When your partner hurts your feelings, how do you respond? The logical answer would be to say, “Ouch!” In other words, to let your partner know that he or she hurt your feelings. Yet this is often not how partners respond to pain.
Instead of saying, “Ouch!” you may appear angry. Pain could also motivate you to try to motivate your partner to change. Or you may choose to swallow your pain and say nothing. Let’s look at each of these.
I’m hurt but I look angry. Expressing pain makes you vulnerable. You question how your pain will be received. Will he or she behave in a caring manner or turn away? You feel less vulnerable when you strike out in anger, plus you feel stronger, more prepared to defend yourself.
The problem is that anger drives your partner away when you really want to draw your partner toward you to address the issue. Anger is a repellant whereas sad expression of hurt challenges your partner to care about your pain.
We need to talk! When your partner is hurtful, you see this as an opportunity to connect emotionally. You’ll fee closer if you can receive empathy. So you immediately try to address the issue and expect your partner to participate in the discussion that will mend your wound and reward you both with a better connection.
When hurts are addressed this way, it often leads to parceling out blame rather than an improved emotional connection. This is particularly true when women pursue men to address their pain. Men typically take this as an attempt to criticize them rather than an effort to improve the relationship. The result is that the man defends himself rather than defending the relationship through empathizing with your pain.
I’ll get over it. It’s not worth it to create tension. When you anticipate that expressing your pain will lead to conflict you may tell yourself that avoiding conflict is more important than addressing your feelings. After all, your feelings won’t be addressed anyway and you’ll have to deal with an argument to boot!
So you place this little pain away in the closet. But then you put one after another away and finally you’ve had enough. Your partner is taken aback by the intensity of your response over such a “small” issue. But it isn’t small to you; it represents many hurts that have been stored away in an effort to avoid tension. Finally, your feelings can no longer be ignored so you express them. However, there is no moderation – your feelings come spilling out and overwhelm your partner.
Couples that maintain a connection over many years learn to recover from hurts. It is inevitable that you will be hurt and you will hurt your partner. The question is whether you will learn to present the pain in a fashion that it can be heard and whether you and your partner will choose to respond in a caring manner to the pain instead of defending yourselves.