A Peaceful Life’s Blog

What Men Want in Relationships: Keys to Keeping Him Close

Is what men want in relationships so different than women?

 

what men want in relationships
Ha Ha… Nope. Not this…

Well, that depends. What you’ll learn here is that how your man may respond to challenging situations between you may depend on a number of factors unique to him. What men want in relationships isn’t so different from what women want, but it can look different on the surface.

Our goal here is to help you open up communication between the two of you on how better to understand each other and to help you understand how to further nurture and deepen your connection.

Gender Differences Can Contribute to What Men Want in Relationships

In our culture and in many families, little boys and little girls often are raised with some subtle, yet important, differences. For example, when a little girl falls and scrapes her knee, parents often rush to her aid, comfort her and let her pick her favorite Band-Aid.

When little boys experience the same tumble, they’re often told to pick themselves up and that they are not hurt that badly.

Little girls typically are encouraged to express and share their feelings; on the other hand, little boys are guided to be brave, stoic and to manage their feelings on their own.

These different messages, while unintentional by most parents, begin to shape how children see themselves and society’s expectations. And, these same views are typically carried on into adulthood — and into our adult relationships. 

How Men & Women Differ in Conversation

Girls and boys develop different ways of engaging with one another and, thus, how they see interactions with others.

Boys and girls (and men and women) speak from different “languages” or perspectives, according to the work of Deborah Tannen, Ph.D., well-known for her years of research on how men and women interact in conversation.

“Girls play in small groups or in pairs; the center of a girl’s social life is a best friend,” Dr. Tannen writes. For girls, what’s most important in connection and closeness with her peers.

Boys, on the other hand, play in large groups that are hierarchical. Boys learn to value status and independence. Their groups have a leader who tells others what to do; their games have winners or losers.

Gender differences in ways of talking have been described by researchers observing children as young as three!

As adults, friction can occur when one partner wants to be heard and gain empathy from their partners and men offer advice or try to fix the problem. Sound familiar? 

It’s important to note that these differences are things that result from how we are raised and the messages we get about relationships through our childhood. This isn’t to say that men are from Mars and women are from Venus, but men and women often approach conversations differently. This makes understanding what each of you want a trickier thing.

Does Your Man Shut Down When You Want to Talk?

Most people become angry — even infuriated — when their partner shuts down during an argument or important discussion. A cycle may develop: You want to talk, he shuts down or leaves the room, you follow him and you’re angrier now because he won’t talk. Your increased anger causes him to be even more removed from the discussion. Unfortunately, the original issue rarely gets resolved. Or, maybe you learn not to even start the conversation in the first place. 

You’re frustrated, yet your man, actually, is often in a state of fear. A fear you won’t get to see or understand because he has gone silent. What men want in relationships often isn’t spoken. Again, men are often holding in their emotions, trying to withdraw from experiencing and/or sharing them. This often results not only in withdrawing from emotional intensity, but in withdrawal from their partner as well. 

Outbursts of anger are a typical exception: After a while of suppressing their feelings, someone may have an outburst of anger. The result can be a shouting match between you. Yet, again, issues are rarely resolved.

The Emotions Underneath Your Man’s Withdrawal

What we know is that men who withdraw from conflict have deeper feelings of which their partner may be unaware. These can include:

  • Sad about letting partner down
  • Fear of rejection for failing his partner, or being weak
  • Inadequate to meet partner’s needs
  • Not wanted or desired
  • Judged, criticized
  • Sad and ashamed about not feeling acceptable for who he is
  • Anger about feeling disrespected

In couples counseling, we help both partners look beneath the withdrawal (and, yes, women can withdraw also!). Often, the woman who tries to get her partner to talk is quite unaware that her man has so many deep and sad feelings and a fear of disappointing her.

How Men and Women Experience Shame

We now turn to the work of Brene Brown, Ph.D., the well-known “shame researcher,” to further understand those deeper emotions.  She defines shame as an intensely painful feeling or experience of believing we are flawed and, thus, fearing we are somehow unworthy of love and belonging.

“Shame is the fear of disconnection,” she points out. “We all have it. Shame is universal and one of the most primitive human emotions that we experience.” She notes that we’re all afraid to talk about shame. “The less we talk about shame, the more control it has over our lives.”

Dr. Brown notes that most of women’s shame centers around her appearance and being “perfect” as a wife, mother and daughter.  For women,  the struggle is to feel “good enough” at home, work, with the kids, in bed.

