In long-term relationships, people can sometimes become used to treating each inappropriately. They may use derogatory terms or talk down to one another. Others may not talk much at all because when they do talk, it becomes a fight. This happens when the relationship devolves into a power struggle.
If this describes your relationship, both of you may be reacting to unmet needs. Understanding this can help you change certain behavior patterns and get back to a loving life. When your communication becomes hurtful, there are deeper issues involved, and you need to become aware of what you are doing. It’s important to the very foundation and survival of your relationship.
If your partner has spoken harshly to you, you need to let him or her know that your feelings have been hurt. Maybe he or she was unaware of it. Or maybe you were the one who spoke harshly. In either case, the best response is an immediate apology.
On the other hand, if your other half is being purposely hurtful, you may be too afraid to say anything for fear of escalating his or her anger. Making a few notes about what was said and bringing it up in a calmer moment is a good technique to help point out and resolve this behavior. Part of healing your relationship may include some communication counseling. If you aren’t ready for that step, there are many books on the subject. Reading one together can help you not only heal this dysfunctional dynamic but also make you closer.
Loving relationships, no matter how good, have their dark moments. That’s normal, and most couples can say a few kind words to each other and kiss and make up. But when you start to hold grudges or think of your partner in a negative way, those feelings will pop out verbally and usually in other hurtful ways as well. Avoiding your partner or the issue isn’t going to fix it or make your life better. You have to look at the behavior and address it.
One tried-and-true method is to make a point of thinking about what you are going to say before you say it, and imagining how he or she will react to your words. It may seem cumbersome, but it only takes a few moments and can save you hours of grief.
Also, if your partner does something that could be taken as offensive, like pretending to ignore you, say something like, “Honey I know you hear me, and I love you.” It can take the fire out of someone’s anger when he or she knows that a hurtful behavior has been forgiven without even an apology.
Most of us are aware of our behaviors, both good and bad. When we are not being the kind of man or woman that we’d like ourselves to be, that does a little damage to our self-esteem. If that keeps growing, it will leak into your relationship. Do your best to catch yourself and change this destructive pattern. All you have to do is talk about it.
Dr. Barton Goldsmith, a psychotherapist in Westlake Village, is the author of “The Happy Couple – How to Make Happiness a Habit One Little Loving Thing at a Time.” Email him at Barton@BartonGoldsmith.com. Follow his daily insights at www.twitter.com/BartonGoldsmith.