When we want to be understood the most by our partner, we often behave in ways that make it hard for us to be understood.
It is not our hurt that makes relationships hard. It is how we defend ourselves when we are hurt that leads to conflict and discord in relationships.
Angus and I had one such incident recently where I felt hurt when he said something I perceived as insensitive. I reacted to what he said, but not from my hurt. I responded with anger. I communicated with the energy of criticism and judgment.
Angus had not been thinking clearly and hadn’t realized he had said something insensitive. When I reacted to it, his conditioning kicked in and instead of being able to hear my concern, he responded to the judgment expressed and defended himself.
Instead of hearing how I felt, he did the exact opposite and defended himself.
This kind of conflict has been a challenge in our relationship. It has become much less frequent, and we bounce back more quickly now than we used to, but we can still find ourselves in this death spiral even after 28 years of marriage.
We aren’t perfect!
But as humans, we learn experientially. Relationships are a learn-by-doing experience.
And in this latest experience, we were eventually able to hear each other even though we got off to a bad start. I explained that I felt hurt that Angus didn’t remember a conversation we had had and an agreement that was made as part of that conversation. I was also able to recognize that just because I felt hurt, I didn’t think Angus was a bad person. His forgetting did feel insensitive but it wasn't on purpose. He couldn’t help it. Angus explained how hurt he felt by my judgment, criticism, and lack of understanding that he forgot. He also shared how he generalized my upset beyond the experience and felt like I was labeling him as bad and wrong.
When we were both able to communicate our hurt, we could hear each other. We were no longer caught up in our ego’s defense mechanisms and trying to be right. Instead, we could share tenderly about the upset and hear each other out.
That was all that was needed. If we had been more conscious, we would have been able to save a few hours by starting there. But we made headway nonetheless, and the next time one of us is experiencing pain, we will be better able to communicate our experience from vulnerability rather than defensiveness because of what we have seen now.
Can you relate?
Do you find yourself jumping into your defenses when you are hurt and communicating from anger rather than expressing your suffering?
Are you aware that there is hurt underneath the anger?
Even when our partner can’t hold space for our suffering, what matters most is that we can be with our pain and meet ourselves with love and compassion.
I needed to feel my hurt so I could then explain to Angus what was going on for me.
When I slowed down and took the time to notice my experience, it was right there, but in the urgency of my reactivity, all l felt was my outrage. I didn’t think to check in with myself. It was habitual for me to lash out rather than check-in and open my heart to myself. My lashing out was my misguided attempt to try and get my needs met, but all it got me was more suffering.
Now I am hoping I will feel safer to feel my experience rather than jumping into my defenses. There is nothing for me to do other that feel and allow the innate intelligence within me to guide my healing and stabilizing. Surrendering to the love in my own heart is what is needed most in those moments.
Rohini Ross is co-founder of “The Rewilders.” Listen to her podcast, with her partner Angus Ross, Rewilding Love. They believe too many good relationships fall apart because couples give up thinking their relationship problems can’t be solved. In the first season of the Rewilding Love Podcast, Rohini and Angus help a couple on the brink of divorce due to conflict. Angus and Rohini also co-facilitate private couple's intensive retreat programs that rewild relationships back to their natural state of love. Rohini is also the author of the ebook Marriage, and she and Angus are co-founders of The 29-Day Rewilding Experience and The Rewilders Community. You can follow Rohini on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. To learn more about her work and subscribe to her blog visit: TheRewilders.org.