Men, on the other hand, feel triggered by shame when they fear being weak or a failure. Your man can struggle with:

  • Fear of failure at work, in sports, in marriage, in bed, financially and as a father
  • Being wrong
  • Revealing any weakness
  • Showing fear
  • Being criticized or ridiculed
  • A sense of being defective
  • LGBTQ issues around shame and acceptance, coming out, family support

The Aha! What Men Want in Relationships Becomes Clearer

All told, we can gain insight into how our man reacts to varied situations and stressors. And, we can begin to understand why men and their partners can clash and misunderstand each other.

First and foremost, all humans — men and women alike — seek to be heard and understood. We seek acceptance and love for who we are, an absence of criticism from our partner and to have someone who is there for us no matter what.

To His Partner: The challenge in fulfilling what men want in relationships requires our own understanding of ourselves — our fears of disconnection, of not being important to our partner and of not being good enough and loveable just the way we are. It’s often out of this fear that we pursue our partner to get him to talk when we are not getting along.

Which, may, in turn cause him to freeze up or leave the conversation. It’s easy for us to not understand that he fears letting us down, being rejected or feeling inadequate to please us. After all, we only see his silence or withdrawal!

The power of Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy is that couples learn to more deeply understand themselves and their partner at a much deeper level and to gently understand those deeper, often-hidden fears.

Honoring What Your Man Wants in Your Relationship

Give some thought to the following (and consider discussing these with him):

  • How do I help him feel important in our relationship? Is he certain that he is my priority in my life? 
  • How can I avoid criticism when we have differences in style, preferences, opinions?
  • Do I let him know when he has pleased me?  We all need feedback from time to time.
  • Do we work together to make time for just the two of us — away from distractions and even the kids?
  • Can I open the door to conversation without pressuring him? How can I soften my approach to him so he won’t freeze up? Do I make it easy for him to respond to me?
  • Physical intimacy is one area that can be a contentious issue within a partnership. It’s an undeniable physical and emotional need for both, which can make coming to a balance between each person’s needs tricky. Often it seems that what men want in relationships is sex, and women want emotional connection. We can help you bridge that seeming gap because that’s not the whole story.

To learn what women want, we invite you to read this companion post What Women Want

For more on Dr. Brown’s work, you can watch her TED talk and read Daring Greatly (Gotham Books, 2012. For more about Dr. Tannen’s studies you can read her classic You Just Don’t Understand: Women & Men in Conversation (Ballantine, 1990)

 

What Women Want: Mysteries Unlocked to Keeping Her Close

We know you’re mystified at times to truly understand what what women want in relationshipswomen want.

You want to please her, keep her happy, console her (and that often goes wrong, eh?) and, yes, keep her satisfied. Whether you are a man or a woman in a relationship with a woman, or a woman yourself, we want you to hit the mark. We want you to know what women want, or rather, what your woman wants. 

We’re combining researched-based, scientific findings from the two leading couples-therapy experts. Thus, you’re getting the factual results of decades of study by the top people in their field.

We’re taking the knowledge to help you deeply understand what women want (and, also, what men want, because the title was totally a trick) from Sue Johnson, Ph.D., the leading creator of Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy, and psychologists John and Julie Gottman, creators of the Gottman method and the famous Love Lab.

So, let’s introduce you to Everywoman — she’ll be your guide to help you understand Your Woman. And, Your Woman may be different — so we’ll help you in finding out the needs, wants and desires of Your Woman at the end of this piece.

The Science Behind What Women Want

If I were to speak as “Everywoman” to help you understand me and the path to staying connected, this is what I would say. 

Above all, you matter a great deal to me. When I fell in love, we formed a bond that is so powerful for me. You’re my go-to for everything important to me — for sharing my feelings, to comfort me when I’m upset and to help me weather the tough stuff that life delivers from time to time. You help me be my best self.

Scientifically speaking, my brain goes haywire when I believe I can’t reach you emotionally, or when you don’t turn to me or respond when I need you. Over time, humans have evolved to find comfort in a significant other (yep, that’s you!).

Dr. Johnson writes, “The most functional way to regulate difficult emotions in love relationships is to share them. Our hearts and brains are set up to use our partners to help us find our balance in the midst of distress and fear. We are designed to deal with emotions in concert with another — not by ourselves.”

I deeply want us to stay connected — even at the times when I’m upset with you. And, when we’re not getting along, it’s usually because I don’t feel that all-important closeness.

I know, too, that when I’m upset, you may feel overwhelmed and not know how to best respond. Your brain becomes flooded with emotion — and your response may be along those lines of Fight, Flight or Freeze. I know our bond is important to you, too. (A note: As you read this, you may think,, “Hey, I want this, too!” The needs of men and women in their love relationships sometimes aren’t that different. More on this later.)

Let’s get started on what women want — the three areas where we need you most.

