The 3 Most Dangerous Things to Say in a Relationship

-Harriet Pappenheim, LCSW

Almost every relationship article mentions the Big C: Communication. But what if your words are doing more harm than good?

Language is a powerful force, and what you say to your partner on impulse could be doing a great deal of damage. Here are the top three most dangerous phrases to let slip from your lips.

1. “You Always… You Never…”

The classic communication killer. Nothing is more guaranteed to aggravate your partner than to hear this kind of sweeping generalization. The problem with “You always…” “You never…” is that it’s so easy to let slip in the heat of the moment, and what your partner hears is, “You’re useless. You always disappoint me.” Even if it’s over something as trivial as doing the dishes.

You may be frustrated, and simply wanting to make a point, but what the other person hears is an attack on his or her very character. That hurts. Lines of communication clamp shut with a vengeance. Your partner will automatically become defensive and is unlikely to really hear another word you utter.

Hyperbolic criticism like this only serves to push your loved one away and won’t get you any closer to having your needs met.

What to say instead:

“I feel ‘x’ when you do/don’t do ‘x’… How can we sort this out?”

“I really appreciate it when you do ‘x’.”

As you see, starting with “I” rather than “You” is often a good start! Beginning with “I” turns your words from a blanket accusation into an invitation to talk, and to come to a resolution.

2. “I don’t care.”

This is a no-brainer. Your relationship is based on caring, so why sabotage it with this thoughtless phrase? To say “I don’t care” in any context — I don’t care what we have for dinner, I don’t care that the kids are fighting, I don’t care where we go later — automatically implies a lack of emotional investment in the other person, and in your shared life.

The most important predictor of a long-lasting relationship, according to John Gottman, is quite simply whether or not couples regularly perform simple acts of kindness, such as showing interest when the what each other has to say. If your partner makes a bid for your attention and you react with “I don’t care” (either spoken or implied) — it’s going to inflict damage.

What to say instead:

Pretty much anything, as long as it conveys interest and involvement in whatever your partner wants to share with you!

3. “Never mind… it doesn’t matter.”

Of course, there will be times when you genuinely mean this. But too often we use these words in a dismissive sense, eg. “Never mind, I’ll just do it myself,” or “No point talking about it!”

Both phrases in this sense imply that you are rejecting your partner’s input, deliberately shutting her or him out. It can also be passive aggressive — trying to make an implied point about your partner’s behavior, or attitude, rather than having a frank and upfront conversation.

What to say instead:

“I would really love to get your input on ‘x’…”

“I’m in a tight spot here, please can you help me out?”

Don’t forget to say “thank you!” Such a small thing, but those two words make all the difference. Unsurprisingly, couples who thank each other regularly feel more supported and appreciated, helping them to get through periods of tension when they do arise.

No doubt, we all have times when our partners frustrate and annoy us. Expressing that frustration might just seem like speaking your mind, or being honest. But often, it’s just not constructive.

Ask yourself, “Is this a real issue or just a passing annoyance?” If the answer is the former, try to use neutral, constructive language that focuses on actions rather than character, and avoids placing blame.

That doesn’t mean you should watch every word you say, all the time. But more sensitivity around hurtful phrases goes a long way. And making the effort to reinforce your love with positive phrases — “Thank you,” “I love you” — is worth it a hundredfold.

My Toxic Relationship Recovery Resolutions

-Sharie Stines, PhD

Are you are in a toxic relationship and find yourself repeating the same old negative patterns over and over again? Do you find yourself feeling like you’re walking on eggshells when your toxic person is in your space? Or when thinking about this particular person do you find yourself feeling knots in your stomach. or tension in your neck?

If you can look at your toxic person as the drug you are addicted to, then the way to heal is to practice a program of recovery from the toxicity of this relationship.

The first step in breaking an addiction is to realize you are addicted, and the second step is abstention. With regards to your toxic relationship, learn to abstain in one of two ways:

(1) Abstain from the relationship completely (no contact); and/or

(2) Abstain from emotional entanglements that are unhealthy.

Following is a list of suggestions for great self-development resolutions.

