When you are upset with your partner you can have automatic thoughts. Thoughts that you aren’t generating; they come to you spontaneously. These thoughts think you; you don’t generate them, and most of the time these thoughts go unexamined.
Sometimes you can get stuck in the way you think. You are sure that you have the right interpretation of what just happened. You don’t see that it is your interpretation – your perspective.
How do you behave when you are sure that your interpretation is the right interpretation? What if your partner does not see it the way you do? Do you get upset when they disagree with you? Are you sure you have the “right” interpretation?
Look at this list of typical thoughts that distressed couples often have, and ask yourself if any of these are true for you. Consider alternative ways to view what is going on, and to respond in a more empowering manor.
1. Negative Thinking
Are you focusing, filtering, and concentrating on the negative experiences in your relationship? When you are focused on the negative all you get is the negative. Do you see, experience or recall any positive experiences? How come you aren’t concentrating on these?
Recall this last week; does your mind immediately go to the positive things that happened in your relationship or the negative? Can you turn up the recall of the positive things in your relationship? Can you turn down the recall of the negative things? What does thinking about the negative buy you? (You are getting something, a pay off, a gain by focusing on the negative.) What is this payoff? (Hint: “You are better than them.” “You are right and they are wrong.” “You are justified to be mad at them.” “Now you have the right to cheat on them.” “Now you can eat all the chocolate you want.” etc.)
When you are angry and you start your sentences with YOU, your partner will feel that they are being accused. If you use accusatory language, your partner will feel like they are on trial. When you put your partner on trial they will respond by protecting themselves.
They may protect themselves by becoming defensive, shutting down, or going on the offensive and attacking. What ways do you put your partner on trial? When you are angry do you start your sentences with YOU? “YOU did…!” “YOU didn’t…!” “YOU are…!” When you feel angry around something that your partner, did or did not do, what do you really want from your partner? What is a more empowering way to communicate this than accusing?
When you are angry or upset be sure to start your conversations with “I.” “I feel…” “I think…” “I want…” This will give your partner some space to hear you. When you own your feelings and thinking, the other person will be more available to see and hear your point of view.
Practice starting your sentences with “I” when you are upset. “I feel…”, “I think…”, “I want…”.
What do you notice when you do that?
When you believe that all the problems in the relationship are caused by your partner it is easy to get into blaming them. “If he was more attentive, I wouldn’t feel this way”; “She always argues with me; that’s why we can’t get along.”
Blaming your partner will have you feel helpless and trapped. People do not respond well to being blamed for something. Even if they see that they did or did not do the thing they are being blamed for, they will resist and possibly blame back. Communication will break down.
When you feel like blaming check in instead. Ask questions, this opens up communication. You may learn more about why they did or didn’t do that thing. What questions can you ask, when you feel like blaming your partner?
When you are ready to blame your partner look to see if you could possibly have had something to do with their behavior. Did you do or not do something that may have precipitated this action? What questions could you ask that would open up more communication around this? Can you accept that at some point in your relationship your partner is going to do or not do things that will annoy you? What are you going to do when this happens?
Do you do things that annoy your partner? What are the things that you do that your partner finds annoying? What are the things that you do or don’t do that your partner finds annoying? What can you do to eliminate blame from your relationship?
Complaining can become a habit. Do you have a habit of complaining? Often, we complain about things that we feel we are helpless to change. Do you feel helpless about the things that you are complaining about? Are you really helpless? Is there another way to deal with what you are complaining about?
Complaining can become background noise and the person you are complaining to will eventually tune you out. Is your complaining causing your partner to tune you out?
Make a list of your top complaints. Is there a theme? What are some steps that you can take to handle your top complaints? What would be a more empowering way to communicate what you want than to complain about it?
Many times we substitute complaining for taking action and handling what we are complaining about. Where are you complaining and not in action – not handling what you are complaining about? What actions can you take? What actions will you take? Train yourself to look for an action step that you can take when you have a complaint.
Is the person that you are complaining to a person that can do anything about the complaint? If they are not a person that can do anything about the complaint, complaining to them will leave you both feeling powerless. Are you complaining to the wrong person? Is there an action step that you can take to get your complaint handled by the right person?