  1. Can I Count on You?

I need to trust that you are emotionally connected to me. By trusting, I need to know you’ll do what you say you’ll do, will follow through on commitments and let me know, if, for any reason, you can’t.

At the heart of trusting you is being able to maintain our emotional connection. Here’s what Dr. Gottman has found in his years of studying couples:

  • Give undivided attention when I need you. No phones, iPads, etc. I need eye contact — my brain actually connects to you this way, so turn toward me when we talk and put down your phone.
  • Understand me. Even if my viewpoint or feelings don’t make sense to you, please ask me questions. Be curious — I love it when you are! I feel important and connected to you when you care about my thoughts and feelings and seek to understand me on a deeper level.
  • Listen without defending or interrupting. OK, I know I do this too. So, let’s work together to listen to each other before responding. You may not agree with me, but Dr. Gottman points out that my feelings are my reality, and I deeply need you to share my world. This doesn’t mean agreeing, but being able to see my world so I don’t feel alone in it. When I’m upset, you’re the one person in this world who calms me. Really. When I don’t feel alone with my problems, I can handle them so much more easily. The empathy you show me when you listen, focus on me and are curious — no one can give me that like you can. Think of all the times you have been there for me — it’s magical how I can calm down and find peace.
  • This one is important (and a common response by a lot of guys): Don’t try to “fix” the problem I’m sharing with you or start to give me advice. Just listen. Then ask, “How can I help?” I’ll tell you if I want ideas or just to download a painful or difficult situation. “Being heard” by you calms me! And, by the way, it’s way easier for you because you don’t have to work hard to try to solve my problems. Your listening and attention are often all that I want and need.
  1. Be Accessible to Me.

Because you mean so much to me, it’s incredibly reassuring that I know you’ll be there when I need you. It’s not just what women want, it’s what keeps me close to you.

“Being there for me” means that I’ll have the emotional availability listed above. Dr. Sue Johnson describes what happens to people when they are totally disconnected and in conflict with their partners at times of need as a “primal panic”.

I know you can’t instantly always be available to me. However, if you let me know you’ll connect with me later, I can ease that panic. I’ll be more able to let stuff go, give you the benefit of the doubt, and not jump to the worst conclusion about our relationship.

I need to know we can connect emotionally. This means that I can get your attention easily when needed.

This has become more difficult for couples lately. We’re so easily distracted by and drawn into our electronic devices — checking our phones and email repeatedly, staying too long on video games and spending more time watching videos and shows. And, we’re also trying to meet our kids’ needs, too.

Sometimes we argue about this. I get upset if I don’t feel I come first with you — particularly when I need you. I don’t want to feel shut out or lonely. I need to know I matter most.

Please understand: It’s not that I want all your attention all the time. But when I need time with you, I want to become your main focus.

  1. Be Responsive to Me

I want to be assured you value me and will stay close. We work to keep alive the emotional connection we had when we first met and fell in love.

What this means is:

  • I feel confident that when we’re apart, we’re still feeling close. You think about me, reach out to me when you can
  • I fully know you care about my feelings — what brings me happiness, what’s hurtful and any fears I may have
  • I can take “emotional risks” with you — I can share deep feelings and you’ll try your best to understand

What Does Your Woman Truly Want?

This is going to sound really simplistic but it’s the real key to her heart and mind.

Ask her! We promise she’ll try to tell you. You can show her this article (she’ll be delighted you’re trying to learn) and ask her to tell you her thoughts.  You’ll be beginning a very important discussion and one that can continue as your explore not only what she wants but also what you most want and need from her.

But Men Want All this, Too!

Dr. Johnson says the three main items above are essential for healthy, loving relationships — for men as well as women, gay or straight. Men also want the same close, secure bond with their partner – though some women may be more likely to be expressive about their emotional needs. As you talk with your partner about what she wants, you open the dialogue to share how you also want to feel close, and what’s most important for nurturing your desire to be important, loved, and valued.

To learn more about what women want, (and what humans want), you can read:

By Dr. Sue Johnson: Love Sense: The revolutionary new science of romantic relationships. New York: Little, Brown 2013.

By Drs. John & Julie Gottman: The Man’s Guide to Women: Scientifically proven secrets from the “Love Lab” about what women really want. New York: Rodale, 2016.

To learn more about how we help couples understand using Emotionally Focused Therapy, click here, and you might also want to check out our post about Communication in Relationships

 

 

Cheating Discovered! Now, Can We Recover?