  • I resolve to respect myself.
  • I resolve to trust my intuition.
  • I will no longer participate in “no win” conversations.
  • I will no longer participate in impossible situations.
  • If I feel bad around someone I will remove myself.
  • I will no longer make every decision a crisis.
  • I will live one day at a time.
  • I will learn to “reframe” negative experiences.  For example, if my toxic loved one chooses to give me the silent treatment, rather than feeling hurt, I will learn to enjoy the peace it brings me.
  • I will learn how to manage my emotions, rather than have them control me.
  • I will take my power back.
  • I resolve to believe in myself.
  • If I feel emotionally unstable, I will not call or reach out to my toxic loved one for support. Instead, I will call someone safe.
  • I will have compassion for myself.
  • I will honor and pay attention to my feelings.

To make your resolutions even simpler, just pick one and commit to focusing on it until it becomes a well-ingrained habit.  Just making one simple change, changes everything.  After you’ve mastered one of your resolutions, move on to incorporate another one; and so on.

27 Signs of Superficial Relationships

-Mike Bundrant

Warning: This post is one person’s opinion about the signs of superficial relationships: An opinion piece made up by the author. It’s not clinical, scientific, or based on research. It’s opinion, informed only by experience.

There is nothing wrong with superficial relationships. Not every connection in life can be deep and emotionally engaging. Superficial relationships have their place.

Some relationships are superficial for practical purposes. You don’t spend enough time together – and don’t have the goal of going deeper.

Other superficial relationships leave you wanting something more because you have an expectation of something deeper and are not being satisfied. This is where it gets interesting.

Are you in superficial relationships that you wish were more substantive?

You’ll need to be the judge of that. This post mentions 27 signs of superficial relationships that might help to understand.

But first, why does it matter?

Well, if you’re genuinely wondering whether or not your relationship is superficial, and especially if you’re willing to read up on the topic, chances are that you are not a superficial person.

Being a deeper person, however, doesn’t protect you from superficial relationships. It takes two to tango. Your relationship might be as shallow and superficial as a relationship can get if both of you aren’t engaged at a deeper level.

A deeper person in superficial relationships may not be very happy. Of course, being “deep” doesn’t mean you are a healthy person. Yet, communicating with people who understand you on a deeper level is probably more fulfilling in general.

So, if you’re a deeper person in a superficial relationship…

You need to adjust your expectations if your partner is not capable of – or interested in – going deeper with you. Some people don’t want to go deep with you. Some people lack the ability to go deep with you. Others are capable of going deep, just not in the way you go deep – in your specific area of interest.

If you’re lucky, the person you’re with wants to go deeper with you and can do just that, in the area of interest that suits you. If this is the case, you don’t need to hang out in a superficial relationship.

Here are the promised 27 signs of superficial relationships:

  1. You don’t know what the other person wants out of life or is really interest in.
  2. You don’t understand how your life-values compare.
  3. You don’t know where you’re compatible vs. incompatible as people.
  4. You can’t or don’t put yourself in the other person’s shoes.
  5. You don’t communicate feelings.
  6. There are lots of controlling/control issues in the relationship.
  7. You don’t think about what the other person needs from you.
  8. You don’t know what you need from the other person.
  9. You argue on a regular basis about trivial things.
  10. Your relationship centers around having fun (or just one thing).
  11. You gossip behind each other’s back.
  12. You don’t spend much time together.
  13. You’re not invested in each other’s goals or behavior.
  14. You fantasize about being with someone else, regularly.
  15. You lie to each other.
  16. You can’t disagree respectfully.
  17. You’ve never had a discussion about boundaries.
  18. Your sex is mechanical.
  19. Your sex is one-sided.
  20. Your sex life isn’t happening.
  21. You don’t talk about sex.
  22. You don’t know each other’s personal history.
  23. You avoid eye contact.
  24. You don’t touch each other.
  25. You don’t think about the other person when he or she is absent.
  26. You can’t connect about your life dreams.
  27. There is a lot of manipulation in the relationship.

As I mentioned, this is a non-scientific list. If one or more of the above is going on in your relationship, that does not automatically mean it’s superficial. However, in deep and deeply respectful relationships where both parties are recognized and independent and emotional beings, the items on this list would be less common, in my opinion. And, yes, I may have left out many commonly accepted signs of superficial relationships.

Remember, superficial relationships are not bad or wrong. And deeper relationships develop in stages, often years in the making.

Can a Simple Psychological Trick Help You Fall Out of Love?

-Caithlin Pena

Yes, it’s possible.

After a devastating breakup, it’s normal to still feel in love with your ex — you wouldn’t have been with them if you didn’t. And it takes a lot of time to get over that and move on with someone new.

