3 WAYS TO MAINTAIN YOUR RELATIONSHIP WHEN YOUR SPOUSE HURTS YOU
"Fine. I'll just do it myself." Jane stormed out of the living room and into the kitchen to take care of an overflowing stack of dirty dishes.
Thomas leaned back in his recliner and turned the volume up on the TV. For a moment, he wondered if she was mad at him. In the next moment, he'd forgotten all about it. She's said the same thing before. It'll be fine.
Except this time it wasn't fine. This time was the last time Jane would just do it herself. For the next two days, Thomas received the silent treatment. Despite his pleadings, Jane wouldn't say a word.
Offended at her seeming pre-adolescent behavior, Thomas left on that second night to drink with his friends. Jane took that as a sign that he was clueless about her true anger with him. She stayed up until he returned late that night, then she unmuted herself and let Thomas know exactly why she was upset with him.
For the next two days, Thomas gave her the silent treatment.
Their passive-aggressive, emotionally reactive, relationally destructive cycle continued until the marriage couldn't withstand the pressure of two people both wanting their own way.
This story is only an illustration, but for some marriages it's close enough to the truth to be unsettling. How can a couple prevent their relationship from deteriorating from wedded bliss to just existing alongside their nemesis?
What You Do When You're Hurt
Our brains are wired for survival. As a result, we're born with fight-or-flight responses, and our fight-or-flight responses have a tendency to take control of our emotions. In other words, when you're hurt, your emotions will attempt to protect you by fighting against or retreating from the problem.
Note: if you're in a verbally, mentally, or physically abusive relationship, flight is the correct answer. Seek the counsel of a trusted friend or professional help if you're in such a relationship. For the purposes of this article, I'm speaking to people in marriages who have suffered the slings and arrows of daily living with another flawed human being.
Relationships are ground zero for getting hurt. Consequently, when a loved one hurts you in some way, your initial response may be anger or distance. You will want to fight them or fly from them. But neither response is a healthy response when it comes to seeking and sustaining a healthy marriage relationship.
You cannot fight your spouse and hope for them to remain your spouse for long. Neither can you run from someone you live with 24/7. But all too often, married couples try to combat the problems in their relationships by combatting each other, and it simply doesn't work.
When such couples choose to turn away from the relationship because of the hurt their spouse has inflicted upon them, both spouses experience further distance from one another. An almost endless cycle begins, just like Thomas and Jane found themselves in.
What You Should Do When You're Hurt
I classify relational health on a spectrum of connection, disconnection, and reconnection. Every marriage can categorize itself in one of those three categories, and every marriage can move through those three categories on a daily basis. When the people within the marriage aren't creating disconnection, just the circumstances of life can cause disconnection.
So, the questions become: how do you stay connected with your spouse when your fight-or-flight response kicks in? How can you experience anger and not retaliate through the silent treatment, escapism behavior, or letting your spouse know what you really think about them?
1. Consider NOT responding in the moment
Call a timeout. Take a breather. Go to your separate corners. Don't let the internalized anger that's been silently boiling explode into a mess you'll later regret.
2. Turn toward the relationship
Reorient your perspective to see the problem as external to your marriage. Remember that it's the both of you against whatever that problem might be, even if that problem is specifically the other person's problem. Try to be your spouse's best friend instead of their chief judge. Ask yourself, if this problem were only my problem, how would I want my spouse to treat me?
3. Talk about the problem like mature adults.
When you react to a situation based on your emotions in the moment, it's possible to react more like a kid than an adult. Be strong enough to be open, humble, and honest about how you've been hurt. Talk about your experience. Avoid pointing the finger at your partner. Try to listen to your partner as he or she explains their experience of pain. Even if the conversation is difficult, the fact that you're turning toward the relationship by engaging in such dialogue can do wonders for breaking the cycle of fight-or-flight reactivity.
The next time you get angry at your spouse or want to give them the silent treatment, take a moment to think through your feelings and think through your next step. Pause your words and your reactions. Consider how you can approach the issue with your marriage's health -- and your spouse's well-being -- as your top priority.
For more info on healthy marriages, pick up a copy my book The Stories We Tell Ourselves. Click here to ask questions and/or make comments to Scott.
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Source: Healthy Living Huffington Post