When you bombard your partner with a history of complaints there is nothing they can do to resolve them. “Last week I waited for two hours for you to call.” “I had to pick up your clothes all week.” “Last Friday you were a half hour late & I had to walk the dog.” This barrage of communication is an attack. No one likes to be attacked. Your partner may start to answer one accusation, and give up by the time you are done complaining. They may get defensive, go on the attack, or they may just quit listening to you.
Do you bombard your partner with complaints? If this is the way you communicate, STOP; take a breath; what is underneath all of this stuff done or not done that you want to communicate? What are you feeling? What do you want from your partner? Tease your complaints apart; write them down separately. Is there a common theme that you want to address?
When you use ultimatums to address boundary issues in your relationship you paint yourself and your partner into a corner. You will have no choice but to either follow through with your ultimatum or acquiesce. Either of these actions may not give you what you ultimately want.
An ultimatum is a final demand or statement of terms the rejection of which will result in retaliation or a breakdown in relations. Is that what you want to be using to set the boundaries in your relationship? It is an awfully big gun to use when you are dealing with issues in your relationship that are not a matter of grave significance.
Notice if you think and communicate in terms of ultimatums. It is much more effective to communicate about what you want or don’t want without having to lay down an ultimatum.
If you have to use ultimatums to get your partners agreement, maybe this is not a good partner for you. At some point they will not “obey” and you will be left either following through with your threat or giving in. If you give in after making an ultimatum and do not follow through with the consequences of your ultimatum, you will be left with no recourse. At some point you will feel the pain of betrayal and the loss of self worth.
Do you lay down ultimatums in your relationship? What are you afraid of? Is there another way that you can communicate your requests? Does your partner honor your requests and boundaries? What do you do when your partner does not honor them? Do you have so many boundaries and rules that you or your partner feel bound up in your relationship? If you do, can you let go of some of them? Which ones would you let go of?
Labeling is when you attribute a negative personality trait to your partner, leading you to believe that they will never change. “He’s a slob!” “She’s passive-aggressive.” As an alternative, rather than label your partner, look for “variability” in their behavior. Sometimes he is neat, and she is up front about what she wants.
Do you have labels for your partner? Do they always show up that way? What is a way that you see your partner that you find problematic? How do you keep your pain present by only seeing your partner that way? What is your pain? What are you truly upset about?
Does your partner have a label for you? Do you always show up that way? What is a way that your partner sees you that they find problematic? How do they keep their pain present by only seeing you that way? What is their pain? What are they truly upset about?
Make it your mission to see how many different ways your partner can show up for you. At least once a week, take note of a behavior or response that you were not expecting from your partner.
This is when you project onto your partner what you think their intentions are. You interpret your partner’s motivations as hostile or selfish from your own interpretations instead of checking it out with them. “You don’t care how I feel!” “You did that just to make me mad!” “You’re never care about me!”
Rather than engaging in mind-reading ask your partner what he or she meant by what they just said or did. Check out what they were feeling. It can be beneficial to give your partner the benefit of the doubt. “He is worried about his job and is distracted,” is a better interpretation than “He doesn’t care about me.”
Give your partner space to have their own interpretations about their behavior. Are you mind reading your partner? Have you asked them what is going on with them? When you ask them, do they have a different interpretation of what just happened than you? Can you see when you project your interpretation onto them?
You are sure that things will always be how they are now. You forecast the future and predict that things will never get better leaving you feeling helpless and hopeless: “He’ll never change!” “She will always treat me this way.” “It is no use; I will always be unhappy in my marriage.”
An alternative to this is to focus on specific things that you can say or do now to have your relationship thrive. Look back at the positive experiences that you have had with your partner to challenge your idea that nothing will improve.
Forecast you future as being positive. Create opportunities to celebrate your good fortune. Count your blessings. Look to other countries and other people less fortunate than you and notice how good life is for you. Make a list of all of the things that you can be grateful for in your life. What future fun things can you plan to do to guarantee a more positive future?
You can also play a game called “Catch Your Partner Being Awesome.” List every positive thing that you notice every day and then acknowledge and thank your partner. You might be surprised about how awesome they really are. Also you will begin to focus on the positive instead of focusing on the negative behaviors. This in itself will have your experience of your relationship be more positive.
