Understanding: It’s What’s Missing in Most Relationships

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.

Related articles:
One Big Relationship Mistake (and How to Fix it)
If Only My Partner Would Change, Then Everything Would Be OK
Putting on a “Happy Face” in Your Relationship

© Copyright 2010 by Linda Nusbaum, MA, MFT. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.

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.

  • Leave a Comment
  • XC

    December 7th, 2010 at 8:53 PM

    Sometimes all that it takes to be close and stay connected to your partner is a pep talk and appreciation for small things that they do and we often take for granted.IF both partners practice this then that will be perfect.I am saying this from my own experience.It definitely works :)

  • Steve

    December 8th, 2010 at 5:45 AM

    Couples counseling is hard! It is not a walk in the park. But for me and my wife it was one of the ebst steps that we ever took toward getting to where we wanted and needed to be in our own relationship. We were not having huge issues but things that would start out smal would build and build until finally we were always just looking at each other and wondering what the ehck had just happened. Our counselor taught us and worked with us on how to get past that and how to talk with and listen to one another in a way that made communication so much easier for both of us. This was something that we paid for out of pocket because we did not want to lose what we had and it was definitely money well spent.

  • Roy Huggins, MS

    December 27th, 2010 at 12:34 AM

    I want to second your statement that we are not usually taught how to recognize and express our feelings, especially in relationships. Even those of us with practice at it (read: us therapists) often forget what we know when our feelings are on the line! The intimacy that couples possess as an asset also acts as a liability when conflicts arise. We have an immense ability to wound our partners with the little jabs and passive-aggressive things we do because we care about each other so much.

  • Ilissa Banhazl, MFT

    June 7th, 2012 at 5:26 PM

    Good Therapy always posts excellent articles. You should try and read them! Very helpful topics and easy to understand and use in your own life! Ilissa Banhazl, MFT Glendora

  • Cyndi

    February 9th, 2013 at 5:25 PM

    This is a very interesting article; very intriguing. I will focus to practice the benefits of patience and understanding. Thank you so very much!


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  • kuhu

    June 30th, 2016 at 6:47 AM

    My hubby is very angry person but loves me alot n care too.but the thing is he get angry by very little things and want i alwaz respect his words even if it is not right or true.. but when m not do so he alwz angry with me tht m not understanding him and have a habbit of critism ..as after i will say sry to him just to stop quarrelism but i think this is not a sloution that i have to alwz say sry to him even if m not wrong just to stop quarrelz nd make him happy ..plz suggest

  • Ben

    November 26th, 2017 at 4:34 PM

    I have been wife my wife for almost 30 years. We have a $50 rule for “our money” Over that amount we have to talk to the other person. We also give each other a small allowance each pay. We discuss situations before we get into fights and we tell each WHY we were upset. We are both good at feeling like we have heard the other in our discussions (argument or not) and take the attitude that we both will compromise. Lastly we text each other with a loving message

  • Ruby

    April 10th, 2018 at 10:11 AM

    The article is good. But the problem with my relationship is, he’s the on who don’t want to understand what i need and what i want. Usually, i always try to make things into like what he wanted. try to tolerate with what he wanted. But when it comes to me, he just don’t and won’t.


    October 26th, 2018 at 2:00 PM

    My question is lacking understanding of Father and Mother relationships of spouse,but understanding your own mother relationship how can someone not see the similarities?

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