One of the greatest impediments to a healthy relationship and happy marriage is personalizing your partner's behavior and the accompanying emotions released in misunderstandings, verbal disagreements, and arguments. When we are offended by our spouse's snarky remarks, our defenses rise and we position ourselves for a comeback.
Granted, it can be difficult to respond with love when angry emotions, verbal darts, or childish behavior are wielded our way. Understandably so. When we commit our love to one another, we expect respect, support, and love. How do we stand our ground for respect while refraining from hurtful behavior ourselves?
Relationships Needs: Nurturance, Presence, and Attentive Love
Relationship is a lot like a game of billiards or pool. Once you aim and hit that white ball with the cue, you never exactly know how the balls are going to fly or interact with one another. The more deliberate you are, the better the result. The better you know the game, the more successful the outcome. It is the same in love and marriage; relationships require nurturing.
Whether you are aware of it or not, unmanaged emotions often hijack our and our partner's energy and behavior, just like the chaos that ensues when a player breaks the balls at the beginning of a game.
The limbic brain, also referred to as the emotional or mammalian brain, can quickly override rational thinking. However, knee-jerk reactions rarely have good outcomes. And the accumulative decisions we make determine the quality of our relationship and life, impacting our future.
We may have hard heads like those balls knocking around on a pool table but we don't have rock-solid hearts. Our hearts are soft and vulnerable.
In relationships, we need a lot of understanding to build bridges, especially when our needs and differences collide. One of the things we tend to do is personalize our partner's behavior when they are acting out their stress or pain. Whenever we make their behavior means something about us, our feelings usually get hurt. And sometimes, we lash out or disconnect from our partner to protect ourselves. Neither creates more love in the relationship. This dynamic is one of the most common relationship problems.
Stop Saying Hurtful Things to Diffuse a Marital Fight
Either person in a relationship can have a sharp tongue and say hurtful things. However, the only thing you can control is YOU.
When your partner says something hurtful, the tendency is to hurt back. We react in hurtful ways to show them that we are hurting, but it backfires big-time. Many marital fights start with one careless comment (often unintended) and create a lot of hard feelings that could have been avoided with emotional restraint and self-regulation.
Refrain from saying hurtful things.
Say to your partner, "I'm feeling hurt and can't discuss this right now." or "I love you and if I say anything, it's going to be hurtful so I'm going to take some space." If you just walk away without letting them know what's going on, your partner is much more likely to pursue you. This way, they will understand where you're coming from, which eases the feeling of rejection. When things are too tense, it's time to take a break and calm down.
What to Do When Your Partner Says Hurtful Things
One simple yet powerful practice is depersonalizing your partner's behavior so that we are better equipped to respond instead of reacting.
Depersonalizing helps us unplug and see our partner's behavior more objectively, which then allows us to discern the underlying need. Please don't confuse this conscious strategy with depersonalization, where you are disassociated from your body or the situation. Here we're talking about a temporary reframe of your partner, their behavior, and the situation to calm and stay connected to yourself and your partner lovingly.
So when your partner is stressed and it feels like they are taking it out on you, practice the steps below to get better results: more understanding, more closeness, more love.
Related reading: "Love Is a Choice: the Best Marriage Advice"
Relational Fitness: Steps for Depersonalizing Your Partner's Behavior
STEP 1: Mirror your partner's feelings.
For example, "Wow! You must be really stressed! It's so unlike you to lash out at me." Or use mirroring with a boundary: "Looks like you need some space. I'll be in the backyard when you're calmer and ready to connect."
STEP 2: Consciously depersonalize through supportive self-talk.
For example, say to yourself: "This isn't about me. He's just had a rough day." or "Don't take it personally. She is probably feeling overwhelmed."
STEP 3: Take care of yourself so you're ready to connect when your partner regains their center.
CAUTION: We sometimes want to hurt back or punish our partner for their behavior. Be sure that you are feeling loving before you reconnect. Ask for what you need.
STEP 4: Check in with your partner.
If your partner doesn't reconnect with you in a reasonable amount of time, take the initiative to check in with them. This gesture shows you care and are willing to resolve whatever differences you may have had.
The intention of this loving act is not to manipulate your partner or grovel in guilt for a mistake you might have made. This action is heart-driven from a sincere and authentic place to reconnect.
STEP 6: Revisit and discuss the situation with your partner if it is a pattern.
(A rare or one-time occurrence probably doesn't warrant a major discussion.) However, if the issue is repetitive, it's best to discuss a way for both of you to get your needs met regularly to avoid disagreement in the future unproductively.
STEP 7: Together, assess how you're doing after a couple of weeks.
Keeping an eye on how we are communicating and if we are making effort to course-correct in a marriage is a part of nurturing the bond and investing in success as a couple.
Try these steps to diffuse emotions, communicate better, and reconnect in deeper love with your partner.
If you'd like personalized support to better communicate in your relationship or learn tools to create happy and healthy relationships, call email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.