9. Catastrophic Thinking
You are very dramatic in thinking every little hiccup in your relationship is cause for alarm. You treat conflict or problems in your relationship as if they indicate that the world has ended or that your relationship is a disaster: “I can’t stand his attitude!” “She is so_____ ; that’s it!” “I can’t do this anymore.”
All couples face problems; some of them can be quite upsetting. Rather than look at an obstacle or a problem as “terrible” and “the end of the relationship,” recognize that it may be difficult for both of you. It can also be an opportunity to learn new skills in communicating. It can be an opportunity to interact in a new way, a way that builds depth and intimacy in your relationship.
Problems can be learning experiences and provide ways to grow. Do you immediately go to catastrophic thinking in your relationship? What do you think, say, or do when you go there? What are some ways that you can short circuit your catastrophic thinking? What can these new ways of thinking provide for you? Provide for your partner?
10. Emotional Projection
When you feel a particular emotion you assume that your partner had you feel that way. Not only did you assign the cause of your emotions to your partner – you then added a projected meaning to your emotion.
If you feel depressed and anxious, you conclude that your emotions indicate that your marriage is a failure or there is something wrong with your relationship. “ I can’t stay in this marriage, because I’m unhappy!” “I don’t feel excited about her; not like I used to – therefore, I am no longer in love.”
Your feelings may go up and down independent of what is going on with you and your partner. Emotions are changeable and don’t always tell you about how good things are or can be in your relationship. When you feel upset, angry, sad, unhappy do you assume it is because of your partner? What do you tell yourself is the cause of your feelings? Can you see that your feelings are independent of what your partner is doing or not doing?
Take charge of the feeling state of your relationship. It’s important to ask yourself, “When do we feel is really great about our relationship?” “What are we doing when we feel good together?” “What do we find fun to do?” Do more of those things.
Talk about your feelings. Forgo projecting them all over your partner, or demanding that your partner fix how you feel. Can you own your feelings? Do you see that you add meaning to what you are feeling? What are the meanings that you add? What other more empowering interpretations and meanings can you assign to these feelings?
11. All-or-Nothing Attitude
You paint what is going on with a broad brush. Everything is either good or bad; right or wrong. You describe your interactions as being all bad without examining the possibility that some experiences with your partner are positive. “You’ll never do that for me!” “You never pay attention to me!” “You’re always negative.”
Whenever you use the words “always” and “never” assume you are wrong. Rarely is someone “always” or “never” a particular way. When we think in “always” and “never” terms we cease to see what is really going on. We have the “always” and “never” filter limiting our experiences. We are on automatic and no longer present.
When you think something is “always” or “never” it is best to test out your distorted and biased thinking by looking at the facts. You are missing something.
“Always” and “Never” were ways that you thought when you were a kid. “Always” and “Never” are very young ways of seeing the world. Work on updating your thinking. Do you think in “always” and “never” terms? Can you see that you may be missing something? What are you missing? What do you feel when you think “always” and “never?” What is another way to feel and think?
12. Taking Your Partner for Granted
You take the other person for granted. You assume that it is the other person’s duty to do things for you. You are busy making lists of things that your partner needs to do for you. Mow the lawn, shop, cook, clean the house – these things need to get done – however when we cease to notice and acknowledge our partner for doing these things resentment can build. Our partner, married or not, does not have to do things for us.
Do you have assumptions about what your partner should do for you? Do you notice what your partner does for you? Make a list of all of the things that your partner does for you. When was the last time you thanked them for that? What happens when you start noticing and thanking your partner for all of the things that they do for you?
When you live in gratitude for the things that your partner does for you – you create more love and kindness in the relationship. Start to notice that your partner is doing things for you out of their generosity of spirit. Stop assuming that they “have to.” Generate a relationship of gratitude. How does it feel to acknowledge them for the things they do for you? What else can you be grateful for?
13. Discounting the Positive
Notice if you discount the positive things that are occurring in your relationship. Also notice if you recognize the positive things in your relationship but disregard them. You think things like, “That’s what a wife or husband should do!” “ Well, so what if he did that? It isn’t enough.” “That’s as good as you are going to do?” “Oh brother I could do a better job than that.”