Founder of Relationship Psychology, John Alex Clark, shared some techniques in order to help the broken-hearted fall out of love with that someone. Yes, it’s possible to learn how to fall out of love with someone using a psychology concept called classical conditioning.

“Getting over a breakup can be a lot like quitting smoking,” writes Clark. “When a person chooses to give up a habit like smoking, the initial few days is always the hardest to overcome. Fortunately, it gets easier with time, patience, and practice.”

To start off, after a breakup, there is always something that will remind you of your ex. It can be a place, food, or even a certain time. The ex was a part of your life, so it’s normal to have these things remind you of them.

In order to fall out of love, Clark says that you must destroy these associations.

“People usually make mental bonds between two experiences, associating one with the other,” he says. “Certain situations or places can trigger an emotional response based on past incidents.”

In short, you must disassociate these places, food, or times from the memory of your ex. For example, if you and your ex always visited this one restaurant, going to that restaurant post-breakup is now painful because you see them everywhere. Instead of avoiding the restaurant like the plague, you could think about the good food and the friendly atmosphere.

“For each positive experience you connect to that once-painful place, the suffering declines,” explains Clark. “Your new, pleasant memories take its place and slowly you no longer make those identifications with your ex.”

Continue with this exercise each time and soon enough, the painful feeling associated with the place will decline, replaced instead with the positive feelings.

Clark is also aware that this classical conditioning technique will not be easy for everyone, nor will it have the same positive results on everyone. So, you must embrace the pain of the heartbreak, but eventually, try to move on by disassociating these things from your ex.

“The more you brood over your suffering, the deeper you push it into your subconscious, making it harder to uproot when you’re finally ready to move on,” he says.

So embrace the pain and allow yourself to feel sad for now. But eventually, you have to start moving on again. Before you know it, the love you felt for your ex will be but a distant memory.

Sharing Good News Boosts Health and Happiness

-Janice Wood

A new study finds that supportive, responsive partners provide a buffer to loneliness and sleep deficits among military couples.

Better sleep, communication, and emotional support are key to better overall health and to being successful in the workplace, according to the research, which was presented at the 2017 Society for Personality and Social Psychology Annual Convention.

“This study adds to a larger body of literature that supports how important it is to share with your partner when good things happen, as well as to respond positively to the sharing of good news,” said  Sarah Arpin, a social psychologist at Gonzaga University.

For the study, Arpin and her colleagues examined the sharing of good news, loneliness, intimacy, and sleep in 162 post-9/11 military couples.

“Very few studies have examined daily relationship processes among military couples, who may be particularly vulnerable to relationship difficulties post-deployment,” she noted,

In relationship research, sharing good news is referred to as capitalization. Capitalization is a particularly important support process in close relationships, the researcher explained.

“When you share something good, and the recipient of (the) information is actively happy for you, it heightens the positive experience for both parties,” she said. “However, when someone ‘rains on your parade,’ that can have negative consequences.”

Researchers required couples to be living together for at least six months to participate in the study. About 20 percent of the couples were unmarried. The length of time couples were together varied widely, though the average length of relationship was 12 years.

This study is part of a larger research project, the Study for Employment Retention of Veterans (SERVe) that is working to enhance retention of veterans in the workplace, with the goal of improving workplace culture and general well-being of service members.

The Four Horsemen

-The Gottman Institute

Today on The Gottman Relationship Blog, we would like to continue The Four Horsemen series by providing you with a strong foundation of understanding before we go into further depth about each specific communication style. Consider today’s posting an overview of what is to come over the next four weeks.

The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse is a metaphor depicting the end of times in the New Testament. They describe conquest, war, hunger, and death respectively. Dr. Gottman uses this metaphor to describe communication styles that can predict the end of a relationship.

The first horseman of the apocalypse is criticism. Criticizing your partner is different than offering a critique or voicing a complaint! The latter two are about specific issues, whereas the former is an ad hominem attack: it is an attack on your partner at the core. In effect, you are dismantling his or her whole being when you criticize.

  • Complaint: “I was scared when you were running late and didn’t call me. I thought we had agreed that we would do that for each other.”
  • Criticism: “You never think about how your behavior is affecting other people. I don’t believe you are that forgetful, you’re just selfish! You never think of others! You never think of me!”

If you find that you are your partner are critical of each other, don’t assume your relationship is doomed to fail. The problem with criticism is that, when it becomes pervasive, it paves the way for the other, far deadlier horsemen. It makes the victim feel assaulted, rejected, and hurt, and often causes the perpetrator and victim to fall into an escalating pattern where the first horseman reappears with greater and greater frequency and intensity.

