by Garet Bedrosian,
LCSW, CIRT, CBT, CET
How do two people who love one another so deeply find themselves hurting one another so much?
This question has caused me many sleepless nights as I imagine it has for many of you. When we were children the answer came easily in a daisy ritual. While one at a time plucking the petals of the daisy we would chant, He (she) loves me, He (she) loves me not. He (she) loves me, He (she) loves me not. Our love’s destiny was determined by the claim of the last petal.
Maybe the fact that we resorted to asking a daisy about our love lives is an indication that we have always needed reassurance about whether we would be loved or rejected.
I was recently sitting in my living room doing research for a class I was going to teach when I heard a couple yelling at one another in front of my house. On the wall out front sat a woman. Standing in front of her was a man. They looked to be in their mid 40’s. Since relationship dynamics fascinate me I had to stop and listen, which seems to be an obsession when I’m in public and hear couples arguing with one another.
She was monologuing in very colorful language about all his faults and how she was done with it all. He attempted to tell his side of the story but she wasn’t having it. I heard him saying something about her always making him the bad guy.
Toward the end of this 30 minute tirade she softened just a bit. She was trying to negotiate the use of his shower before work for the next week even though she was moving out today. He agreed to let her use it as long as she was gone before he left for work. She did not like these conditions so she prodded him for reasons. He evaded her prodding until he reluctantly admitted that the other people in the house didn’t want her there anymore.
The impact of this news was explosive. She called him @#%$@#% stupid and a few other choice names. As they were stomping away from one another, he yelled over his shoulder that he wasn’t the only bad guy. She hasn’t been good to him for a long time and she never looked at her part of their problems. As you might guess, she bounced that insult right back at him. I guess they didn’t need a daisy to answer their love destiny question.
I felt so sad and heartbroken as I listened to them. I tried to imagine how things had gotten to this point. How do two people who love one another so deeply find themselves hurting one another so much? I imagined the hurting began unconsciously and unintentionally before it escalated to this level of blatant disrespect.
What I have found is that when an actual or perceived event triggers such a big emotional response it is rooted in history. Sometimes that history takes us back to childhood. You might ask, what does childhood have to do with the troubles of my front yard couple? They were obviously saying and doing things to hurt one another in the present.
This is true. Another angle on the truth is that they probably have experienced similar pain in the past. It is possible that she came from a family in which she felt unimportant. Maybe her parents fought or worked too much or drank too much. Maybe she felt invisible or unloved. Maybe they were doing the best they could but she did not feel loved in the way she needed.
He might have also felt unloved. Maybe he felt criticized or abused emotionally or physically. Maybe his parents attempted to teach him to be responsible by scrutinizing everything he did. Maybe rather than motivating him that parenting technique just caused him to feel like a failure.
What is also likely is that they, like many of us learned to protect themselves from their heartbreak and disappointment. As adults they unconsciously expect or attract partners who hurt them in similar ways. A common scenario is that their partner’s behavior consciously or unconsciously triggered emotions from a past hurt. Those triggered emotions automatically caused them to protect themselves the way they did in their families.
Being defensive, whether by becoming angry and intimidating or being quiet and withdrawing is painful to those around us. This is what creates that agonizing relationship cycle. We just keep triggering one other’s defenses until neither partner feels safe or loving. On the contrary, it causes us to feel some combination of anger, hopelessness, powerlessness, loneliness, hurt, or sadness.
I hear both men and women commiserating about the lack of healthy, emotionally available, or honest partners. It is as if they are innocent bystanders in the relationship war. When we realize that if a relationship is in trouble there are no innocent bystanders.
To stop the cycle we each have to learn a different way of dealing with the triggers and defenses. Relationships can be challenging and finding a way through the struggles sure takes courage and commitment. It is easy and tempting to see one partner as the bad guy and the other as the victim rather than seeing the relationship as a co-creation, each partner contributing to the problem as well as to the joy.
Can you imagine what a difference it would make if we could see our partners and the conflicts in our relationships as opportunities to grow and heal rather than as problems to be fixed? The frustrations in our relationships are windows to our wounds and the ways we learned to protect ourselves. We have to stop blaming and start taking responsibility for ourselves.
Taking responsibility includes learning a loving and respectful way to talk about our pain as well as our needs. I hear people saying they need their partners to accept them, be honest and help them feel safe but then, especially when they are upset do not provide that for their partners. Learning to be the right partner is the answer to finding the right partner.
It takes time and vigilance to avoid the triggers or at least to tolerate the triggers with more compassion and patience but it is such a worthwhile journey. We can grow a lot in therapy, seminars and meditation groups but it is in relationship where we heal. We get wounded in relationships and we heal in relationships. Our partners are our greatest gifts.
I have to express my gratitude for all I have learned about creating healthy relationships through my training in Imago Relationship Therapy. My life and my relationships have been enriched and I have been honored to witness amazing healing in the couples for whom I have had the privilege to coach.
Wishing you challenging relationships that can help you grow and heal…
Just know there is help if you are interested in finding another way… or you can go to your garden and pick a daisy.
- If you would like to look into relationship counseling and coaching please find a trained professional that can help guide you. If you want to learn more about what I do please take a look at my website for various offerings. I currently offer workshops in San Diego, Tucson and Rhode Island.
- If you are single and want to avoid the relationship merry-go-round or in a relationship with someone who is not interested in counseling consider the ‘Keeping the Love You Find’ workshop.
- If you are in a relationship, married, living together, engaged, gay, straight, transgendered or on your way to divorce court please give yourself a chance to try something that can help. Consider the ‘Getting the Love You Want’ workshop.
- If you would like an experience of a lifetime either by yourself or with a partner consider the ‘Equus’ workshop.
- If you would like to have some fun while growing your relationship consider the ‘Relationship as Dance’ workshop.
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