By Kristy Gaisford
It happens every day in my therapy office.
Someone says, “It hurt my feelings when you…”
The partner replies, immediately defensive, “Are you serious? That’s not what happened. I didn’t do that. Don’t you see how much good I do around here? You’re never satisfied.”
The partner tries again, “I’m not saying anything about those things. I’m grateful for those things. However, it hurt my feelings when…”
The partner replies, “I can’t believe you’re saying this. You’re so sensitive. I can never please you. Don’t you know how much I do for you? How much I provide for you? Why can’t you be happy?”
The partner tries a third time, “I am grateful for all of that. I’m simply talking about the other night when you said…..it really hurt my feelings.”
The partner, puffing up even further responds, “That is not what happened. You don’t even remember what happened. You were the one that was (fill in the blank), If you were (more like me) there wouldn’t be a problem here.”
The partner sinks into despair. She doesn’t understand why she’s not allowed to have feelings. Why her feelings are so scary and threatening to her partner. Why does he feel that he has to defend himself so passionately? To prove her wrong?
I’ve been caught in these same exhausting cycles. I am not immune to them. However, from where I sit in the therapist chair, across from the conflict, it is painfully obvious how much energy is wasted when we insist on being right and defending ourselves. Why is it so hard to say to our partner, “I’m so sorry that I hurt your feelings. I didn’t realize that my comment had hurt you. I love you and I don’t want to make you feel that way.”
Wow. It looks so easy. It sounds so easy. Conflict over. Repair made. And yet, we all know how hard it can be in practice.
I believe it’s the lack of this skill that makes people susceptible to emotional affairs. Someone at work can listen with great empathy because they have no skin in the game. They have no ego getting in the way, because the complaint is not personal. “Your partner did that? That must have really hurt you. Are you okay?”
If we want to inoculate our relationships from the threat of emotional affairs, we have to be able to comfort our partners, to take ownership of hurtful things we do (we all do them on occasion, no need to defend ourselves so profusely), and to pay attention to our partner’s feelings. We must learn to hold a loving space for them, with curiosity. (So that’s their experience huh? Interesting. No wonder they felt hurt if that’s the way they were looking at it). It feels hard, but in reality, it takes so much less energy than endless fighting.
Go on, try it. Let me know how it goes.