Kat Mindenhall, LCSW

We are Fighting About Life After Covid

Fighting about life after Covid and how quickly to get back to normal? You aren’t alone. Times are rough right now. With vaccines rolling out very slowly, many couples are thinking about what post-pandemic life will be like. They want to make travel plans, they are trying to figure out childcare and schooling. Many, many couples are not able to socially distance the way that they would like to. Maybe they are essential workers, or cannot financially support themselves by working from home. Regardless of your situation, one thing is clear: Couples are fighting about life after Covid.

couple frayed by arguing about Covid

As with all things in relationships, fighting about life after Covid taps into underlying patterns in your relationship. You can quickly feel misunderstood and written-off if you and your partner are not able to communicate your needs and fears clearly, or are unable to be responsive to those feelings. Many of these issues don’t have a clear-cut answer, but here are some ways to navigate these tough conversations.

Remind yourselves about what is important to you both as a couple

Find the things that are important to you both, and start from there. Is supporting each other’s needs important? Is financial stability the thing that you can find common ground on? Is staying healthy something you both hold dear? Orient yourselves to where your common ground is so that you can remember that you have that to work from.

Talk about yourself, not your partner

Avoid labeling and generalizing. It’s easy to tell your partner that they “always” or “never” do certain things. Our historical fights really get in way. If you speak about your own feelings and avoid the blame game, you have a better chance of getting through.

Talk about your hopes and fears

If you are able to connect what you are saying to what your needs, hopes, or fears are, you also have a better chance of getting through. We often approach conversations to solve a problem, and when there is no good solution we feel hopeless. If your partner only thinks that you are attached to what you want or getting your way, they won’t be able to understand WHY it’s so important to you. Help them connect the dots there.

Remember – There are things we can’t control, and that is hard

There are many unknowns right now, and things that we can’t predict or control. Humans have a natural tendency to get worked up about things because they think they can control them. Step back and give yourself a reality check – if you are putting all of your hopes into something working out that hasn’t happened yet, recognize that you need flexibility. Fighting about life after Covid might be about having different expectations and predictions.

Also remember: You can’t please everyone

Family pressures to spend time together or to navigate these times in a certain way can be difficult. If you are arguing about how to please a family member, slow down and remember that you aren’t married to your family. It’s important for each partner support each partner’s wish to please family, and to support individual needs. Get clear on where your partnership ends and your family begins.

Further Information

The way you are fighting about life after Covid deeply rooted in your patterns. This has a lot to do with our attachment styles and how we show up in our relationships. If you are interested in learning more about how couples counseling can help you navigate arguments about Covid, we are here to help. Our office is in Lakewood, CO, but we are seeing clients via Teletherapy for couples counseling online throughout the State of Colorado.

Raised by a Critical Parent? How it Impacts Adult Relationships

image shows a daughter raised by a critical parent

Adults who were raised by a critical parent may struggle in their romantic relationships in a number of ways.

Here are a few common scenarios:

  • Jeff bristles when his wife reminds him to slow down when he’s driving. He becomes angry, then begins to criticize her in defense.
  • Marie feels anxious about Jess pointing out that the picture she just hung is still a bit crooked. She feels inadequate and fears that her wife will never be pleased by her. She rarely speaks up, though, for afraid of upsetting her partner.
  • Lucy admonishes her husband that he doesn’t pick up after himself. Mark is frustrated by what he feels are Lucy’s exacting demands. He doesn’t understand why she becomes so angry when things appear out of order.

Each of these stories describes some common issues couples can face. What they have in common, however, is that one of the partners was raised by a critical parent. As adults, these folks can become easily defensive, feel inadequate  or possibly develop an intense need for perfection.

In this post we’ll discuss the complex ways in which being raised by a critical parent can impact adult relationships. We’ll also help you with how to communicate important issues while also taking  into account your partner’s sensitivities.

The Impact of Critical Parents

Research points to studies that parents who are critical, harsh and overly authoritarian can produce children who are challenged with anxiety. Adults who were raised by a critical parent may have a harder time adapting to adversity later in life. 

Punitive parenting can train a child’s young brain to overemphasize mistakes. When a child is chastised for making a mistake, the brain learns to pull back so that further mistakes are avoided. Over time, and with continued parental criticism, children learn to internalize that parental feedback and then criticism can become a trigger for anxiety.

Other impacts can include a feeling of never being good enough or that’s it’s difficult to measure up to social or work expectations.