The second horseman is contempt. When we communicate in this state, we are truly mean – treating others with disrespect, mocking them with sarcasm, ridicule, name-calling, mimicking, and/or body language such as eye-rolling. The target of contempt is made to feel despised and worthless.

“You’re ‘tired?’ Cry me a river. I’ve been with the kids all day, running around like mad to keep this house going and all you do when you come home from work is flop down on that sofa like a child and play those idiotic computer games. I don’t have time to deal with another kid – try to be more pathetic…” 

In his research, Dr. Gottman found that couples that are contemptuous of each other are more likely to suffer from infectious illness (colds, the flu, etc.) than others, as their immune systems weaken! Contempt is fueled by long-simmering negative thoughts about the partner – which come to a head in the perpetrator attacking the accused from a position of relative superiority. Contempt is the single greatest predictor of divorce according to Dr. Gottman’s work. It must be eliminated!

The third horseman is defensiveness. We’ve all been defensive. This horseman is nearly omnipresent when relationships are on the rocks. When we feel accused unjustly, we fish for excuses so that our partner will back off. Unfortunately, this strategy is almost never successful. Our excuses just tell our partner that we don’t take them seriously, trying to get them to buy something that they don’t believe, that we are blowing them off.

  • She: “Did you call Betty and Ralph to let them know that we’re not coming tonight as you promised this morning?”
  • He: “I was just too darn busy today. As a matter of fact you know just how busy my schedule was. Why didn’t you just do it?”

He not only responds defensively, but turns the table and makes it her fault. A non-defensive response would have been:

“Oops, I forgot. I should have asked you this morning to do it because I knew my day would be packed. Let me call them right now.” 

Although it is perfectly understandable for the male to defend himself in the example given above, this approach doesn’t have the desired effect. The attacking spouse does not back down or apologize. This is because defensiveness is really a way of blaming your partner.

The fourth horseman is stonewalling. Stonewalling occurs when the listener withdraws from the interaction. In other words, stonewalling is when one person shuts down and closes himself/herself off from the other. It is a lack of responsiveness to your partner and the interaction between the two of you.  Rather than confronting the issues (which tend to accumulate!) with our partner, we make evasive maneuvers such as tuning out, turning away, acting busy, or engaging in obsessive behaviors. It takes time for the negativity created by the first three horsemen to become overwhelming enough that stonewalling becomes an understandable “out,” but when it does, it frequently becomes a habit.

Being able to identify The Four Horsemen in your conflict discussions is a necessary first step to eliminating them, but this knowledge is not enough. To drive away destructive communication patterns, you must replace them with healthy, productive ones. This Friday, we will introduce you to the antidotes!

Tip: Practice, practice, practice! Pay close attention the next time you find yourself engaged in a difficult conversation with your partner, a friend, or even with your children. See if you can spot any of The Four Horsemen, and try to observe their effects on the people involved.

7 Red Flags to Watch Out for in a New Relationship

-Kurt Smith, Psy.D., LMFT, LPCC, AFC

You’re dating someone new and everything seems to be going pretty well. That is until you spot something a little off in his (or her) behavior. When you’re first getting to know someone, you don’t want to analyze and judge every single thing he does or way he acts, but you also want to evaluate what kind of person he is and if he could be a good fit for you.

When we really like someone, we often want to overlook certain behaviors and chock it up to him or her having a bad day or our reading the situation wrong. But before you get too invested in someone, it’s important to know what her personality is really like. Here are seven red flags to watch out for in a new relationship.

1. Your friends don’t like him

True friends have your best interest in mind. If they don’t like the new guy you’re dating, they probably see something in him that you don’t. Sometimes the excitement of a new relationship blinds us to someone’s true qualities. If you’re not getting a good report from your friends, step back and take a closer look at your beau to try to better see what they see.

2. She talks about herself a lot

People who constantly talk about themselves are usually self-absorbed and a bit narcissistic. If she doesn’t ask you questions about your day, your family, etc., then she likely doesn’t truly care. Staying in a one-sided relationship with someone who is completely self-centered isn’t healthy and will ultimately leave you unfulfilled.

3. You find him checking out other women

Your guy should be into you. If you find him scanning the restaurant or club, looking at other women, then he might be looking for his next fling. It’s disrespectful to check out other women, especially when he is on a date with you. If he respects you, he won’t be doing this.

