How We Rob Our Partner From Growing
Have you ever had an interaction with your partner where you are feeling less than warm and fuzzy, and you know something needs to be addressed, yet you refuse to tell them how you feel about something they did?
Maybe you don’t want to hurt their feelings. Or you are trying to protect them from something. Or you don’t think they can handle it. Or even worse, you don’t think telling them will make a difference.
This approach may seem admirable at the moment. But in reality, this approach denies our partner a prime opportunity for growth, and it denies us the opportunity to grow together. Which, in turn, means you may be hurting them and your relationship more than helping
Here at Evimero Couples, we believe a committed relationship brings endless insights into where and how we can grow personally.
We need to start with vulnerability and intimacy to understand why this is. Think back to the beginning when you first met your partner. Maybe you saw them from across the bar. Or you swiped right on Bumble. Or perhaps you were working together and realized there was something there to pursue. The first time you had the opportunity to talk, you were most likely guarded. You didn’t want to reveal too much because you didn’t know who the other person was.
Over time, you began to open up more of yourself to your partner. You began to share more about your past, your pleasures, and your dreams in life. This is the process of vulnerability.
During winter, where I grew up in Wilkes-Barre, PA, the standing bodies of water would turn into “frozen tundras.” As a kid, we would always go out and play ice hockey or have fun on the ice. The first time we adventured onto the ice, we always tip-toed our way out to see if the ice was sturdy enough to hold us. If we heard the crack, we quickly hurried off the ice.
With vulnerability, we tip-toe onto the ice with our partner. Each step attempts to determine if it is safe or, will the cracking sound warn us that we need to step back.
As relationships progress even further, we begin to find intimacy. We step toward each other to find a safe space to be our true selves. We begin to lower the walls that protect us and trust that our partner will receive us for who we are.
For many of us, this process is natural. For others, it is scary as sh*!. Yet the more we stay engaged in the connection process, and the more our partner shows up to demonstrate it is safe, the more profound vulnerability and intimacy we find.
The challenge – the more profound the vulnerability and intimacy, the greater the opportunity to hurt each other. Sometimes the hurt is entirely accidental. Sometimes it is a reaction to our pain. And sometimes, it is the byproduct of bad habits we developed over the years. Whatever the intent may be, the outcome is the same. When we hurt our partner, there is an opportunity for us to grow.
That is – IF we are both open to the idea that hurt is a path to growth in our relationship. Otherwise…. we see this whole conversation as a threat, and who doesn’t raise their walls of protection when someone feels threatened? Then shame creeps in and tries to tell us something is wrong with us…and game over.
It is critical to set the shame monster aside so we can hear our partner in a way that will allow us to take steps toward growth and healing.
So how do you do this?
If you are the partner that is attempting to communicate the hurt
- Calm yourself down. Reacting to the hurt you feel as a result of your partner’s actions (or inactions) will not accomplish anything. There is nothing wrong with stepping away and gathering your thoughts. If your partner is persistent in asking what is wrong, create a healthy boundary of time and space. If you need to improve boundaries, check out Dr. Cloud’s Boundaries book or online portal.
2. Assume good intentions. When our partner hurts us, it is easy to make them out to be Dr. Evil from Austin Powers. After all, we need something to justify the pain we feel. In reality, making your partner out to be the bad guy doesn’t take away your hurt feelings. Assume good intentions, that your partner didn’t realize what they did, or that he or she was acting out of hurt. If there is a persistent pattern of harm, then it may be time to work with a counselor or therapist.
3. Share the experience using “I language.” I language” is empowering because it presents the situation from your point of view. Some people may try to deny your point of view. We call those people narcissists, and if you are dealing with someone who repeatedly responds this way, we recommend seeing a counselor. For a loving partner, when you use “I language,” you present the situation as you experience it. I felt ___ (need an actual emotion here) when you did ____ (try to be as specific as possible). I often feel this way because of ____. The more you understand why you feel the way you do, the more your partner will empathize with you. It is a powerful exercise.
4. Don’t tell your partner what they need to do; tell them what you need. There is a difference. After you’ve shared your experience, it is easy to jump into the 10-point dissertation on what they need to do to fix it— not advised. Instead, be clear on what you need from your partner. “I need to know that you see how these interactions impact me, given my past.” “I need to know it is safe to share these things with you so we can talk about them.” As you are crafting your needs, be careful not to start with “I need you to…”. Instead, be intentional about what you need and why you need it.
5. Allow them space to process. It is easy to get pissed off if your partner does not have an immediate action plan on how they will change. Yet that is unlikely. If this is the first time, they must reflect on what you said. They need time to consider their actions and their impact on you. That is healthy and highly advisable. At the same time, make sure you set a time to come back to the conversation. Sometimes people say they need to think about it, but instead are avoiding it. Hold firm to a follow-through conversation.
If you are the partner that initiated the hurt
- Pay attention to your initial reaction. If your initial response to your partner is to be defensive or point out what your partner does wrong, you may be feeling shame. Shame tells you there is something wrong with who you are. Therefore, when our partner addresses their hurt with us, it immediately validates you are a terrible person. This feeling causes you to react defensively. If this is the case, The Soul of Shame or I Thought it Was Just Me are great resources to understand shame better. As long as shame is at the core of how you see yourself, embracing the opportunity to grow from the experience will be hard.
2. Listen to hear, not to respond. If you are genuinely going to use this opportunity to grow, you must truly listen to your partner. The old saying, you have two ears and one mouth for a reason. Be present when your partner is sharing their experience, and listen well. Put down the phone. Shut off the T.V. Look them in the eyes. Validate what you are hearing. You may have differing views on what they say. But validating what you heard will go a long way in healing the situation.
3. Lean in. By leaning in, I mean ask questions. Not in a defensive type of way. But to clarify what you hear and your partner’s experience. This approach is beneficial if your partner needs help communicating their experience. You don’t want to overdo the questions, because that can make it more about you. When your partner finishes explaining their experience, clarify the details, ask about the impact it had on them, and ask them to clarify why they have this experience. Guys, little tip here…this is critical to building emotional intimacy, which is what women need. If a woman knows that you hear and see her…this will positively impact every area of your relationship.
4. Be intentional about your follow-through. Once the details are presented and understood, you now have the opportunity to grow. Sometimes the change required is minimal. Other times you may need some help. If it gets to the point where you need outside help, a good counselor or therapist can do wonders. Or join a community of people committed to growth.
If you are looking for a community of couples embracing the opportunities in their relationship to grow and be the best partner possible, join the Evimero Couples Community below. We will update you on the best resources and workshops to guide your journey.
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