Vision.
(Source: The Truth About Love by Pat Love, Ed.D)