4. She talks down to you or others

No one wants to feel belittled or talked down to. If your new romantic interest criticizes you, diminishes your feelings, or insults you in any way, then she isn’t a good catch. The same thing goes with how she treats others. If she treats you like a god, but you see her discounting others, the time will likely come when she discounts you, too.

5. Small things set him off

Some men tend to have tempers when they become angry and this isn’t always a cause for concern. But if little things make him furious, or minor details cause him to erupt, then he could have anger issues. If little things make him mad, how will he react when larger problems come your way?

6. She is controlling

Whether she tells you to stop hanging out with your guy friends or she always dictates when and where the dates will be, she has to have the final say in your life. Sometimes this can come out in small ways, such as her asking, “Oh, you’re wearing that?” Stay with this girl and she will eventually want to control every aspect of your life. It is probably wise to get far away from this one.

7. You’ve experienced any sort of violence

If he has grabbed you forcefully even once, get out. Violent men are dangerous men and need professional help. A common mistake is to stay and tell yourself you will be the one to help him. Violence is never acceptable. Run the other way if he is acting aggressive toward you or anyone else.

New relationships should be drama-free for the most part. Early on, it’s all about the excitement of getting to know each other, first kisses, and having fun together. If you just started dating someone and are questioning his or her maturity, character, or sincerity, trust your gut, value yourself, and consider if the relationship is really worth continuing.

When Is It Okay To Cut Off A Relative?

-Cherilynn Veland, LSCW, MSW

When Is It Okay To Cut Off A Relative?

After the holidays, we therapists  are besieged with family drama stories. Family members fight, bad things happen, after too much champagne — talk about conflict and drama. Some of this is normal. However, when family members are repeatedly mean, nasty, and/or hurtful; it is time to have a serious think about whether it is appropriate or healthy to have contact with these family members.

What?! Cut people off? What kind of a counselor suggests that?

Well, normally I don’t. I think that even extreme family dysfunction can usually be worked around with healthy boundaries, support, and a reframed attitude. However, there are exceptions. Obvious exceptions include: abuse, extreme addictive behaviors, sexual inappropriateness, and physical abuse. Other exceptions include toxic, mean and abusive language or behaviors towards others. These can be unworkable and harmful.

I have a friend, Tanya, whose uncle used to scapegoat her at family events. Uncle Meanie would yell at her, make angry accusations, and cause fights. He would talk politics and, one time, Uncle Meanie cut her out of family get-togethers for years because she voted for the “wrong” presidential candidate. Another time, he invited her for Thanksgiving but then charged $21 a person for admittance. I kid you not.

This past Thanksgiving, he yelled at her, “Shut up and maybe you could learn a thing or two!” She felt humiliated. When she asked him if he would ever talk like that to her husband, he calmly stated that he wouldn’t have. It was neat that she thought to ask that, and, that he told the truth in response. (Interestingly, heterosexual women are much more likely to be attacked by narcissistic men, BTW).

So what did Tanya do?

  1. She reevaluated the importance and health of having him in her life.
  2. She realized that her holidays and her mental health would be better not setting herself up for abuse.
  3. She recognized that she had choices in this situation.
  4. She decided that forgiveness would be right for her, but that continuing to tolerate abuse wasn’t OK.

Tanya decided to cut him off. No more family dinners with Uncle Meanie. No more Thanksgivings or Christmas meals. No more events together, sitting at his table with his wife and kids. Tanya realized that she might miss out, but she figured that she could find friends to be with, or other family members who valued her, cared for her, and treated her with kindness and respect. Now, doesn’t that sound more appealing than being yelled at and humiliated?

Cutting someone off isn’t ideal, but some people refuse to make changes, no matter the cost. While a big loss, it is enough for Tanya to know that she doesn’t have to carry the burden and the hurt of his angry impulses anymore. No more punching bag for Uncle Meanie … (it’s still hard). Tanya’s mom is upset and wants Tanya to continue tolerating this abuse. Not fair.

Cutting off a parent would be a much more complicated decision. However, some parents are so toxic and cruel that this can be a life-saving decision. If you are thinking of doing this with your parent, consider counseling with a professional for clarity beforehand. This book by Dr. Susan Forward could be a useful resource: Toxic Parents: Overcoming the Hurtful Legacy and Reclaiming Your Life.