Children are closely attached, or bonded, with their parents; therefore, the parents’ influence looms large. Children want to please their parents, and when their struggles meet with criticism it’s hard for kids to not take the parents’ comments as deeply personal.

In the three hypothetical examples above, each adult’s response is rooted in anxiety: One defends to avoid feelings of criticism, another’s fears of inadequacy and making mistakes comes into play and the third finds comfort in her intense needs for order.

Two Types of Critical Parents

Many parents have good intentions in their style of guiding their children. They want the best for their kids, and they feel they are helping their child by giving them lots of corrective feedback. However, if the criticism is received as even slightly blaming, the child can become anxious about making mistakes and then about taking risks.

What’s important is that parents who are correcting or guiding a child also provide a heavy dose of encouragement and positive feedback.

Other critical parents are controlling and can be emotionally abusive. This more overt criticism leaves its mark as well. There is little or no praise for the child, and the parent’s hostility can be as emotionally detrimental as physical abuse.

Raised by a Critical Parent: Understanding Your Adult Self

In counseling, we help couples understand how their childhood can be influencing their challenges in their relationships. However, the intention is not to blame parents. That’s rarely helpful.

Rather, the goal is to gain a useful understanding of yourself. Human behavior, while at times can seem illogical, often can be explained. What we learn as children can have a powerful impact. However, as adults, we have the ability to learn about our inner world and to make positive changes.

We can learn how we’re “wired” and to change how we react to situations. Our partner can learn to understand us, too, and together you can be a powerful team to help each other become happier and healthier adults.

Working with our partner, we can build a new understanding of having been raised by a critical parent and develop ways to communicate that avoid triggering our partner to feel criticized.

Writes Dr. Sue Johnson, the creator of Emotionally Focused Therapy, “We never like to hear that something is ‘wrong’ with us, or that something needs changing, especially if this message is coming from the loved one we most depend on.”

Each of us can have what Dr. Johnson calls “raw spots.” She notes that these can be a hypersensitivity from the past in which our needs were repeatedly neglected, ignored or dismissed. “These sensitivities frequently arise from wounding relationships with significant people in our past, especially parents, who give us our basic template for loving relationships.”

Sharing Our Raw Spots with Our Partner

If our partner doesn’t know or understand our unique sensitivities, then they can’t respond to us in ways we truly need. However, this journey can be indeed scary.

Dr. Johnson notes in her book for couples, “Hold Me Tight: Seven Conversations for a Lifetime of Love,”  that “We are naturally reluctant to confront our vulnerabilities. We live in a society that says we’re supposed to be strong, to be invulnerable. Our inclination is to ignore or deny our frailty.”

For the other partner, there’s a challenge as well. “We are unsure what to do or feel, especially if we have no template for how to respond effectively.” She adds that as parents, we quickly respond to a child’s expression of pain, but may not know how to comfort or connect with our partner when they are struggling.

Understanding the Deeper Fears

The first important step lies with the person raised by a critical parent to work toward understanding the impact on them now and in this current relationship. Concerns can include:

  • How am I most easily upset when my partner offers suggestions or feedback?
  • Do I become critical of my partner and others as a way of keeping myself safe and distant?
  • Can I allow my partner to be there for me when I need emotional support?
  • Do I tend to interpret many comments from my partner as critical?

As couples recognize the challenges they’re facing, they can work toward sharing these deeper feelings. Often in counseling sessions, when these fundamental raw spots are revealed, the partner is often surprised. “I didn’t how you truly felt and why you can be so sensitive. It makes sense to me now!”

OK, But What if I Need to Tell My Sensitive Partner How I Feel?

First, it’s important to note: It’s far easier to criticize than to be vulnerable and express our deeper fears and needs. In other words, it’s more common for us to tell our partner what needs to be changed by them than to help them understand why we need a different response or way of connecting.

John Gottman, Ph.D., studied couples who were successful in their long-term relationships. He found that they did one powerful thing: They transformed their criticisms into wishes. Rather than pointing out a fault in the partner, the conversation begins with expressing a need or desire.

Rather than taking a “you” approach — as in “You never take out the trash without my asking,” a partner can say, “It’s really helpful when I know the chores have been done. I feel like things are running smoothly and I’m less stressed.”

Or: “I get nervous when we drive fast. It reminds me of the accident I had years ago. It’s hard for me to let go of that, and it’s really helpful when we go a bit slower.”

How to Avoid Being a Critical Parent to Your Kids

We like to think that we aren’t critical parents ourselves. However, we might not always be aware of how we come across to our children.