Learning that  a partner has been cheating is devastating. The security of your relationship is suddenly shattered. You can feel everything you relied on about your partner has profoundly become a thing of the past.

cheating recovery

If you’re the hurt partner you may feel overwhelmed, perhaps asking yourself:

–How did this happen? I thought we were fine. Or,

–Okay, maybe we were having some rough patches — less time for ourselves with busy careers and kids’ needs, less connection, but, still. . .

— And, often, the most challenging: Why??

For the partner who went outside the marriage or relationship, there is often both intense shame and a desire to move on as quickly as possible. No matter how hard you try, your partner’s extreme emotions do not subside.

In this post, I’m going to reassure you that couples can work to recover trust and close connection following the acknowledgment of cheating. I’ll also share with you how a proven, well-researched approach to healing has the potential to guide you back to a secure relationship.

First, Some Facts About Cheating

Research tells us that about 70 percent of couples choose to continue the relationship after cheating is discovered. While divorce is two times more likely following disclosure of infidelity, the research indicates the majority of couples want to work things out.

Unfortunately, cheating is not a rare occurrence. We know that 25 percent of men and 15 percent of women engage in affairs that involve intercourse. And, when emotional and other intimacies with an outside person occur, these numbers increase by 20 percent.

What Constitutes Cheating?

The ease of reaching out on the internet has brought up the need for many couples to more clearly define what is meant by “cheating.”

A partner may see texting with others or corresponding with someone outside the marriage or  relationship as “harmless,” particularly if there’s been no in-person contact. His or her partner or spouse may strongly feel otherwise.

The best definition we’ve found of cheating is: Cheating is whatever your partner feels is unacceptable.

When one partner puts time, effort and energy into contact with another person, the impact on the other partner or spouse can feel threatening to the relationship and hurtful — no matter what form the cheating took. The partner may feel he or she is not important enough or inadequate and that what started as casual contact could evolve into something even greater.

The Challenge of Healing After Cheating

When an affair is discovered, the emotions of the hurt partner are complex. He or she feels this intense pain because their partner felt a need to look elsewhere for connection and/or intimacy.

Compounding the pain are the deception and hiding of the outside relationship that occurred during the affair. The hurt partner can feel, “Not only did you cheat, you also lied repeatedly.” The hidden and deceptive nature of cheating can be as damaging to trust as the intimacy that took place.

The couple now is challenged to restore trust and confidence in the relationship, but amidst the initial shock and dismay after cheating is revealed.

Understanding the Emotional Roller Coaster of Cheating

Indeed, the emotional turbulence that typically follows discovery of cheating is, in itself, a tremendous challenge for the couple to navigate. The injured partner is flooded with anger and sadness, and the injuring partner feels any attempt to soothe or reassure is never sufficient.

And, here’s why emotions are so heightened: When you met and fell in love with each other, you formed an strong, compelling bond or attachment. You were powerfully drawn both physically and emotionally to your partner. You became the most important people on the planet to each other!

We know from years of research that humans are hard-wired to connect with a special someone. Our brains are — and this is verified by brain scans — highly activated when we are in the loving presence of our spouse or partner.

Chemical reactions heighten our attraction and connection to our partner. You can recall how much you were drawn to each other, and how being apart in those early days could be so difficult.

If you have children together, you are powerfully connected through those experiences as well.

Therefore, it is no wonder that the discovery of cheating causes so much emotional distress. Suddenly, there is anger. anxiety and emotional intensity on the part of the hurt partner. Couples are often surprised by the intensity of these feelings . . . and how long they can continue.

Surviving the Emotional Intensity

As part of successful healing, each partner learns to fully and constructively express their emotions.

For the injured partner, he or she is not only angry and hurt, there may be intense anxiety about whether the cheating is still occurring. Trust has been broken, and this partner struggles to contain his or her fears for the future of the marriage or relationship.

For the partner who went outside the relationship, the challenge is to not avoid listening to their partner’s concerns or to diminish the hurt their partner is feeling. The deeper emotions of the injuring partner can center around shame and guilt for harming the relationship and the hurt that has been inflicted.

Too, the offending partner doesn’t know what to say to ease their spouse’s pain. “I’ve apologized so many times, but my partner is still so angry.” “I don’t know what else to do.” “I don’t know how we can move forward when my partner’s emotions are so intense.”

“We’re Stuck! Nothing Is Making this Better.”

It’s not unusual for the wound of infidelity to take over many aspects of the marriage. Small arguments become easily escalated because beneath daily interactions is a profound disconnection.

For example, one partner’s failure to remember to take out the trash is suddenly an expression of lack of caring for the hurt partner’s needs or of the disconnected status of the entire relationship.

A phone call or text that is not answered promptly now causes the hurt partner to become both angry and anxious.

At times, intimacy is often unwelcome by the hurt partner.

