As a marriage and couples counselor, I often see couples struggle with the following marital/relationship problem:
Too often, couples fail to address the important underlying issues that feed surface conflicts. So couples repeat the same arguments over and over again without any real resolution.
Relationship Help Truism: Unfinished emotional business that never gets resolved has a way of resurfacing, over and over again.
A Brief Example: Meet Olivia and Javier
Olivia continues to feel upset about Javier “spending all your free time with your friends.” She finally confronted him several weeks ago and they argued for over two hours with neither feeling heard or understood.
Her undercurrent of hurt feelings has existed for over six months, re-emerging from time to time in the form of curt, insensitive comments to Javier.
Javier has felt angry and confused by what he calls Olivia’s “bad attitude.” Rather than asking Olivia about what is troubling her, Javier often reacts with anger and counterattacks. Each then ups the ante to name-calling until doors slam and they give each other the silent treatment for days.
After some time passes, they make up and temporarily forget what their arguments were really about (i.e., Olivia feeling neglected because Javier chooses to spend most of his free time with his friends).
Are you making this mistake in your marriage/relationship?
Many couples often make this mistake: They fail to resolve the real, underlying cause of their conflicts. Resentments (associated with the unfinished emotional business) build and cause arguments that are peripheral and like brush-fire.
Neither partner realizes these conflicts are connected with the deeper issue. After these brush-fire conflicts are extinguished, couples—relieved that the surface conflict is over—proceed like everything is fine…until the next argument rears its ugly head.
Relationship Help Self-Assessment
Lingering feelings are a good indicator that your mind is tapping you on the shoulder and telling you that it’s time to address a particular issue with your partner. Negative feelings act as a messenger, informing you that something isn’t working in your marriage/relationship (just like positive feelings indicate your relationship is working well).
There are several reasons why you might feel resistant about addressing a particular upsetting issue with your partner:
1. You hope your feelings evaporate with the passage of time because you’d like to avoid having a difficult conversation with your spouse/partner.
2. Perhaps you’re not sure how to discuss what’s been bothering you with your love. (See my Couples Communication workbook for a detailed description on how to effectively communicate with your partner).
3. You are uncertain about what is causing your lingering feelings.
Keeping a daily emotional journal can help you untangle confusing feelings and bring clarity to your desires and emotional needs. Focus on describing your feelings in detail and when they seem to intensify or weaken. Don’t censor what you write—free your self as you connect to your inner experiences.
Also note and describe your bodily reactions—mentally scan your body from head to toe and begin describing any physical sensations (e.g., tightness, heaviness, lightness, etc.) The more you write about your reactions, the clearer they will become and over time you will start to decipher the reasons behind your reactions.
Take the time and effort to adequately address your unfinished emotional business today and your marriage/relationship will be stronger for it tomorrow.
I’d like to share a resource with you today:
The Premarital Counseling Workbook for Couples by Lisa Brookes Kift, MFT.
I highly recommend this informative workbook to anyone who is engaged, recently married or new to a relationship. The Premarital Counseling Workbook gives you a wide range of relationship tools and insights to build and maintain a healthy marriage/relationship.
Visit Lisa’s website for more information about this invaluable premarital resource.
Thank you for this time together!
Dr. Rich Nicastro