Have you ever experienced your partner’s wrath?
You know, when they lash out at you and get angry with you for reasons that you cannot explain?
Much of the time, you simply don’t know where your partner is coming from. Everything was perfect until you got married. How can this happen? Have you made a terrible mistake?
In short, No.
This is just another area where we receive very little if any training or education. In school we are taught calculus and linear equations, but no one bothers to tell us how an intimate relationship is supposed to work or what to expect.
This one single fact is a large contributor to our extremely high divorce rate. Read this article from Melody Brooke to get a little insight into what’s really going on when your partner lashes out at you…
A Quick Course in Pre-Marital Education
Did you know that, now, in Texas, when you obtain a marriage license you will be given a premarital education handbook and encouraged to attend a premarital education course? Texas legislation has implemented this as an attempt to intervene with the increasing divorce rate.
The truth is that most of us know more about what’s on TV than we do about how to manage a healthy, intimate relationship. I know I was certainly clueless about it. Which is undoubtedly why I ended up divorced twice. I had no clue what marriage really was and how to go about achieving success in the most important area of my life. I suspect most newlyweds are like I was, naive and full of fantasies with nothing to solidify my dreams.
In order to make sense of what I was experiencing when I married I did what I had learned through nature and nurture: I blamed him. After all, he was the source of my misery. Certainly if he just straightened up and did right my happiness would be achieved. But of course, the reality is that I had no idea what it was I really wanted from him, or how to go about getting it from him. I didn’t understand what I wanted; let alone what it would take to get him to do it! Blaming him was much easier than figuring all that out.
Blame is a survival mechanism. When we can figure out whom or what to blame then we can come up with a strategy to survive. Blame is a brain function. Our old brain, the part of us that drives our survival has simplistic views of our world and of ourselves. It is not complicated by our cognitions. For this part of our brain, something is either good or bad, threatening or safe, there is no in between. By categorizing our partner into the category of our enemy we can easily determine what we should do for our survival. We then strategize on how to overcome our enemy.
Of course, this is not terribly conducive to retaining an intimate connection! So what can we do to overcome this innate programming? How can we turn our enemy back into our lover?
The key is to understand that our old brain is operating on false premises. Our old brain thinks that our partner really is threatening our life, and that we are in real physical danger. Except in the case of physically abusive relationships, this is not true. When we recognize that we have a choice about how we view our partner, we can make different choices.
What I have learned over the past 10 years is that when my partner acts out in anger he is hurting. Wow, what a concept. They are actually in pain or afraid, which is why they lash out. If I had known this one simple thing, I might not have had to get divorced once, let alone twice.
I was so anger phobic that when my partner became angry I went into a defensive position myself and lost complete connection with where my partner was coming from. I couldn’t hear what he had to say or understand his pain.
This is what we do, we move into what I call a Self –Protector role and become defensive, putting up walls between our partner and ourselves. These walls dissolve our sense of connection with our partner. When we lose our sense of connection with our partner we no longer care about the impact of what we say or do on them. Our only concern becomes our own survival (survival of our well being at least) and we no longer experience any empathy or concern for our partner.
When this happens it spells disaster for the marriage.
If, instead, we recognize what our old brain is telling us is not really true, that we are not really in danger and that our partner is not really our enemy, we have a chance to save our marriage.
What we can do is to choose to move ourselves out of the Victim role and see our partner not as our perpetrator, but as another human being who has feelings and is hurting themselves. We offer them empathy for the pain they are in, too.
To do this, we have to risk becoming vulnerable. We let down our protective barriers when we stop and think, “Wow, he’s really hurting.” We allow ourselves to respect that they are doing the best they can to communicate their pain. Then we own our part in what has happened.
This does not mean taking the blame. This means accepting that whatever we did triggered a reaction in our partner that was painful for them, even if that was not our intent. It means saying to our partner, “I’m sorry, I can see that you are upset by what I said (or did). Can you tell me more?” This offers them an opening to tell us about their feelings and to understand more fully how we impacted them.
By doing this simple thing: offering our partner our empathy and respect while owning our part in the conflict, we change the way our brain perceives the situation. It moves us out of our old brain survival mechanism and back into connection with our partner. From this, we can then become partners in solving the mutual problem of the hurt feelings on both sides of the equation. Moving ourselves toward connection instead of away from it in the old brain fashion exponentially increases the odds of achieving marital success.