Often the couple is unable to reach resolution and healing because attempts to discuss the cheating often result in intense emotions by the hurt partner and avoidance by the partner who went outside the relationship. They are seeking to reconnect; however, they are both frustrated — and often feeling overwhelmed — because so little progress is taking place.

How Counseling Helps Couples Heal From Cheating

After so much expression of anger and pain at the discovery of cheating, the tendency for many couples can be to “let it go.” In other words, because couples feel so stuck, they may begin to avoid further attempts at discussion.

Unfortunately, the unresolved trauma to the emotional connection and trust is not healed. The injury to the security of the relationship is still likely to resurface.

In the words of Dr. Susan Johnson, the leading creator of Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy (EFT), “The only way out of these attachment injuries is to confront them and heal them together.” EFT is one of the most-researched and  most-successful couples-therapy methods.

To heal the pain of an affair, the couple needs to go beyond forgiveness and re-establish the ability of the injured partner to trust again.

The “good news” is that a skilled therapist (trained in EFT or the other leading method, Gottman Method Couples Therapy) can gently guide you toward resolution. We have a proven road map to not only address the pain of cheating but also to strengthen your relationship.

These powerful, tested couples-therapy methods offer you not only the possibility of recovery, but also the potential for renewing your bond and to learn to maintain a closer, secure connection into the future.

Taking the First Step

As experienced couples therapists, we know how difficult it can be to come to counseling following disclosure of an affair.

The most common fear we hear is that the therapists will “take sides” with one of the partners. Fortunately, the care and thoroughness of the development of these two powerful couples-therapy approaches actually eliminates such a position for the counselor.

Rather, we help you understand the role of secure connection in your marriage or relationship. You’ll learn how to communicate differently — and much more effectively! — and how to more deeply and thoroughly tap into each other’s emotional needs. To learn more about Emotionally Focused Therapy and our approach, click here.

To help you with making your decision, we offer a free 30-minute consultation so you can meet your therapist, ask questions and learn about the counseling process. We want you to be as comfortable as possible as we begin this important journey together. Click here to sign up for a consultation or a session.

 

 

Avoiding Relationship Conflict Isn’t As Safe As You Think

Avoiding Relationship Conflict Isn’t As Safe As You Think

If you’re making efforts at avoiding relationship conflict, you certainly are among many couples who alsoavoiding relationship conflict refrain from making their needs known.

Often we’re afraid to speak up to our partner for any number of reasons, such as:

  • “It’s a small thing, and maybe it’ll get better on its own.”
  • “I’ve mentioned it before; I don’t want to be nagging.”
  • “If I bring up the issue, I’m so afraid it will spark an argument.”
  • “I really don’t want to bother my partner with my own needs.”

Yet, as you’ll learn here, avoiding relationship conflict has a serious downside. I’ll help you understand how speaking up actually improves closeness and emotional connection. And, I’ll give you some insight into why you may hold back and be reluctant to express yourself.

The Price of Avoiding Relationship Conflict

It’s impossible to not occasionally feel hurt or disappointed by our partner or spouse. He or she can forget something important to us or unintentionally hurt our feelings.

Here’s the dilemma, however: When we are upset, it actually takes a lot of energy to hold in our hurt feelings. We may ruminate, keeping the negative thoughts rolling around in our heads. We may — even worse — look for other faults or neglect on the part of our partner.

Slowly, we can be building the seeds of resentment — often feeling far worse and perhaps building up anger and disappointment as time goes on.

Looking Deeper

We may work at avoiding relationship conflict for  a variety of reasons, some of which we may not be fully aware. For example:

  • If you grew up in a household with a lot of anger and arguments, you may be more cautious about approaching your partner and speaking up, fearing an argument could occur between you.
  • On the other hand, if important issues were never talked about in your family when you were growing up, you may lack a of model for addressing concerns.
  • Sometimes, our parents may not have been good at responding to our own needs or requests. We never felt heard or truly understood or our parents did not know how to connect with us. Speaking up to our partner now as an adult can feel downright foreign — and scary.

Couples Have Cycles of Dealing with Relationship Conflict

What we know from research about couples is that we unconsciously form ways of coping with problems with our partner. We call these “negative cycles.”  These cycles are challenging styles of communication that couples struggle to break. These cycles may be patterns of endless arguing and/or silence and avoidance. Issues never get resolved when couples land in these cycles.

These negative cycles, over time, create distance and disconnection, reduced emotional closeness and often lead to reduced physical closeness and intimacy.