Learn to recognize and acknowledge all of the positive things that are being done for you. Count every positive. It will build up good will and a feeling of gratitude. Your partner may want to do more for you if not ignored or dismissed. In fact, if you start counting the positives rather than discounting them, you may begin to see how blessed you are. Do you discount positive events in your relationship? Do you trivialize what your partner provides for you? What can you acknowledge your partner for? Begin by seeing at least three things a day that you can thank your partner for. What happens in your relationship when you acknowledge your partner?
If you have a list of “commandments” for your relationship, you are putting undue pressure on your relationship. If you condemn your partner for not living up to your “shoulds,” you may be facing an end to your relationship. If you have a lot of “shoulds” for your relationship, your time together may turn into nagging and badgering.
When you “should” your partner you are acting like an authority figure. There is an unexamined assumption here that your partner needs to do or not do things in order to make you happy. Do you have “shoulds” for your partner? What do you do when they don’t comply? When you make a request of your partner can they decline? (If your partner cannot say “no”, they cannot full say “yes”.) What do you do when your partner says “no”? What do you have their “no” mean?
Do you think your partner should:
- “Always know what I want without my asking.”
- “If my partner doesn’t do what I want him or her to do, I should punish them.” “I shouldn’t ever be unhappy (bored, angry, etc.) with my partner.” “It’s all their fault, so why should I change?”
- “If I don’t get my way, I should complain (pout, withdraw, punish, give up, etc.).” “Our sex life should always be fantastic.”
- “They should give me what I want.”
- “If I’m attracted to other people, it means that I shouldn’t stay in this marriage.” “My partner should accept me just the way I am.”
- “If we’re having problems it means I should end the relationship.”
Are your “shoulds” helping or hurting your relationship? I guarantee that if you have a lot of them, you are pretty unhappy. Rather than talk about the way things “should” be, you might consider how you could make things better. Replace your “shoulds” with actions that solve the issue.
Rather than “We should have a better sex life,” get into action. Set up time to enjoy your partner. Make the suggestions: “Let’s give each other a massage,” or “Let’s watch this romantic video.”
Guaranteed you cannot have fun by “shoulding” on each other. You can create your relationship being more fun by taking action, and communicating in a caring way. What are some of the shoulds that you have for your partner? What are some actions that you can take around where you think your partner should do or not do something? What happens when you stop thinking that your partner should do or not do things for you?
15. Making Everything About You
You know that everything that happens in your relationship is about you. When you attribute your partner’s moods and behavior to something about yourself, it can put a lot of pressure on both of you. Your partner will have a hard time sharing what is going on with them for fear that you will take it personally. Also, when you take everything that is going on in the relationship as your own personal responsibility your partner may stop being responsible.
It can be very irritating and frustrating to have what is going on with you commandeered by your partner. Do you take what is going on with your partner and attribute it to yourself? Can you step back and let your partner feel what they are feeling without it being about you?
Do you blame yourself when your partner acts a certain way? “He’s in a bad mood because of me!” ‘If I was home sooner she wouldn’t be mad.” “If I hadn’t burned dinner, he wouldn’t be yelling.” It’s almost never all about one person; it takes two to tango. The other person is doing what they are doing and it may have nothing to do with you really.
We are complex human beings rarely is it just one thing that has us feel, think or behave a certain way. Often what is going on with your partner is not about you. If you are wondering, get into communication. Do you think that you caused the other person to feel, think or behave a certain way? What did you do or not do that caused this? Have you asked them if this is true? What can you do to separate yourself from thinking that you are responsible for your partner’s feelings, thoughts, and actions?
When you must control how your partner thinks, acts and feels you are in serious trouble. This is a recipe for disaster. First off, you cannot control what another person thinks, how they are going to act, and what they are going to feel. You will get exhausted, and upset because you will not be able to control them.
Imagine holding a hamster. If you close your hand and try to control the animal, the more it will insist on getting away. The tighter you hold on the more the hamster will squirm till it either gets free and flees or you squeeze it to death. By releasing your grip the hamster can generate wanting to be held by you.
