For over 23 years, I have worked with numerous couples that have difficulty with marital or relational conflict. Many come into my office fighting because they don’t know any other way to express their hurt. Yet, the one behavior that seems to radically change all of their interactions is: empathy for their partner.
This may sound deceptively simple, but for many people it is a struggle. After all, it feels so much safer to go to righteous anger and blame (defensive behaviors) than to be open, loving, and vulnerable when you feel hurt. But anger pushes your partner away, while empathy is inviting and disarming. So, rather than trying to prove your point, put yourself in your significant other’s shoes and say how you feel in a compassionate and caring manner.
Below, I have written a sample letter and guide that I offer to you if you are feeling neglected by your partner, but don’t know how to communicate your feelings without anger. I have written it using “I” statements, the standard couples therapy lingo, where each partner uses “I…” rather than “you…” to express how they feel.
For example, instead of saying, “You are abandoning me,” the sentence “I feel abandoned” may earn you a more loving response, and is less likely to render your partner defensive. I cannot stress enough how helpful it is to talk about your own experience rather than to focus on your partner’s so-called wrong-doing.
Dear [Partner #1]:
Believe it or not, I loathe, hate, and abhor nagging you to connect with me. I don’t like that I crave so much attention, so I have tried really hard to take care of myself when that childish part of me emerges. But I am not always successful. I know I can be over-the- top, needy, attention-seeking, and verbose — all ways to make sure that I am seen and loved by you.
I do understand your need for space, autonomy and down time. And while these are normal, healthy needs, they are sometimes hard for me to accept, especially when you are constantly on your cell phone, iPad, and computer. I feel abandoned.
You know that I was often rejected by my mother, father, and most of my siblings, and I felt like I was always the one pursuing them. I felt like a pesky little fly and a constant annoyance. Those feelings live on in me and get triggered when you won’t connect with me.
Yet, it is humiliating and disempowering to always have to be the pursuer and vulnerable one in this or any relationship. I have spent countless hours exploring the lack of mutuality in all of my relationships and I feel that even though I get a lot from you, this seems like another relationship where I am giving too much, working around what YOU need, and getting neglected in the process. It is not a fault of yours. It doesn’t make you bad. But it is something that I hope you can look at within yourself. I love you dearly and hope you can see this as a request, not a demand. It is very important to me that we are both giving to each other in our relationship.
So please pursue me some of the time. It feels so much better. I hate being the only one who reaches out. I understand that you too have your childhood wounds and use distancing and avoidance to protect yourself. I do that, too. But I think you know you can trust me.
Please feel free to use this letter to express yourself in a nonblaming, nonshaming manner. Soon, you’ll be scratching your head wondering why anger used to feel so good.
© Copyright 2013 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved.
The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.