Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Emotional Infidelity

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What is emotional infidelity. What most likely comes to mind is the broken trust that forms when your partner shares emotional intimacy with someone of the opposite sex. It is perhaps fair to say that most affairs begin not by crossing sexual boundaries but by crossing emotional boundaries.

But another form of emotional infidelity is more common. This takes the form of not sharing your emotional self with your partner. Achieving intimacy with your partner requires sharing your views, feelings and desires. Closeness is compromised when you withhold this information in order to avoid tension.

“If I let you know how I really feel, then you’ll feel bad, so it’s better to not say anything.”

“If we can be rational, then we can avoid silly disagreements.”

“Differences are dangerous to our relationship, let’s ignore our differences so we can have a nice day.”

Each of these statements reflect the belief that confronting differences is likely to be harmful and that it is better to withhold one’s opinion than create tension. At times this is true (“Do I look fat in this dress?” for example:) but in general it is more harmful to withhold yourself from your partner. Here are some reasons:

  • Holding in resentments is like storing up firecrackers in your closet. When you set off enough of them, you have an exploding bomb!
  • Differences expressed can deepen your connection while simply blending on the surface creates a shallow relationship.
  • To feel deeply loved you must feel your partner knows the real you.
  • If you hide your views, feelings or desires you will not be able to negotiate for your share in the relationship, which will ultimately lead you to be dissatisfied.

Remember that sharing your views, feelings and desires does not mean being aggressive in expressing yourself. Also, you must be willing to take steps to understand your partner just as you wish to be understood. If each of you makes this effort the reward will be a deeper, more resilient bond.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Listen to Me

Couple

People often ask what I see as the biggest frustration for couples. They tend to think in terms of particular issues – is it money, sex or career issues?

The answer is that couples most often express frustration with not being heard, regardless of the issue being discussed. Women openly complain about this, while men feel equally misunderstood but are less likely to verbalize this except when they are angry. Women see their partner as falling short when communication breaks down, whereas men are susceptible to feeling they are falling short when their wife does not understand.

I find that women often react aggressively when their partner fails to be understanding, whereas men tend to withdraw, feeling helpless and lost in dealing with their partner.  Women have had the experience of being understood by their female friends and family, while men have much less experience trying to be understood. After all, young girls begin sharing their experiences with each other during their preteen years, while boys’ attention is on competing with each other (think sports) rather than relating to each other.

The most effective way for you to get your partner to be understanding is to offer understanding. Instead of pressing your point or raising your voice (volume is never the problem), try going into active listening mode. Ask yourself, “What is my partner’s view, feeling and/or desire?

A good challenge is to restate what your partner is saying in your own words before you try to make your point. A typical pattern that leads to arguments is to focus on your comeback before you let your partner know you understand his or her statement.

I often encourage couples to do the following exercise: 

One partner makes a statement which he/she feels to be true about the relationship. The other partner then is to make statements such as "Do you mean...?" to indicate whether he or she has understood. The objective is to receive three "yeses" before you reverse roles. Make this as fun and playful as possible. Avoid being aggressive.

Take turns practicing this active listening exercise then apply it when tension arises to increase understanding when it is most important.