I have a very good friend who had to do this with her parents and her whole family. She still has hard days, but she doesn’t regret it at all. She has a supportive network of friends and is a member of a 12-step group that helps her manage. Garnering support is always smart.

7 Ways To Support Your Partner After A MAJOR Loss

-Tom Burns

It can be hard to know what to say…

It can be heartbreaking watching someone you love suffer through a tragic loss.

The loss can take many forms — a death in the family, the passing of a beloved pet, a career setback, a miscarriage — but the aftermath is fairly universal. Your loved one grieves. Sometimes they grieve HARD.

And, as their partner, it’s not always intuitive to know what you should be doing in that situation, particularly if the person you love seems to be spiraling down deeper into their despair.

You can offer condolences, but what’s your role supposed to be in the grieving process?

Are you supposed to be their cheerleader? Are you supposed to be their drill sergeant?

Should you actually be trying to do ANYTHING during their grieving or do you need to just sit back and let it happen?

But sitting back isn’t always an option, especially if your loved one is having problems with coping with the grief on their own. And, OF COURSE, you want to be doing something constructive. This is someone you love. You want to help.

If your partner is struggling to cope with a major loss, here are 7 ways you can support them as they cycle through the stages of grief (and remind them that they’re loved in the process).

1. Commiserate

Tenor.co

This can be a surprisingly difficult thing to do. When your partner starts talking about all of the negative emotions they’re feeling, your instinct will be to jump in and say “Hey, everything is actually GREAT!” But that doesn’t solve anything and it can make your partner feel like you’re not validating what they’re going through.

But there’s a simple solution. Two easy words that make everything better — “That sucks.”

When your partner is grieving, sometimes, they just need you to acknowledge their pain and loss. So you just nod and say “That sucks,” and, at the least, they’ll know that you’re hearing them.

2. Recognize that you can’t fix everything.

WeHeartIt

This goes hand-in-hand with #1. Commiserating is important, but it’s also important that you don’t try to project plan your partner to death.

If they’re overcome by pain, it’s not always constructive to say “We can fix this. We can make this better. This is what we can do.”

They just have to live through the bad parts — there’s not normally an easy solution to grief.

While your intentions are admirable, just remember that not everything can be fixed. Occasionally, you just have to endure the bad stuff until the hurt goes away.

3. Hold their hand.

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It’s a simple act, but it can mean so much. Just sit with your partner. Touch them. Hold them. Put their hand in yours.

Let them know that you’re there for them without ever saying a word. Because sometimes they don’t need to hear words.

They just need to feel the warm body of someone who loves them sitting by their side.

4. Run interference for them.

Star2.com

Does your girlfriend’s mom stress her out? When her mom calls, tell her that her daughter is already asleep and you chat with her on the phone for an hour.

Does your husband freak out when the front yard is covered with leaves? Rake the leaves before he gets home.

Basically, if your partner is struggling with loss, make it your job to reduce the stress in their lives anyway you can.

You know the things that stress them out. Throw yourself in front of those stress bullets and take a few for the person you love.

5. Ask if they want to talk about it.

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And, if they say “No,” listen to them.

Check in from time-to-time to see if they feel like talking, but, if they don’t, you should NOT press the issue.

Offer yourself as a sounding board if they need it and, if they don’t need or want it, don’t get offended. It’s about them, not you.

6. Pick up the slack.

PopCult.com

Your partner needs space to grieve and, when they’re suffering, every minor little everyday detail can feel like an intrusion, like something massively unimportant that’s trying to draw focus away from the pain (and, which, in turn, just makes the pain more painful).

If possible, do whatever you can to reduce the number of things they have to worry about in a day.

Do the laundry, make dinners more often than you normally would, troubleshoot minor household inconveniences without them.

Don’t make a show of it. You’re not looking for a pat on the back for being the best boyfriend/girlfriend ever. You’re trying to make them hurt less. So keep your extra effort on the downlow and give your partner more bandwidth to deal with their pain.

7. Love them.

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Duh, right? But it means a lot. It means everything.

Just find quiet moments to reaffirm to your partner that you really, truly love them.

It can make a huge difference.

Show them that you love them (and tell them too) and maybe they’ll remember that the world isn’t all pain and misery, which is pretty much the best thing you can do for them in that situation.

The 7 Best Tips for Handling Anger and Resentment in Relationships

-Dr. Alicia H. Clark

Too much fighting in your relationship? Empathy is the antidote to anger!