The most common cycle is Pursue and Withdraw. One partner wants to talk, wants answers, and literally pursues their partner to get them to engage in the discussion (which may have by now evolved into an argument). The other partner, not knowing what to do with the partner’s pursuing and possibly angry approach, withdraws, goes silent, maybe leaves the room.

The withdrawal then causes the pursuing partner to become more angry  (and hurt that their partner won’t respond to them). Then, the withdrawing partner withdraws further. And the cycle continues until the couple tires or realizes they’re headed nowhere.

Other cycles include when both partners are so angry they are verbally challenging each other, sparking continued arguing and sometimes bringing up past issues that were never resolved.

The third type of cycle is when both partners withdraw and move away from the conversation.  But, the hurt feelings continue to erode connection.

No matter the type of negative cycles, issues are rarely fully resolved.

More Insight Is Helpful

So, now let’s look deeper beneath the negative cycles to one of the root causes of couples who struggle with avoiding relationship conflict.

Each person’s position in the negative cycle often reflects his or her attachment style. Attachment is how we relate to those closest to us, and  is typically formed as a child. However, attachment styles can change depending on significant life events.

A person with a secure attachment style feels safe in their primary relationship with their partner and generally feels capable of receiving and giving love and maintaining a close connection.

On the other hand, a person with an anxious attachment style may worry about the security of the relationship, can struggle with any signs of rejection and may need a great deal of reassurance that they matter to their partner.

The third style is avoidant. People with this attachment style can be uncomfortable being too close to others, may struggle to depend on and share emotions with the partner and can try to be self-reliant, denying his or her need for closeness.

And, we can have a mixed style, most often a combination of traits of the anxious and avoidant types.

In Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy, you’ll learn how attachment styles can contribute to avoiding relationship conflict. The anxious person may likely pursue; the avoidant one may withdraw.

Tying the Pieces Together

So, now we’ve learned about the underlying forces that can contribute to a partner’s fear of speaking up about their needs.

It’s important, as well, to realize the hazards. When we don’t speak up to express to our partner our needs and wants and/or to let our partner know we’re feeling hurt, we jeopardize closeness, connection and trust.

I fully recognize that speaking up in our primary relationship is a far greater challenge for some people more than others.

However, the rewards are great when we do let our partner in to our inner thoughts and concerns. We gradually break down walls that may have grown between us, reach new depth of understanding and nurture and strengthen our loving bond with each other.

Here’s Help

You’ll find more in-depth information on the essentials of communicating with your partner in these two additional articles:

To learn more about reducing anger when working to resolve issues, click (here).

To learn about tips to getting your point across effectively with your partner, click (here).

 

Communication in Relationships: Learn to Be Deeply Understood

Communication in Relationships Can Be Challenging for Many Couples. 

communication in relationshipsProblems with communication in relationships can lead to misunderstandings, hurt feelings, arguments and, over time, a reduction in connection and closeness.

On the other hand, good (and even great) communication in relationships results in maintaining closeness and trust and being able to positively resolve different points of view on important issues.

So, you might be wondering: What makes the critical difference in healthy communication in relationships, particularly in yours? I’ll help you understand the elements of effective communication with your partner and how to help each other break through to a new level of understanding.

The Important Role of Feedback

Think of a time when you were encountering road repair, and there are signs posted to warn that there are no lane lines. You likely slowed down and became more conscious of keeping your car in line. It was harder, though, because those lane lines are really helpful.

Providing feedback to our partner is like those lines in the road. We can gently let our partner or spouse know when he or she is hurting our feelings or when we feel ignored or unimportant.

Also, we can let them know when they are on target with us: It’s vital to also tell our partner when they are doing something that is important to us and meaningful. This is how good communication in relationships encourages our partner and lets them know their actions truly matter and make a difference.

The Important Bond with Our Partner

A main key to maintaining a healthy relationship is understanding the attachment we form with our partner. This “bond” is what draws us to him or her and is the root of our strong desire to stay close and connected, to feel important to our partner and to reach for our partner in times of both need and joy.

Children develop a powerful bond with their parents. Too, adults form a powerful bond when we fall in love. These attachments are hard-wired into humans; we will seek to be close to another from infancy until old age. And, as adults, we will value our partner’s attention and caring above all others.

Maintaining this bond can have challenges. When we’re upset with our partner, we may not be telling them in a productive way about what we need. We’re not giving them those “lines on the road” that help our partner know how to please us. Maybe we hope things will get better (but our partner doesn’t know we’re upset); then, when there’s no change, we may get angry and/or argue.

Disappointment Is, Actually, Inevitable in Our Relationships!

When we are close and relying on our partner for emotional connection, there will be times of misunderstanding. It’s part of being a couple. We’re two different human beings, with different backgrounds.

