A relationship is one of the most, if not the most important aspect of our lives. At the beginning comes a wave of extremely positive emotions that make us feel like we are floating on clouds, and as we start to simmer down and deepen the relationship, we face both positive and negative emotions. Fights, frustration, misunderstanding and anger are probably as important as feelings like joy, contentment, empathy and love. The negatives pave the way for more positives, and help our relationship grow stronger and more meaningful over time. Of course, it takes courage from both sides to fight the challenges that come your way, and this type of courage is important to sustain any relationship. But there is also another type of courage, one that will require you to fight your inner demons to stay in love with your partner.
Initially, love flows towards each other naturally. The first few months and years are spent with someone to help them nurture and grow, and most of it consists of positive intentions and love. As commitment deepens, we start to
realize that our partner has become the biggest part of our life. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but this also means that they have a significant impact on every aspect of our lives. The greatest impact they hold is arguable over our emotions. This can be both good and bad, depending on how we look at it, but all too often, it really starts to get under our skin. Thoughts like “He makes me so angry, he drives me crazy when he does that even after I told him not to!”, or “Why does she have to act up for the smallest of things? Everyone forgets once in a while. Life isn’t all about her, and she needs to realize that” can form cracks in the foundation of a relationship. They lead to emotional reactions that do more harm, until both parties feel like there is no relationship to salvage.
Reaction breeds reaction, which goes on to an emotional escalation. The escalations
might also have superficial reasons attached to them, like becoming extremely angry over a brown bag that has fallen outside the trashcan. These emotional reactions come from built up negative emotions like resentment and shame. Our partner has the power to make us feel vulnerable, powerless, small, abandoned and suffocated, which leads us feel threatened. We feel like we need to have more control over what we should feel, only to realize the immense impact our partner has on us, which leads to anger because we feel like they should be doing more to support us and listen to us, and then come to the conclusion that we should have more power over our emotions. We feel hurt and pained every time, and blame our partner for all of it. This becomes an extremely vicious cycle.
Pausing To React
It takes courage for us to pause when we feel the need to react, and think about what we are feeling at that moment. Negative emotions can be powerful
enough for our brain to trigger a danger signal. After all, avoiding any form of pain is an element of survival, and our brain knows no difference between physical pain and mental pain. We feel extremely anxious about the sudden surge of defensiveness or hurt, and we want to retaliate to protect ourselves from the rising anxiety, while also trying to make our partners understand that we are hurt. Emotional reaction achieves neither goal. We only push our partners away further, and later give rise to more uncomfortable emotions like shame.
One of the major factors that affect our emotional reactions is past baggage. It is integral for us to understand what issues drive us to be the way we are, both positively and negatively. For example, if your parents were strict and constantly criticized you in your youth, you might be driven to work hard to achieve success to make sure you won’t be criticized again, but there are also negative consequences in all domains of
your life. In the relationship domain, any constructive criticism that your partner offers is seen as an attack, and you become extremely defensive. It causes an out of proportion reaction that leads to your partner feeling like they’re attacked too, and keeps both of you unhappy without resolving any issues. It requires courage on your part to stop, and think deeply about what part of your partner’s behavior causing you to feel emotionally threatened.
The next time you feel anxious and feel like reacting, stop yourself in the moment, and let yourself whatever emotion is trying to come through. This can be difficult because it is overriding our natural instinct to escape pain, but once you begin to understand yourself, the emotions don’t become so painful anymore. When you feel extreme anger, you could actually be feeling unworthy or unimportant because your partner wasn’t able to fulfill it. Other examples of emotions that could also lead to anger is feeling abandoned, hurt, humiliated, alone, and frightened. It
takes all your strength to bring yourself to feel the pain that comes from these roots, but recognizing them is half the battle won. As we start to monitor and understand our feelings and reactions, it becomes easier and less painful. Take the courage today to feel pain and understand it, and this will eventually lessen its impact on your relationship. Once both you and your partner are able to support and help each other through this process, your relationship will blossom with more love than you might have known.