In his wonderful book, “Parenting from the Inside Out,” well-known psychiatrist Daniel Siegel, M.D.,  helps parents understand how they may parent their kids as an unconscious reflection of how they were parented. 

So, it’s not all that unusual for parents to replicate the style with which they were raised. Increasing your awareness can help you change the conversations with your kids. On the other hand, many parents recognize how their parents’ styles impacted them and may make a conscious effort to treat their children quite differently.

We know, however, that the same types of conversations you learn to have with your partner in Emotionally Focused Therapy can be applied to talking with your kids. As you read through the blogs recommended below, you can apply the same principles to helping your kids understand your concerns.

For further reading on this topic, we suggest our posts Communication in Relationships: Learn to Be Deeply Understood, Emotional Communication for Couples: Getting to What Truly Matters, and the hazards of not bringing up to your partner issues that are bothering you –Avoiding Relationship Conflict Isn’t As Safe As You Think .

Couples’ Arguments: Understanding and Stopping the Cycle

woman reaching out to man to come back after an argument

Couples’ arguments often actually have a pattern: The most common is when one of you wants to talk and reach resolution, but your partner shuts down.

This in turn leads to greater frustration — and often more anger — as one of you needs to talk and connect and the other seems to refuse, to not care enough to work things out.

If this sounds familiar, you could have one of the most common patterns experienced by couples.

And, if you’re the one who pursues your partner to talk and stay engaged in the discussion, you probably find your frustration escalating by his or her silence or when your partner even leaves the room.

If you’re the one who withdraws from the argument, you may be baffled why your partner can’t calm down or let the issue go. The arguments seem to go on and on — and nothing will get resolved even if you were able to talk.

We’re going to help you get to the bottom of these ongoing behaviors in couples arguments and to open the door to greater understanding of each person’s reactions. Understanding your partner’s position is the first step to ending those “endless arguments.”

What Lies Beneath: The Deeper Emotions of the One Who Pursues

In Emotionally Focused Therapy (or EFT), the leading and most-successful approach to helping couples in distress, we know that the person who keeps wanting (and needing) to talk may actually be feeling:

  • Unimportant to their partner, not wanted
  • Afraid of abandonment or betrayal
  • Hurt or shame for feeling rejected when they want to talk
  • A fear of not being truly loveable
  • Afraid of being dismissed

When there is tension in the relationship, the partner who pushes for talking and answers feels fearful that the marriage is in trouble, that they will lose their partner. They are reaching for — and longing to feel — close and connected.

When an argument has ensued, those core issues and the need for reassurance become overwhelming. The partner who pursues to talk needs to know the relationship is secure. Beneath the anger is often anxiety and fear and difficulty coping with now knowing where he or she stands.

Pursuers often get labeled as “too emotional” and too easily upset. Yet, this partner tends to be open and expressive of his or her feelings.

Understanding the One Who Withdraws

The person who withdraws is a mystery for the partner to understand: “Why won’t you just talk to me?” “If you really cared, you’d listen and not leave the room.” “If my needs were important, you’d talk to me!”

However, what lies beneath for the partner who avoids arguments are some profound feelings as well, that may include:

  • Sad about letting the partner down
  • Fear of rejection for always failing to meet the partner’s needs
  • Not wanted or desired
  • Judged or criticized
  • Ashamed for not feeling accepted as they are

Other patterns include when couples defend their own position and deny the validity of their partner’s. Some couples both withdraw and avoid arguments, yet not talking about important issues can be fertile ground for building resentments.

Damage of the “Negative Cycles”

In EFT, we call the patterns of couples’ arguments and distancing a “negative cycle.” Couples, after months or even years of repeated arguments, often see their partner as “the problem.” It’s an easy trap to fall into. After all, if your partner would just respond differently, you’d be able to reach some agreement on issues that matter.

However, the true “enemy” here is the negative cycle itself. And, there’s hope: Couples can learn to stop the negative cycle and to talk calmly about their concerns.

Unfortunately, that “enemy” of the negative cycle leaves in its wake some lingering fears and hurt feelings.

When couples’ arguments escalate, both partners’ emotional brains are activated: The one who pursues desperately seeks contact. The withdrawing partner is in “flight” mode, seeking relief from the partner’s fury.

So, when “fight” or “flight” are in full force, hurtful things may be said, name-calling can be harsh and painful. These emotional scars can last unless the couple is able to apologize and forgive.