You can look at it this way: If you’re going to dance close with your partner, at times you might unintentionally step on their toes. Or our toes get stepped on as well.

Hurt feelings can result from our partner forgetting something important to us, not understanding our needs and not responding to us in the way we’d like, or not picking up on a cue that we need them.

So, it’s very important we learn to let our partner know how we feel and what we need.

Guidelines for Positive Communication in Relationships

Giving our partner feedback provides them with a deeper understanding — and with those essential relationship communication“lines in the road” to what is truly meaningful for us.

Helping our partner understand the impact of their actions provides those guidelines.

Positive feedback can include:

  • Expressing thanks and appreciation sincerely and often
  • Letting your partner know the true meaning of their action
  • Maybe adding the deeper “why”

You might say, “I felt so reassured and important to you when you decided against going out with your coworkers on Friday because you know I’ve been stressed lately.”

Or: “Thank you for remembering my mother’s birthday and for all the things you did to make it special for her. I really felt you understood how hard it is for us to celebrate since Dad passed away.”

Now, Expressing Hurt or Disappointment

I know this is much harder for most couples. We don’t want to hurt our partner’s feelings or, worse, create an argument.

Yet, giving our partner insight into what really matters to us is vital for healthy communication in relationships.

Therefore, letting our partner know that his or her actions bother us includes:

  • Setting aside time to talk when there are no distractions, and you are both willing (not tired, hungry, etc.)
  • Starting with the emotion you feel and avoiding beginning with “when you . . .” (This often puts our partner in a defensive mode) Thus, you might begin with, “I’m feeling sad because I wanted more of a surprise for our anniversary rather than our usual celebration. We’ve been so busy lately, I think I needed to feel special. And, perhaps, I should have let you know earlier. (More about this in my next article!)
  • Allow your partner to respond. What are their thoughts and feelings?
  • Make a request and include the meaning — and thank them for understanding. “Next time, I’ll try to let you know what I need. I’m so glad we could discuss this and that you understand me.”

Important! The Benefit of the Doubt

Sometimes, in the absence of information or if we’re feeling less connected with our partner, we may assume our partner has a negative intent. These “negative assumptions” can take over when our emotions are high. First, ask yourself what you might have done differently to connect or prevent a problem.

I believe couples rarely intend to be hurtful or neglectful to each other. Then, it’s critically important to examine whether we have created our own negative assumptions about our partner’s actions before seeking to understand what he or she was thinking.

When we approach our partner with a positive, curious mindset, we’re nurturing our connection — and we’re helping our partner understand us in a new way. We’re respecting our bond . . . and deepening our understanding and connection.

For more on communication in relationships:
How to Control Anger in Relationships

The G.I.V.E. Communication Guide

 

If you’d like to chat about what your options are for working with one of our skilled couples therapists here in Denver, visit our calendar to see who’s available for a chat or a complimentary consultation.

 

How to Control Anger in your Relationship

How to Control Anger: Yes, You Can Tame the Beast!

You’re not alone if you and/or your partner struggle with how to control anger in your marriage or relationship. Do any of the below sound familiar:?

— “One or both of us gets easily triggered when certain issues are brought up (such as his or her family, finances, challengeHow to Control Angers with the kids . . . even sex)”

— “The smallest things lately can lead to big arguments.”

— “My partner doesn’t seem to hear me, so anger is the only thing that gets his or her attention.”

— “When we argue, we often end up saying hurtful things to each other — and those mean statements linger and linger.”

— “We don’t like conflict, so we never resolve anything important. Then, it comes up later in anger.”

Emotions are part of being human and — of course — part of our relationship with our partner or spouse.

However, you can learn to tame the anger and turn feelings of hurt and disappointment into productive conversations that yield greater understanding of yourself and your partner.

In fact, you’ll learn that sharing our emotions with our partner is the best way to calm our heightened feelings and how to control anger. What’s complicated, though, is that our partner  actually can be the trigger for our anger and other strong emotions.

Understanding Emotions and How to Control Anger

There are two levels of emotions: secondary and primary. Understanding the difference is key to developing greater understanding of our partner’s needs — and to expressing our own requests in a healthy way.

Secondary emotions are ones we can see. These include anger, irritability, becoming quiet and avoiding, criticism, blaming and defensiveness. Secondary emotions show we’re upset, yes; but they don’t reveal the true cause.

The primary emotions are what push the secondary emotions that you see. The primary emotions are where the true meaning lies. The most common primary emotions in relationships are fear (of disconnection from your partner) and sadness and hurt.

Other primary emotions include: Hopelessness, feeling rejected, feeling not important or loveable, feeling inadequate to meet partner’s needs and feeling unwanted or unattractive.