“Love is not a contract between two narcissists. It’s more than that. It’s a construction that compels the participants to go beyond narcissism. In order that love lasts one has to reinvent oneself.” – French Philosopher Alain Badiou

Resentment and anger in relationships often stem from utter dismay at how your spouse could have possibly done what they did. You just can’t understand it — you never would have done such a thing.

Affection Is Key to Keeping Love Alive

Here are a few scenarios as examples:

  • For months on end, he was supposed to close a business bank account that was charging enormous fees and that he wasn’t even using anymore. There was always some excuse, and meanwhile, hundreds of dollars were going to waste.
  • You’ve asked her countless times to please only play radio stations with upbeat music in the morning. But morning after morning, she keeps putting on the classical music station, which you’ve told her makes you feel like you should go back to sleep. How can she always seemingly forget your request?
  • You both thought the other one had agreed to do dishes on Tuesday evenings. It’s almost midnight and neither one of you did them, and you are both silently resenting the other one. You don’t want to go to bed angry, but this is just the camel’s back from all of the other times your spouse didn’t do the dishes when they said they would.

The above situations are representative of the mundane resentments in life that lead to overriding marital problems when not handled with effective communication. Left unchecked over time, resentment will lead to anger in relationships, which takes enormous emotional resources to undo. Better to deal with resentment than let it spiral out of control.

So what is the solution to dealing with resentment against your spouse and its possible escalation to anger? The solution is to channel the shock at your spouse’s behavior into empathy, to try and understand them, and to come at the situation trying to see their perspective. It’s trite to say, but that’s because it is advice which is perennial. If it were easy, no one would need to talk about it much.

How can we feel empathy, and how can we act empathic, to the partners we resent? Here are 7 top tips:

1. Use “I statement” feeling terms, but don’t use “you.”
Here is one example about how to phrase dissatisfaction over another spouse’s actions: “I feel resentful that the business account is still open. I want to understand if I can help you in any way to close the account, because I will feel really relieved and relaxed when it’s closed.”

2. Count to ten before speaking.
This will help you choose your words more carefully and not say something you will regret.

3. Implement the I-Thou.
“Catch” the other’s feelings, trying to feel them yourself. Surprisingly, this makes the experience of those feelings actually diminish. This is powerful because it is really the only way a person can impact another’s experience with feelings of anger in relationships.

4. Practice active listening.
Repeat back what you heard in order to confirm you understood, and affirm your partner’s feelings.

5. Connect physically.
For one, hug, and do have sex. For many women, this may involve a bit of fake it ’til you make it, if the situation is in the process of being resolved but isn’t there yet. For most men, sex actually serves to alleviate resentment because it’s a form of connection in its own right.

Even though you both might not be in the same emotional place during the resolution process, connecting physically can help. In fact, some marriage counselors suggest that if the marriage is on a downswing, have sex at least once a day. The scheduled connection might put things in a different light and aid in resolving resentment.

6. Meet on a bridge.
This can be metaphorical and also realistic. In order to channel resentment into empathy, the “understanding bridge” will need to be gapped. Integrate the idea that “we both have to be on this bridge together.” We really can’t see what our partner is feeling until we get out on the bridge. The more steps you take, the more you can see the middle “hump” of this bridge, where you both come together in understanding the other. In order to actualize this place of mutual understanding, one idea is to literally go to a bridge nearby.

Pack a blanket and a light picnic snack, go to the bridge, and talk things out. The relaxing setting and fresh air can lend itself to openness, as well as taking things less seriously. The bridge has the advantage of serving as a successful means to reconnect.

7. Engage in daily empathy actions.
Empathy is not necessarily the default feeling and needs some retraining to become par for the course. Routine empathy can be actualized by checking in with our partners about how they are feeling, looking them in the eye, and regularly giving the benefit of the doubt. Once empathy becomes intrinsic behavior, resentment often becomes a thing of the past.

Are There Limits to Unconditional Love?

Empathy, it turns out, is the antidote to anger in relationships. As such, feelings of empathy also fuel natural anxiety reduction. Not only will you hopefully come to an understanding with your life partner, you will both feel calmer.

Making empathy a regular part of your relationship will have an impact not only on getting along better, but ultimately feeling more connected and less stressed, because it facilitates you getting out of your own head, and into your partner’s. Empathy, as such, fosters unity, transforming narcissistic into conjoined, and dismay into understanding. Empathy forges the reinvention of self that, as Alain Badiou points out, is necessary for long-lasting love.