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How relationships go sour

What provokes us?

Have you noticed how apprently little things provoke big arguments?

So often, it’s because we don’t respond to what we actually see or hear.

Instead, we react to what we think about what we see. We put an interpretation on our partner’s behaviour. We tell ourselves a story about it. And then we treat that story as real. We’re convinced it’s real. We can’t think about it in any other way. And what happens then? Habit #1 rears its head.

Habit #1: Blame

We are upset. We take it out on the person we hold responsible for our upset. And then we fall back on our horrible habits, the first of which is blame. We spit out things like:

  • It’s your fault
  • If you’d done what you said you’d do, we wouldn’t be in this mess now
  • You make me feel angry… or upset…. Or fed up…. Or whatever other unpleasant emotion sweeps over us

Habit #2: Criticism

Or maybe we put on our critical hat. And with our words and our tone of voice, we send the message that our partner is:

  • useless
  • inconsiderate
  • thoughtless.

All this and more might be conveyed in just one exasperated comment like ‘Oh for heaven’s sake’

Does this sound familiar?

Habit # 3: Contempt

The REALLY big one – the one that puts the relationship most at risk – is contempt.

It might come across as disgust, disrespect, making sarcastic comments or condescending remarks.

Perhaps it shows on your face – in a sneer.

Whatever form it takes, it presents a threat to your partner and undermines the need for emotional safety and security that we all have. Ultimately, it can compromise your health.

Habit # 4: Stonewalling

The fourth horrible habit is of a different nature.

It’s stonewalling –  making no response at all. Retreating behind a newspaper or walking out of the room.

Whilst it may not carry the bite and sting of the other habits, it can be just as devastating.

It’s sometimes the strategy of people (most often, men) who are in such a turmoil of emotion that they freeze. They don’t know what to do or say.  So to protect themselves they shut out the person trying to reach them.

The problem is – as you’ve most probably found out – that the shutting out sends the message ‘I’m not available to you’ and this gets interpreted as ‘don’t care’ – which makes matters worse.

And the result is defensiveness, justification, argument and tit for tat.

Is that really what you want? I don’t think so.

The effect of these habits

The temperature rises. The relationship suffers. And the seeds of separateness are sown.

You might want to tell me that your version of these horrible habits just slips out in the heat of the moment. You can’t help it.

And I will say yes – I know it’s hard to change ingrained habits.

And no – that is no excuse for not trying – because they can be corrosive and start the slide into separateness.

What can you do about it?

  1. Listen – to yourself. Listen first to how you react when you’re hurt or upset. What do you lash out with?
  2. Secondly, listen to your thinking.

If you are telling yourself that everything would be OK if only your partner would change, I invite you to re-consider.

Any relationship is an interaction between two people – and it takes the two of you to create a fight.