A Maladaptive Response to Relationship Stress
BY: T. Franklin Murphy | April 2016 (edited January 17, 2022)
When we adapt to struggles by blocking awareness, we deceive ourselves and fracture relationships.
Words are the medium we typically use to convey deeper meanings; a feeling bursting to jump from one heart to another. These feelings can be conveyed in many ways—often we choose words. But words can fail. We may wrestle with emotions, not knowing what we are feeling; we then compound the confusion with words spit in anger, sadness or frustration. The message received often isn’t the meaning intended.
Misunderstandings disrupt harmony. When communication fails, we feel alone in our experience. When a partner says, “I am working late tonight,” but the message received is, “you don’t care about me,” then there is a breakdown between the projector and the receiver. Intimacy requires listening beyond the words—a connection of hearts.
Deceptions and Communication
When we project or receive distorted messages, communication fails, preventing connection. The imprecise words, attempting to convey inner workings of the heart, create a vagueness and often rouses insecurities. When words resonate with feelings, an emotional chord is struck, and we bond.
The foundation for the present is the past. We learn through experience. The troubles and blessings we encounter impact our interpretations of life. We feel sorrow and joys based on these interpretations. In relationships, there is more than one past involved. Intimacy demands understanding a partner’s past—their individual joys, hurts, neglects, rewards, punishments, abandonments, and fears.
We can tame conflict by understanding that emotional responses are given life from different experiences. We respond differently to events and our emotional responses are a significant force behind our words and behaviors. Basing our biased interpretation of a partner’s motives using our history as the measuring device is unfair, ignoring their individual experience of feeling and interpretation.
"The troubles and blessings we encounter impact our interpretations of life."
A connection that honors individuality, where hearts merge, a bond is forged. The communication is successful, and each person feels felt. Every misunderstanding potentially adds and compounds, distancing lovers and isolating their experience. They feel misunderstand and unfelt. The disconnection fails to validate their emotional experience.
When differences arise, and we slap a negative assessment on a partner’s intentions and character, resentments infiltrate connection. The misunderstandings accumulate, transforming the once handsome prince into the enemy (the instigator of negative emotions). Our interpretations impact feelings. As the perceived enemy, our partner naturally elicits negative emotions, further coloring interpretations; eventually even positive behaviors are skeptically examined for covert sinister motives. No relationship can survive these unforgiving views that magnify the bad and distrust the good.
We need connection. We need compassion. Intimate relationships fulfil our need to belong, providing essential resources for human flourishing. The importance of connection is why relationships easily ignite passions of good and evil. When important needs are threatened, we react with strong emotions. When we fear loss, we react with forcefulness.
A common response to this fear is attempts to manipulate. The flowers of love never grow here, by trying to forcefully change a partner, the larger the divide becomes. The forceful attempts to change violate laws of intimacy, disregarding their freedom, limiting their individuality and rejecting their being. We in essence tell them, “I don’t love you as you are, change.”
Mindfully move forward. Look a little deeper! Take time to understand, pushing communications beyond the simple words and connecting at a deeper level, achieving stronger connection and greater security, healing past hurts and building greater futures.
"Trust is the bedrock of social life at all levels, from romance and parenting to national government. Deception always undermines it. Because truth is so essential to the human enterprise, which relies on a shared view of reality, the default assumption most people have is that others are truthful in their communications and dealings."
Mindfulness of Our Own Feelings
To better communicate feelings, we must grasp what we are feeling. When self-knowledge is lacking, our thoughts become distorted, and we fail to see the impact of our behaviors. To improve, we must recognize our emotionally driven reactions that create a wedge when we desire closeness.
Most are not relationship naturals. We possess finite skills—limited and misguided. Like other resources, our energy to connect can be depleted or insufficient. Partners—and ourselves—will act within those limitations. Expecting more than possible will continually disappoint. Because of normal limitations, occasionally we will experience lack; our partners will fail to fulfill all our desires.
Over time, we can improve, gathering more resources, sharpening skills and strengthening bonds. Relationship improvements develop over months, years and decades—not days or weeks. Relationships strengthen from hundreds of small steps during routine interactions, showing we care.
Patterns of interaction aren’t easily dismantled. Words, events, expressions are tightly wound with the same emotions, pushing for the same behaviors. We must constantly appraise those emotions, our responses and outside triggers, stepping back, finding space and considering alternate explanations. By asking clarifying questions, we gain insight, uncovering some of the damaging motives.
We are loved as we learn to love. A deeper understanding of ourselves and our partners begins to unfold the mysterious corners, displaying missed errors, and nasty biases. Intimacy begins here. Through mindfulness, our interpretations become more discerning, accurately interpreting action and identifying a positive response. The malicious labels begin to soften, and we now realistically see behaviors rather than through the lenses of our fears—relics from painful past.
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