If you cannot release your grip on your partner, you will never know if they want to be with you. You will not know who they are. There will be no freedom in your relationship either for you or your partner.
A relationship is more rewarding when you allow your partner to contribute who they are to the relationship instead of demanding that they reflect back to you who you are. Do you control your partner? How do you do that? Are there places that you see where you can let go? What would be available for you in your relationship, if you didn’t have to control your partner? What would be available for them?
We all have expectations for our relationships. You have expectations for your relationship. It is what you do with these expectations that matter in how happy and satisfied you will be in your relationship. When you clearly communicate your expectations to your partner and your partner clearly communicates their expectations to you, it takes away the mystery of what is expected in the relationship.
Many upsets that happen in relationships happen because there has been no clearly defined expectations for the relationship. In order to set up agreements, ground rules, and ways of relating that will have your relationship work both parties need to be up front about their expectations.
If you expect to have children in your relationship and your partner expects to be free to travel the world, your relationship is in jeopardy. It will not matter how much you love each other; you have very different expectations for the relationship. What are the expectations you have for your relationship? Have you communicated your expectations? Do you know what your partner expects? Are there any opposing expectations? What are you going to do about that, if there are?
When you express disapproval and criticize your partner they may react in a number of ways: shut down, criticize back, argue, get mad, get even, go away, etc. No matter how you slice it you will not have a thriving, open, loving relationship. If you are compelled to analyze the faults and wrongness of your partner, you will not see or get the best that they have to offer.
If you find yourself disapproving, criticizing, fault -finding, and nitpicking your partner, it is time to look at yourself. What has you looking at the negative in your partner or your relationship? Can you stop being critical and disapproving? What has you being unhappy and critical? Can you turn that around? Are you disapproving of yourself? Can you focus on the positive aspects of your partner, yourself, and your relationship? How does it feel to change your focus? How does your partner feel when you stop disapproving and being critical of them?
This is when you hold up a standard for your relationship that is unrealistically high. You then measure your relationship by this standard. “Our relationship is not like it was in the first year, so it is not worth it.” When you cannot allow the other person some breathing room to be human the relationship can fall apart. No one likes to be harassed for not being good enough or held to a standard of behavior that is impossible for them to achieve. Do you have expectations of your partner that are unrealistic? How does your partner feel and act when you criticize them? What is it costing your relationship by demanding perfection from your partner?
The problem with perfectionism is that it is bound to make you miserable. You may think that you are holding up your ideals but you are really putting you and your partner down. No relationship is perfect, and no relationship needs to be perfect. Some of the most intimate and profound times in a relationship will be experienced after going through a “not perfect” time in the relationship. Learn to flow with the ups and downs of being in a relationship. Where can you be less attached to an ideal about what your relationship should look like? What would that provide for you? What would that provide for your partner? How does it feel to let go of demanding perfection?
Now that you have looked at some problematic mindsets what can you do to generate a mindset that will have you creating a satisfying and happy relationship?
Focus on the Positive in your relationship. What are the great things that happened today? What can you acknowledge your partner for? How can you show gratitude for your partner?
“Catch Your Partner Being Awesome,” is a great way to experience gratitude in your relationship. Build skill in catching them and acknowledging them for being great. Human beings are hungry for acknowledgement. Mother Teresa has been quoted as saying, “There is more hunger for love and appreciation in this world than for bread.” What can you appreciate your partner for?
Develop skill in acknowledging your partner. Practice, Practice, Practice. The more you focus on the things that you appreciate about your partner the more you will see the things that you appreciate. Make a list of the things that you appreciate about your partner.
Keep a list of positives things about your partner, things that you love, admire, appreciate about them handy. Look at this list when you are upset with them. This list can help remind you to put the “negatives” in perspective. We all do annoying things or have irritating behaviors – it is useful to have compassion for the human condition. Take off your negative glasses and remind yourself of the things that you appreciate about your partner.
When you feel frustrated, thwarted or upset with your partner ask these questions, “Is there a different way to think about this?” “Is there a more empowering way that I can respond?” “What do I love, admire, and appreciate about them?”