Limitations When depleted, patience wears thin and we hurt those who matter most
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Life events drain mental resources. We don’t dance through existence problems bouncing off our thick armor. Our emotional existence interacts with the world expanding and retreating with experience. Emotional events deplete strength and limit left over resources to attend to other demands on our time (and emotions). During struggling moments, when we are zapped of strength, we fail to recognize partners’ bids for attention. We can’t escape the biological limitations of existence—taxed minds are limited. Excited emotional episodes, constant anxiety and strenuous demands draw from our reserves of patience, energy, and self will. The difficult day at work climaxes with a small disruption at home and we snap; instead of caring support, we engage in resentful withdrawal. When the emotional resources are low—the deficit bleeds over into other areas, sometimes creating more demand, more anxiety and exacting more resources.
Limitations don’t excuse unruly behavior. We must take the restraints into consideration, planning before reaching the emotional red zones to prevent uncurbed actions from interfering with important goals. Understanding the impact of resource limitations and the emotional toll of relationship interactions, we extend compassion to stressed partners understanding when they have reached emotional limits. Under pressure and out of energy, we (and partners) act out of character, hurting loved ones, shaking confidence, and provoking anger. Many delicate relationship moments, where trust is built happens when one or both partners are stressed.
The daily demands of living deplete resources—careers, child care, money anxieties. We expend energy on countless fronts. Sometimes we are just done, nothing left. Ideally as we mature, we develop effective coping skills, preserving mental resources for the end of the day. But we never fully achieve ideals. We wear thin at work, return home and snap at those that love and depend on us most. Our shortness sets in motion a chain of events straining the relationship, and bruising tender hearts. Our partners and children react to our tenseness and we react to their reaction.
Resource depletion is not simply one-sided. Everybody operates in a complex world. Partners are human, subject to depletion. Some days, when they are feeling strong, they may cajole the obstinate tired beast out of us, give us the love or space that we need and we feel reinvigorated and loved. Other days, however, having nothing left in their tank, they explode rather than soothe. They have nothing left to put up with our B.S.—tired whiny selfishness. Partners occasionally must digest their own emotionally sapping episodes. Are we there for them soothing their depletion or are we just another demand? These intense moments build or break relationships; the moments where bids for attention and compassion go unnoticed and sometimes ruthlessly scolded. We say without words, “how dare you be tired when I need you!”
An emotionally taxed partner casts bids for support, if there requests go unrecognized and unfilled mental notes are jotted in the mind. These ignored bids accumulate. In deprived states of unmet needs, fears increases and security falters. The lonely panic; their patience wanes, as they dwell on the emptiness, they are forced to face the deserts alone.
Relationships come in many colors, shapes and intensities. Our dramatic assessment of our relationship may be on point, we may not have support from a partner when most in need; but then again, our fears, idealistic expectations and faulty assessments may be destroying an otherwise decent relationship straddled with normal limitations, expecting more than a partner can give. If we expect too much, we feel abandoned, resenting the occasional ignored bids for attention, allowing the normal limitations of our partner to shake our security. Sharing these feelings may be appropriate, bringing to light the unmet needs. This may not solve the problem; limitations still exist and occasionally will resurface during times of need. But caring partners work through these discomforts, together they grow, building trust, and increasing intimacy.
An inner-alarm alerts of possible relationship dangers. Some have alarm triggers that are super sensitive. The slightest deviation activates fear, pushing behaviors of clinging or angry attempts of manipulation. When the gap between personal needs and fulfillment widens, we feel it; and we react. The hurt caused by the lack (or perceived lack) of a partner’s responsiveness stimulates emotions. When these emotions are left unchecked, we deploy protective defenses either internally through thoughts or externally with words and actions. Strong emotions must be reckoned with, they fester, they destroy and they depress. We act out in defensiveness, anger, manipulations and withdrawal; each exacting a toll on the health of the relationship, building walls that separate instead of the bridges that reconcile. Without reconciliation, the relationship deteriorates, resentments accumulate, and new communications become littered with the past hurts.
The broken relationship needs explaining. When something important fails, we need meaning to grasp the event in understandable terms--words. Our minds create explanations to foster learning. But often the meanings we create are one-sided, heaping the blame on the shoulders of our partner. We label them as the “Bad Guy” “Selfish” and “Uncaring.” Once labeled, we see the new experiences against the back drop of these labels. We explain new behaviors, any relationship discord or failures in a manner that supports the negative labels. We assign unknown motives through the negative light of our labels.
"The slightest deviation activates fear, pushing behaviors of clinging or angry attempts of manipulation. When the gap between personal needs and fulfillment widens, we feel it; and we react."
The downward spiral of negative interpretations, hurt feelings and destroyed connections leaves relationships in ashes. Some partners are mean, sometimes we are mean, but often the threesome of unrealistic expectations, overlooking human limitations, and insecurity trample on promising relationships, which if they were nurtured could provide richness and comfort.
Our response to emotions triggered by relationship interactions can tame or exaggerates the problem, magnifying the despair or building hope. Our actions during emotional encounters must be carefully examined and curbed when necessary. Emotionally laden encounters are sensitive. A partner with limited emotional capacity responds defensively to the smallest trigger. A mundane encounter can quickly morph into a hurtful shouting match where everybody loses. The emotions overwhelm and lead down regrettable paths. Strongly worded demands for change over load cognitive demands and meaningful discussion becomes impossible. By recognizing these emotional patterns early, we can plan for them and avoid the nastiness before being completely absorbed into the fight, resorting to name calling, battles over blame, and hurtful disconnections.
Relationships are complex. Our brains continue to evolve to emotionally interact with the complexity but we always will be strapped with limitations. Natural skills are still lacking. We must conscientiously recognize our role in relationship troubles and effectively address personal feelings in non-attacking and compassionate manners.
We don’t instinctively create healthy relationships. When unguarded, behaviors act on selfish motivations, ignoring the limitations of imperfect unions. We build healthy relationship through learning skills of interaction, nourishing realistic expectations, responding to bids for compassionate attention and by accumulating positive shared memories.