Relationships aren’t easy and the relationship between intimate partners is undoubtedly the most difficult and challenging. We begin our relationships with the notion that the love we have for our partner will conquer all only to discover that it doesn’t and won’t ever.
We tend to focus on infidelity in a relationship as the most hurtful and harmful to a relationship but there are many other things that contaminate a relationship and inhibit couples from having a happy, healthy intimacy. Two of these things are a general disrespect and invalidation of the other person. The lack of respect between two partners can be subtle. Say you are having a “conversation” and you begin to share something and one partner or another waves her hand in the air and says “oh that” . Invalidating? Disrespectful? You betcha. What are the odds of that conversation continuing and of the person who intended to share to be heard? I can’t tell you how many times I have seen that scenario play out in different ways. Here’s another example: She begins to talk about something that happened with one of the children and he says, “You are making such a fuss over nothing…” She gets emotional and he says, “I can’t talk to you when you are like this”. I often pose this question (often to the male partner–sorry guys but you are generally the offenders here), “When will you be able to talk to her… when she isn’t emotional?”
Generally men want to get to the heart of things with less emotion, “give me the facts” and women want be share their feelings and be understood. This is equally confusing for each. The first step towards connection is to recognize your differences. Don’t minimize, dismiss, or invalidate those differences–connect through them. How great is it that there can be more than one way to see and handle things. Because I am different than you does not mean that I am right and you are wrong. I am not too emotional, too concrete, etc. We are just different from one another.
First, take a moment to think about your partner’s relational style –you may think he or she has none – but he does even if it is highly disconnected. How does your partner react when you are emotional, tearful, etc.? How does your partner react when you are angry and loud? How does your partner react when you are distant and withdraw? These are just some examples of what to look at. Now sit down and have a discussion (the hard part) with your partner. Validate each other’s ways of receiving information or reacting to certain situations. Make an agreement to pause when your partner gets sad, angry, or disconnected. Don’t be judgmental just step back and recognize what’s happening. Stay tuned for what comes after recognition.