Emotions among couples can be triggered because — and this at first sounds paradoxical — because they do care for and love each other. When we fall in love, a powerful bond is set into motion — that feeling of being special to someone and a powerful emotional and physical attraction.

When you’re upset with each other, that strong bond feels at risk. 

And, over time, when couples’ arguments have been occurring frequently, it can take less and less to trigger emotions (even a raised eyebrow, a “look”) . . . and they’re off to another negative cycle.

Reaching a New Understanding

Given all this information, you can see that couples’ arguments:

  • Are the way our brain reacts when our partner — who is so very important to us — seems distant or upset
  • Each of you may react quite differently when you’re feeling disconnected
  • The negative cycle is your true enemy — not each other. When couples’ arguments are taking place, what both partners actually need is reassurance that their bond is safe.

Most importantly, couples can learn to exit the negative cycle and talk about their concerns, hear each other calmly and work toward a resolution.

In a related blog about communication in relationships, we outline the proven approach that is part of the EFT process. Couples learn to slow down their emotional brains, to listen without reacting so each partner is fully heard and then to calmly discuss their differing viewpoints.

Couples also learn to speak from their “deeper” emotions — those feelings of hurt, sadness, fear of disconnection that lie beneath the anger, frustration and withdrawal that the “surface” emotions that your partner sees.

You can learn more about these two levels of emotions in our post: Emotions in Relationships: Learn to Deeply Understand Each Other

Couples Counseling Stigma: Slowly Eroding As More Couples Seek Help

Marriage counseling fears are common

Marriage counseling fears – it’s a real thing. The dilemma of the couples counseling stigma is all-too familiar to professionals who work with couples. We’ll sometimes hear:

  • We feel like a failure that it’s come to this — that we need help with our marriage.
  • We didn’t know where to go for help — We were embarrassed to tell anyone we were struggling.
  • We put off going for years because we were worried about what it would do to our relationship.

In this post, we’ll discuss the stigma of seeking relationship counseling, marriage counseling fears that keep couples from coming for therapy and what couples can expect when they take the step to come for help.

Why Michelle Obama Shared Her Marriage Counseling Experiences

“That was jaw-dropping news,” one radio commentator said when discussing the former First Lady’s disclosure. That phrase, alone, reveals that the couples counseling stigma still exists. 

However, in interviews, Mrs. Obama has said why she revealed this personal information: “I know too many young couples who struggle and think somehow, there’s something wrong with them. I want them to know that Michelle and Barack Obama — who have a phenomenal marriage and who love each other — we work on our marriage, and we get help with our marriage when we need it.” She wanted to end marriage counseling fears so that the stigma would stop preventing people from getting real help.

She notes that marriage counseling was “a turning point for me” and that “marriage counseling was one of those ways where we learned to talk about our differences.” “I want young people to know that marriage is work. Even the best marriages require work.”

Couples Counseling Stigma: Diminishing, but Still There

The stigma of going to counseling or therapy of any kind has long existed. Unfortunately, keeping the stigma “alive” are some outdated and even false beliefs.

These marriage counseling fears have included:

  • Counseling is associated with mental illness, and having any emotional problems has long been stigmatized in our culture. In fact, however, many people who seek counseling are looking to address very common concerns, including low self-esteem, grief and loss and, of course, help with a relationship. 
  • Seeking counseling has been associated with “weakness.” Some people believe we should be able to independently solve our problems. Americans, in particular, may feel that independence is an important personal strength. Part of the couples counseling stigma is that couples should be able to solve problems themselves.
  • Talking about problems is not a seen as a valid way of coping. Many believe that people should be able to “pull themselves up by their bootstraps” rather than looking to professionals when they need help.
  • Therapy isn’t really “science.” It’s just talking. However, over the past few decades study after study has validated the role of counseling — whether for individuals or couples — as a scientifically based source of help for a range of problems and a valid resource to get through tough times.
  • “Our relationship has been hard for us to talk about ourselves — much less with a stranger.” It feels so vulnerable to open up about such highly personal issues. Professional relationship therapists recognize your marriage counseling fears, and we make every effort to go at your own unique pace.
  • “We have put this off for so long. We’re afraid we’re hopeless.” This is a fear we often hear; however, as mentioned above and discussed below, we use the most-researched and most-successful approach to helping couples regain closeness, trust and joy. 

We Understand You May Delay in Seeking Help 

Myths and misconceptions abound that contribute to the couples counseling stigma. It is well-known that couples often delay seeking help — putting off the decision for years, sometimes decades. 