All told, primary emotions are powerful. Yet — and here’s the tricky part — we ourselves are often are not aware of the primary emotions that are surfacing for us. Our partner can’t know either because all he or she sees are those secondary emotions.

Let’s See Anger in Action:

Drew is angry that Avery is repeatedly late and that he doesn’t call to tell her he’s behind schedule. When he arrives home, she lets him know how upset she is. Her voice is raised, and her facial expressions warn him that she’s furious.

The way out of this is, actually, both simple and difficult: Drew calms herself, and goes inward to try to understand why Avery’s lateness is so troublesome to her. She believes it’s because she gets afraid something has happened to him. Too, she feels maybe he doesn’t care about her or her feelings and is not respectful of her needs.

Avery feels bad, but he doesn’t know what to say. He felt he’d be even later — and Drew would be even angrier — if he took the time to stop and call her. In truth, Avery hates to disappoint Drew. He feels sad and anxious anytime he does.

Here’s the good news: Drew can let Avery know the real reason she’s upset. It’s about fear he’s been hurt and a fear she’s not important to him. Avery, in turn, can let Drew know that he feels both shame and guilt when he upsets her.

Tips for How to Control Anger

I’ll help you understand the basics of, first, how to calm yourself and, second, how to constructively discuss your feelings with your partner. I’m going to take you step-by-step through how Drew and Avery were able to get to the root of Drew’s anger.

To begin, one of the basic approaches of Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy, the most-effective approach to helping couples, is teaching couples to “slow down.”

When you’re upset, the emotions-control part of your brain is activated. Our responses to an anger trigger can be fast and furious with minimal forethought. But the escalated anger can cause our partner to shut down or become defensive and limit the potential to work through an issue.

You Can Learn to Slow This Angry Automatic Reaction

First, take a few moments to ask yourself some key questions:

  1. What was the “cue” or event that caused me to feel upset or angry?
  2. What deeper meaning did this cue have for me? (For example, “My partner doesn’t care about my needs.” “He or she is selfish.”  “I’m not important.”)
  3. What primary emotions lie beneath my anger? Sadness? Hurt? Fear?
  4. What do you need your partner to understand about your experience? 

Letting Your Partner Know Your True Feelings

This leads us to how you and your partner can learn how to control anger and have a very-different type of conversation. I advise couples to calm themselves first, avoid accusatory words or tone (such as “When you . . .”) and to remain curious and open about your partner’s feelings and his or her response to the issue you are raising.

After you’ve taken a few moments to understand how to control anger and answered the four questions above, you may be more calm. This way, your partner is less likely to become defensive as a response to your anger.

It may be helpful to take a few deep breaths, which tell your brain to become more relaxed. Also, try to let go of any negative assumptions you may have about how the conversation will go. Common assumptions could include, “We never get to the bottom of things” or “My partner never hears me.” You’re going to try a different approach this time.

Five Steps to Anger-Free Communication

Here’s how you can apply what Drew did to let Avery know how she truly feels when he’s late. There are some basic steps.

  1. Begin with your primary emotions. “I’m feeling so anxious when I’m expecting you at a certain time. I get so afraid that something has happened. It feels almost paralyzing. I get stuck in a circle of worry.”
  2. Allow your partner to hear what you’re saying. If he or she has questions, be calm and open to learning their thoughts and concerns.
  3. Calmly let your partner know what you need. “I’m okay with your being a little later if you let me know. I’d really appreciate you calling me. This way, I won’t worry and be angry if you’re behind schedule.”
  4. Again, slow down so you can hear your partner’s thoughts by asking, “What do you think?”
  5. If you both have agreed on a solution, restate your agreement and future actions you’ll take. “Thank you for understanding me! I’m glad you’re Okay with calling if you’re running behind schedule.”

Giving yourself time to tune in to your own primary emotions helps you get to the real root of the issue. Together you can “make sense” of your anger,  learn how to control anger and have discussions that lead to greater understanding and to resolving important concerns.

 

Angry familyA Few Words About Anger Out of Control

When anger turns to violence in a relationship, there is great cause for concern. The couple needs a physically safe environment in order to be able to have meaningful conversations and resolve concerns.

Importantly, children are impacted emotionally by violence in the home.

If there is violence in the relationship, this issue needs to be addressed. If you feel unsafe at home, you can reach out to local resources, including domestic-violence shelters such as Safehouse Denver that can provide assistance in how to get the help that is needed.

 

If you and your partner want to learn how to control anger in your relationship, our couples counseling can help you identify what’s really going on under that anger and how to communicate it in a way that doesn’t cause fights or shut each other down.