Have you ever wondered how a love relationship can feel so good, and at other times “hurt so bad?” Being in love is a magical feeling. When we’re in love we feel good inside and our world looks a little brighter. Simple pleasures are heightened because we are sharing them with someone we love. At times like this it can seem that our partner can do no wrong.
But what about when love goes awry? What happens when we feel let down, exasperated, hurt, slighted, ignored, misunderstood or criticized by our partner? This can be very frustrating and disheartening. If these issues are not worked through, or we feel that we can’t talk about them, then they go “underground” and, over time, can lead to a chasm in the relationship. Those loving feelings we once had with our partner are held hostage by our hurts and resentments. Sometimes we are not even aware that this is occurring. Or perhaps there are attempts made to repair these hurts, but they end up in a fight, with both members of the couple feeling worse off. It can be hard to know what to do with this hurt.
In a struggle to deal with these painful feelings, we often reflexively blame the other person for our hurts. When we blame and criticize, we can feel more powerful and in control than when we’re hurt or vulnerable. Anger can help to nurse our wounds. Another strategy to deal with hurts is to numb out, move away from our partner, or get busy with work or other friends and activities.
In these cases, we try to minimize conflict; we’ll do anything to avoid an argument, or our partner’s criticism, anger or demands. With no way to hear or understand the other person’s side, we are left with pat answers to the problem that are centered around the other person needing to change in some way that is beneficial to us and our needs. This can lead to us shutting down and giving up if we feel the other person won’t listen/understand, or we can end up walking around angry and resentful.
We can get stuck blaming the other person for the difficulty and, over time, come to believe that our partner, deep down, is inconsiderate, cut off, impenetrable, critical, demanding, etc. These attributions lay in stark contrast to the loving feelings we once had. It can be incredibly painful to be on the receiving end of these negative attributions. At the same time, blaming the other can lead us to feeling in control and maybe even righteous, yet in the end, it leaves us alone. Another strategy to deal with the difficulty is to evade or run from the problem. This can protect us for the moment, but it doesn’t help restore love in the relationship.
As a couples therapist, I see the above scenarios all the time. What I hear in my consulting room is, “If that other person would only change X behavior, or be more Y, then our problems would be solved!”
On the surface, this may seem like a perfectly reasonable way of viewing the situation. However, blaming usually leads to shaming the other. And once a person is shamed, they stop being responsive to the issue at hand or to the other person. Shame and hurt can also lead to the other pushing back or evading and shutting down because the conflict is just too painful to face. Addressing difficulties in these ways ultimately sets the relationship up for further struggle and distress.
How then do we address these hurts sensitively in a way that leads to positive change that helps a couple to navigate their way back to a loving connection?
Fortunately, there are answers to these problems. We now have decades of research and study on how to help relationships in distress. We know what leads to a responsive, loving connection, and what gets in the way of that love flourishing.
The good news is, no one has to be “the bad guy.” There is an approach for couples, called Emotionally Focused Therapy (“EFT”), which is based on this research. EFT helps a couple create a safe, protected space to deal with these hurts. We all struggle with our relationships from time to time. The sad part is that many couples are not aware of resources like EFT, so they don’t get the support they need to help them find a way back to love. The healing process of EFT helps couples to repair their bond and find a way back to a loving connection.
In the coming months, I’ll be authoring a series of articles to illustrate EFT at work, powerfully demonstrating how couples are overcoming common relational issues and challenges to repair hurts and revive loving connections. You’ll read how couples can move from distress to a more deeply satisfying relationship, one that helps them to thrive both individually and together as a couple.
Couples need not give up or settle. There is help out there and it can lead to a more meaningful, satisfying and loving partnership. All that’s required is to risk, reach out and invest in the relationship.