It’s unfortunate that the misunderstandings about couples or marriage counseling have been so prevalent. You’re not alone, however, if you have felt concerned or intimidated. 

Some of the misconceptions — and the actual facts — include:

  1. “The counselor will take sides.” This common marriage counseling fear  is understandable because we all want to be heard and understood — particularly by a professional whose help we seek. However, in Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy (known as EFT), the focus is on helping both partners understand themselves and each other. 
  2. “We’ll be judged by the therapist.” No one wants to be criticized or felt not accepted by their counselor. In EFT, the role of the therapist is quite different and well-defined. We help couples learn to understand why they argue or have become distant. There’s no place for judging of any type!
  3. “Counseling will take years — and we need help now.” We understand this concern. The EFT model is considered a “brief” therapy model, with many couples gaining a new understanding of their challenges in the first phase of the process. Yes, counseling does require a commitment; however, it is our intention to help you quickly acquire new skills and tools to reduce distress as soon as possible. What you learn in counseling can then be used well beyond after therapy has ended.
  4. “We tried marriage counseling in the past, and it didn’t work.”  But not every counselor is skilled in working with couples. According to a survey by the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy, while 80 percent of therapists in private practice offer couples therapy, few have taken a single class in couples therapy or have completed an internship with someone who has mastered the art. Marriage counseling fears make total sense when you’ve had a bad experience, but it doesn’t have to be the end of the story.

Here at A Peaceful Life Counseling, our therapists are skilled and trained in EFT. The path of learning this model is lengthy and arduous and includes study and supervision by a Certified EFT therapist/supervisor.

“I’m Ready, But My Partner’s Not Willing to Come”

Marriage counseling fears can weigh more heavily on one of you than the other. The greatest gift you can offer your reluctant partner is compassion and honoring his or her trepidation.

Yes, it’s possible to get some benefit if only one partner participates in couples counseling. You can learn about your own contribution to the issues and disconnection in your relationship and perhaps gain insight into your partner’s concerns as well.

However, the best chance of reaching your goals occurs when you both make the journey together.

Also, recognize you may have different marriage counseling fears: It’s easy to dismiss or minimize the importance of your partner’s concerns when you don’t share the same perspective. Accepting their fears as valid for them can be a first step in fully listening to each other and realizing that seeking relationship counseling is a big step for both of you.

Read more about how to address your partner’s reluctance to try couples counseling here. We can also work with you if you absolutely can’t get your partner to try it out.

Perhaps the Biggest of the Marriage Counseling Fears

One of the key focuses — and what distinguishes the EFT model — is on the patterns of interaction between the couple. This often diminishes the biggest fear: “I’ll be blamed and found at fault for our relationship problems.”

We refer to the arguing and disconnection couples are experiencing as a “negative cycle” that has emerged between you. Couples learn that this negative cycle — not each other! — is the source of their misunderstandings and repeated, unresolved arguments.

The negative cycle can have different forms:

  • One partner keeps pressing the other to talk and for answers during an argument. The other partner withdraws, leaves the room or goes silent.
  • Both partners argue and pursue the other to talk things through, often causing an escalation or continuation of the argument.
  • Both partners withdraw, feeling reluctant to engage in a discussion, often fearing he or she will make matters worse if they try to work on the issue.
  • One of the “symptoms” of the negative cycle is the feeling that one or both of you are frequently “walking on eggshells” and afraid to try to reconnect.

In our sessions together, couples learn to recognize their own cycle. Then, importantly, they learn to stop the cycle more quickly. Without blame, they then learn to talk through their differences calmly and repair any misunderstandings and hurt feelings.

The Fear of Being Vulnerable

Being open about personal feelings can be more challenging for some than others. And, to do so with someone you don’t know can seem overwhelming. 

For some, feelings were not openly discussed in their families. Or, expression of feelings and emotions was discouraged. Children may have been chastised, even, when they spoke up about problems or concerns they were experiencing. Parents may have had the best of intentions to help their children be able to weather life’s challenges; however, these early memories can surface when thinking about going to counseling.

Professional relationship counselors are well aware that you may feel fearful about opening up and about revealing your true feelings. We ease into this process gently and respect the brave work you are willing to try.

When You’re Ready to Seek Help for Your Relationship

We recognize that “making the call” might be difficult for you. We make every effort to respond quickly to you and to help you feel as comfortable as possible when you visit with us. Let us know any concerns you may have, as we are always open to your thoughts.

