Couples get together because they believe in the idea of happiness. Couples stay together because they still believe they can achieve it. People in relationships pretty much want the same things: love, security, trust.
As a couples counselor, I believe there is a way to create a great relationship, but there’s no way to build one unless you fully understand your deeper feelings and those of your partner. You might be saying to yourself, “Of course I understand my wife. She won’t let me forget what I need to know about her.” You may think this is understanding, but I call it avoiding something you are tired of hearing. Understanding is something very different.
The reason partners complain to each other is because they are not getting their needs met. What are these needs? They vary with each person. One partner may feel disconnected from her mate and may want to feel like she matters to him. If her partner knew this he would probably be willing to say something to help her feel better. It might sound something like, “Honey I am happy to be with you.” It doesn’t take much to fill what’s needed as long as you know what’s needed. That is understanding. Unfortunately, when people are unhappy it usually comes out sounding like, “Hey, you didn’t pick up the dinner plates. Why don’t you ever take out the trash?” These criticisms may give us a clue about the feelings underneath. She may feel ignored and become sad and then angry, and all those feelings come out in complaints about the dinner plates or the garbage.
Most of us aren’t taught to examine the feelings inside us–the ones that make us get cross with our mates. Instead we just take the sadness and the disappointment and turn it into a criticism hoping that at least we can get something in return. But the return action is often worse. No one likes to be criticized, and no one responds well to judgment. It hurts. What we get in many relationships is hurt feelings on top of hurt feelings. One person says something cross, the other replies and takes it up a notch. Both people feel cheated and misunderstood. This could even become a pattern that couples end up living with. “It’s not that bad” they might rationalize, but it isn’t that good either.
Some couples learn how to resolve hurt feelings with an apology. It might go something like this, “I’m sorry I was harsh and said that to you,” This works in getting the couple back on even footing, until the next bit of misunderstanding, but most couples don’t really know how to talk about what they want from their partner so they end up feeling frustrated.
It might be helpful to learn what is going on inside the person before the attack begins. This is where the need for understanding plays a role. If she knew that she needed to feel important and valued by her mate, she might be able to ask for it. That could sound like this, “Honey, sometimes I feel like I’m alone in this relationship and it doesn’t even matter what I do. I know that isn’t the case, but right now could you please let me know that I am important to you?”
I know this is not how people talk in real life, but I assure you it feels amazing to ask for what you need and have your partner give it to you. It requires feeling secure enough to be vulnerable, and that’s a place some couples have a hard time getting to. That’s where counseling really helps.
If couples could learn what their partner needs, wants, or desires in that moment, they would probably be happy to give it to him or her. People in relationships want to see their partners happy. Couples who want a good relationship do not want to see their mates suffer. The hard part, and what I spend the most time concentrating on in counseling, is teaching people to understand themselves and each other so they can feel happy. When couples nail this, everything else is easy to figure out.
In summary, if you are in a relationship and you feel stressed and misunderstood, I encourage you to take your first step toward understanding. Try to become aware of your partner. What does he want, need, or desire? When you learn this, you will be well on your way to a better relationship; one with love, security, and ,above all, understanding.
© Copyright 2010 by Linda Nusbaum, MA, MFT, therapist in Long Beach, California. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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