Marriage and couples counseling has evolved greatly in recent years. We have chosen to offer EFT because it is the most research-supported and scientifically based approach. We want to give our couples the greatest opportunity to rekindle their relationship.

We encourage you to read more about Emotionally Focused Therapy with A Peaceful Life!

If you would like to have a complimentary half hour consultation with one of our couples counselors in the Denver Lakewood area, click here.

Speaking Up in Relationships: Essential for Lasting Connection

speaking up in relationships
Speaking Up is Hard to Do


Speaking up in relationships feels extremely challenging for many people and is more common than you might think.

And, there’s usually — when we drill down to the emotional level — one basic element: Fear. In this post, we’re explaining those fears as well as the “root causes” of why speaking up in relationships is more challenging for some than others.

Most importantly, we’ll share how speaking up actually brings you and your partner closer and can greatly enhance your emotional connection. Also helpful is recognizing that speaking up is indeed difficult and that as you work toward being more open with each other, you may also find that expressing your needs becomes easier over time.

Understanding Common Fears

Here’s what we often hear when a partner says he or she is afraid to let their significant other know what they’d like and what they need in the relationship:

  • “I don’t want to upset my partner.”
  • “He or she won’t understand my feelings.”
  • “If I speak up about a sensitive issue, I’m afraid we’ll end up in an argument.”
  • “It won’t make a difference — and then will leave us with unresolved feelings.”
  • “It’s early in our relationship — I fear we’ll break up if I tell my partner what I need.”

When we list these common themes — and, of course, there are many others — it’s easy to see that the basic root of speaking up in relationships is fear.

We emphasize this point because we know from research studies that fear of becoming more distant from our partner is at the core of many couples’ concerns.

“But My Partner Should Know What I Need Without My Needing to Tell Him or Her!”

Indeed, there is a part of us that believes we should not have to express our needs to the person closest to us. He or she should be fully aware.

We can thank Hollywood for this belief, as romantic partners on the screen seem to instinctively know just what their partner wants. These lovers seem to have such a flow together.

However, we ordinary humans can’t always know what our partner needs in every situation. The path to our heart is a moving target, after all. Our needs can change with each passing event.

So, let’s take that deeper dive into understanding how we may fear speaking up in relationships.

What We Learned Growing Up About Speaking Up

In his family, his parents were often uncomfortable talking about emotions and, at times, he was even chastised when he would seek comfort or reassurance from either parent. They wanted him to be independent and confident. So, emotions were seen as weakness for their son.

Her family was complicated. Her father’s frequent alcohol abuse caused arguments between her parents, and her mother was often the main breadwinner, at times working a second job. As a child, she did not want to be the cause of any additional problems between her parents in their fragile marriage. If she needed anything — whether a new pair of sneakers or comfort — she became fearful of making her needs known.

fear of speaking up in relationships

Neither of these youngsters had positive experiences with expressing their needs, afraid of rocking the boat or shame for making needs known.

We know from research that childhood experiences of all types can have profound — and sometimes lasting — influence on adulthood relationships. Fortunately, we also know that we can learn new ways of interacting as adults to have happier, healthier and more loving relationships.

When we bring this to light, please note we are not blaming parents, who had the best of intentions and in no way wanted to limit their kids’ success in life. However, as adults we can increase our awareness of our deeper feelings and work to set our lives (and our relationships) on a different path.

Our Very-Human Desire and Need to Belong

We’ve heard folks bemoan that they are “people pleasers” and that they fear rejection if they speak up. And, we understand that this fear is strongest in your relationship with your spouse or partner.

You may also find it difficult to speak up to others as well. Your fear of expressing your needs and wants may also occur in the workplace, with friends and with family members.

The closer and more important the relationship, the higher the “stakes” of speaking up: We truly may fear we won’t be loved or accepted if we discuss difficult topics with our partner or bring up our needs and wants.

And, here’s why:

When we fall in love, we form a powerful emotional and physical bond with our partner. As humans evolved, we became hard-wired to seek the security and comfort of a special person. People naturally seek relationships with others — parents first, family, and then a close circle of friends. We have this innate desire to be close to others and, as adults, our partner becomes the one we turn to for reassurance and comfort.

It’s common for us to hear, “I only get this upset with my partner when we’re arguing. I’m not so emotional with anyone else.” That is your “bond” talking! Your closest and most important connection began with your parents and then switched to your romantic partner as an adult.

Dire Consequences When We Don’t Speak Up

When we are not speaking up in relationships — particularly with our partner, the results can include:

  • We can build a resentment from a time when we felt disappointed in our partner; these unspoken and unresolved feelings can then last for years.
  • We may later find the negative but unspoken feelings are hard to contain — leading us to outbursts of anger and more frequent arguments. The arguments can cause us to feel less connected and secure — and, remember, we are hard-wired to seek comfort with our partner.
  • Children can be impacted by the arguments and the tension between the two of you.
  • Over time with continued arguments, there is often greater disconnection, which can result in less intimacy, greater feelings of rejection and a fraying of that emotional bond you shared earlier in your relationship.

It may be a challenge to realize that your partner also may be uncomfortable at first with these “deeper” conversations. You both can have an unspoken fear of losing each other and of creating unresolved conflict in your relationship.

Disagreements Are Often Inevitable

No two people are always on the same page. Successful couples, however, learn to manage and handle disagreements in positive ways. They learn to be “curious before furious” about their partner’s beliefs and views related to a situation. They learn to resolve differences rather than let them linger.

And, they learn to avoid two key triggers for bringing about anger: “Always” and “Never.”

When we use either term, couples are headed for escalating arguments, such as, “You always ignore me . . .” “You never remember. . .” 

Both terms are very accusatory and usually untrue: Rarely do we “always” or “never” do or don’t do something. Yet, when we’ve held in our resentments and we’re frustrated with our partner, it certainly can feel valid.

Taking Risks, Being Vulnerable and Making Our Needs Known

Let’s look again at that fear of speaking up in relationships, and what the experts have to say.

Dr. Susan Johnson, the primary creator of Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy, notes in her book for couples, “Hold Me Tight: Seven Conversations for a Lifetime of Love,” “It is one thing to acknowledge and accept your own emotional reality, but another to open it up to your partner. This is a great leap for those of us who have little experience of real safety with others.” 

So, if we did not learn it was acceptable and welcome to speak up as a child or in our previous romantic relationships, it is indeed daunting to begin now.

In “Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy for Dummies,” which was written by two leading experts in the process, the authors help readers understand the fear of speaking up in relationships: “Fear is not built into human beings to be ignored . . .Fear signals that you need to deal with the core of the issue.” They emphasize that successful couples “connect in their fear” by taking a risk of vulnerability to share their feelings.

Dr. Johnson also points out that speaking up is difficult: “If this is too hard to do, take a smaller step and talk about how difficult it is to explicitly formulate and state your needs. Tell your partner if there is some way he or she can help you with this.”

Growing Closer Together

If opening up is so difficult, why should we try? Dr. Johnson addresses this: “Because we long for connection and remaining sad and defended and isolated is a sad and empty way to live.”

When we risk being vulnerable and share our feelings and emotions with our partner, we open the door to receiving the support and caring we crave. Yes, it feels daunting at first; however, the rewards lie in the new closeness and richness that can be achieved.

As we take steps to break the cycle of holding resentments, we can move past old hurts and learn to prevent new issues from lingering and fueling disconnection.

Learn More

We’ve devoted a number of blog articles to couples’ communication: You might also find helpful:

Couples and Chores: Putting an End to the Chore Wars

Couples and chores is a not-unusual source of arguments, hurt feelings and disconnection in relationships.

However, what lies beneath the complaints that your partner is not doing his or her fair share of household chores, are typically much deeper feelings. And, it is these deeper emotions that can fuel the intensity of those arguments.

In this post, we’ll take that journey down to the depths of why couples and chores arguments can be so difficult to resolve, why many agreements couples make may not last and, then, offer suggestions for making peace over getting things done around your busy household.

Chore Wars Abound — And So Do the Consequences

One study showed that 25% of couples who divorced named disagreements about chores as a contributing factor, with infidelity and the relationship drifting apart as the top two reasons.

Other research showed that couples who chose to hire some help with household chores were happier because outsourcing chores gave them more time together.

Still, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that, while men are contributing more help these days with chores, women still spend more time doing household tasks.

Let’s Look at Deeper Reasons for Arguing About Chores

At the core of Emotionally Focused Therapy, the most-successful approach to helping couples, are three guiding principles that keep a couple’s emotional bond secure and strong:

  • Accessibility: Can I reach you when I need you?
  • Responsiveness: Can I rely on you to respond to me emotionally?
  • Engagement: Do I know you will value me and stay close?

Keeping that deeper focus on our core emotions, we can see how these basic needs are at the core of arguments of couples and chores. Consider these common themes of the chore wars:

  • “Don’t you see how much I have to do around here?”
  • “I feel so hurt when you don’t follow through with the chores you’ve committed to do!”
  • “I pull my weight around here, but you grumble every time I remind you of your responsibilities.”
  • “Oh, and why do I have to keep reminding you anyway?”
  • “Why don’t you understand why all the clutter and stuff  lying around bothers me?”

It takes a moment and some thought to make the connections: At the deeper, core level, one partner clearly feels hurt and unimportant when the other partner doesn’t do their fair share or keep a commitment.

And, it is those hurt feelings and deeper emotions that fuel the intensity of the arguments. One partner is protesting the apparent lack of honoring commitments that were made. Too, he or she can feel hurt when requests are seemingly ignored or forgotten.

In summary, the hurt partner is feeling that his or her needs are not understood or respected.

Couples and Chores Arguments: Chicken or the Egg?

Only by probing further, can couples understand the origins of their chore arguments.

We find in our therapy offices, that when couples are feeling distant, emotionally unsupported and the relationship is in distress, the chore arguments often are a symptom — rather than the root cause.

Jane is feeling hurt that John has not initiated intimacy or date nights. When John forgets his chore of taking out the trash, Jane fumes.. She barks at him: “Dang it, you’ve forgotten the trash again!” John only hears the anger, he isn’t aware of the more hidden, deeper pain.

On the other hand, when John and Jane are doing well and are kind and loving together, Jane’s request is entirely different:

“Hey, Hon, the trash is full. Could you take it out for me?” she says in a gentle tone.

He replies, also kindly: “Oops, sorry. I forgot to open the lid and check. I’m on it now!”

Easy, peasy, right?

It’s helpful to discern which came first: Couples and chores arguments — or a fundamental breakdown of closeness and connection.

The degrading of those three principles we listed above is, of course, more challenging to resolve. We’re going to focus here, though, on how to address the misunderstandings that occur about couples and chores and on suggestions to resolve or avoid those pesky chore wars.

The Essential Discussion

Failure to sit down and make some clear, distinct decisions about chores can clearly lead to a greater degree of misunderstandings later.

We also think it’s helpful to accept some basic chore-related principles:

  1. Some chores are less desirable or pleasant than others. Doing yard work in the hot summer months or cleaning bathrooms, for example. Oh, and dog poop clean up . . . .
  2. “Fairness” can change from time to time. When one partner’s workload is heavier it’s more difficult to share chores equally. This imbalance can occur, for example, when one partner is going to school plus working or when one partner’s job includes a great deal of travel. Therefore, one partner may have to pitch in to a greater degree at times.
  3. Agreements are best when they are continually reviewed, discussed and revised.

Creating the Best Chances for Success

Couples and chores agreements can have the best potential when you are both open and honest when making decisions.

Most importantly, if one of you is not okay with an agreement, are you speaking up to your partner? Can you say, for example, “Actually, that doesn’t feel right to me?” When you make an agreement you don’t truly agree with, you can be planting the seeds of a resentment — which can surface later as an argument.

Include in your discussion how you can support each other. Types of support can include taking on a few more tasks when one partner has higher work or childcare demands. The first year of a baby’s life is particularly taxing on both partners, however, often more so for the mom.

Discuss how you will remind each other if someone neglects a chore commitment. Clearly, you want to avoid angry, hostile encounters. If this has been a problem in the past, it can be helpful to discuss and agree how you’ll share your feelings going forward.

And, finally, agree to those regular discussions and to making revisions on the commitments if needed.

Neatness, Tidiness, Degrees of Orderliness

When not more deeply understood, the needs of one partner for greater levels of cleanliness and order can be a minefield for couples and chores arguments.

Getting to the heart of each person’s beliefs and feelings can be a game-changer. Replacing repeated arguments with a greater knowledge of your partner’s emotions related to the level of comfort he or she has with household order has the potential to reduce the discord.

At times, a person who requires greater tidiness, finds comfort in having everything in place. On the other hand, a person may have feelings of shame if the house is not attractive when company drops by.

Someone who grew up in a chaotic home environment may find peace in the stability of having everything in place. To the contrary, someone whose parents were very strict on chores may want relief as an adult from strict demands.

When each partner truly listens to their significant other’s story and accepts their partner’s feelings, it can become much easier to make those agreements about household chores. Too, when we feel heard by our partner, we can feel more secure and loved — as well as getting to the core of chore conflict.

Keep on Reading!

Some of our other blogs may be helpful:

Communication in relationships

Avoiding relationship conflictS