How to Handle Feeling Wronged By Your Partner
One of the deepest sources of conflict in a relationship occurs when there’s a breach of trust. When we feel hurt or deceived by a partner, many of us experience a sense of betrayal. Feeling blindsided by someone with whom we’d felt secure can trigger a wide range of emotions. In this stirred up state, it can be hard to unpack our own internal experience, much less resolve the issue with the other person.
When we’re navigating the feelings of being wronged by a partner, it’s helpful to do two things:
Explore our own reactions with curiosity and compassion.
Look for adaptive ways to communicate with our partner.
If our goal is to heal and move forward together, there are certain steps to take and certain steps to avoid when seeking resolution.
1. Avoid interrogation.
When a rupture occurs in a relationship, be it a lie, a secret, or an acting out of any sort, it’s natural to want answers. Making sense of the story can be an important part of healing. However, the drive to interrogate, asking the same questions, repeatedly seeking reassurance, or digging for details without reason can be a tool for torturing ourselves and our partner. It also fails to get us closer to the truth or a common understanding of events.
Interrogation techniques have been proven to lead to defensiveness and outright lies. A person who feels pushed to the edge will sometimes say anything just get the torment to stop. When we find ourselves going around in circles, spiraling over an event, and not feeling consoled by any of the information we’re being offered, then we are likely going down the wrong path, one that hurts us just as much as it hurts the other person and does little to repair any part of the relationship.
2. Invite honesty.
A better approach to take is to invite honesty. The best way to do this is by being open and vulnerable about how we feel. When we feel wronged, our instincts may be to explode, blame, and stonewall our partner. While taking the time we need to feel more calm and centered is wise and worthwhile, when we do decide to communicate, our goal should be to be honest, direct, and open about our reactions without trying to tear the other person down.
It’s helpful to avoid statements that tell the other person’s story for them or completely define them, such as, “You did XYZ. You ruined everything. You don’t care about me. You never do this. You always do that. You are selfish, immature, stupid, etc.” Instead, we should focus on conveying our own experience. “I feel really hurt. I don’t feel as trusting of you. I don’t understand why you did this. It pains me when you say XYZ. I felt lonely, sad, anxious after you acted that way.”
Being vulnerable invites our partner to feel for us in our experience and be more open about their own. If we come from a less guarded stance, where we are truthful about how we feel but are not on the attack, we can likely expect a more honest and authentic response from our partner. At this point, we can start to seek out more of an understanding of what occurred. We can ask the questions we need to ask and start to uncover the roots of what hurt us. This shared understanding of each other’s unique experience can lead to a deeper knowing of each other that can help us avoid future ruptures.
3. Recognize your partner’s unique perspective.
Any two people will hold two totally distinct perspectives on an issue. This doesn’t mean one’s actions are always justified. However, those actions may not mean the same thing to the one person that they mean to the other. Think of the famous line “we were on a break” from the show Friends, where one character’s idea of sleeping with someone during a perceived time out in the relationship was another character’s idea of cheating.
Sometimes a person’s actions, particularly those involving deception, can seem cut and dry. However, there are times when it isn’t as clear to one partner why their actions were so hurtful to the other. In these instances, it’s helpful to have patience, listen to the other person’s perspective, and accept that it may be different from our own.
This process is not about erasing or devaluing our own experience. In fact, it’s about just the opposite. Our willingness to be open and vulnerable in expressing what hurt us can create space for our partner to do the same. However, once the other person shares their experience, it’s helpful to consider where their perspective and intentions may differ from our ideas and expectations. The goal is not to see the events that occurred between us in the exact same way but to reach a level of empathy for each other’s distinct experience. We can try to put ourselves in the other person’s shoes and have feeling for them as a separate person. When we do that, we can find much more common ground in how we feel for each other, which also offers a path forward.
4. Explore your own reaction.
When we’ve exhausted an issue with our partner, and nothing will make us feel better, it’s helpful to explore why we feel unresolved or stuck in our pain. Often, these feelings have to do with our past. When our sense of security is threatened, the specific emotions that get ignited can have a lot to do with our personal histories. The same actions from a partner might lead one person to feel embarrassment and shame and another to feel outrage and abandonment. No matter what our partner did or didn’t do, our reactions are worthy of our own independent exploration. They offer us lessons about how we see and treat ourselves as well as what we expect from relationships.
One example of this came from a woman who felt hurt by her husband over his desire to take a job where he’d have to travel a lot over one where he’d be able to stay home. She had trouble shaking the feeling that his interest in the job meant he wanted to get away from her. She’d often feel personally rejected when he’d leave for a trip and even become suspicious of what he’d do while he was away. No matter how much he reassured her that being away from her was actually a major downside of his new job, she had trouble feeling settled.
Eventually, unable to feel reassured by her husband, the woman sought counseling and learned that she had a lot of fears around being abandoned that sourced from early in her life. Her insecurities toward her husband were exacerbated by the old, painful feelings they were triggering in her. Learning about this freed her of much of the anxiety she had about her husband’s travel and gave her more inner security.
5. Think about your ultimate goal.
When trying to resolve a conflict, many couples find themselves going around and around in circles. If one person is always blaming and unwilling to forgive the other, it can leave little hope for returning to an equal and loving way of relating. In these times, it’s helpful to remember that we have 100 percent control over 50 percent of the dynamic. We can always choose how we want to act even when we’ve been hurt. If we decide that we want to stay in the relationship and get back to feeling close to our partner, then we have to keep that goal in mind even at those moments when we really want to punish. It may feel hard to let go of grudges, especially when they’ve triggered something deep in us that resonates with an old, painful feeling from our past. However, if our partner is willing to grow and change, then we can do the same by owning our own actions.
As we move forward together, we must keep doing the inner work of having compassion and curiosity about our internal world. What are the reactions being stirred in us and why? At the same time, we must be open and truthful with our partner. Instead of resorting to old defenses and punitive behaviors, we can keep letting them know how we’re feeling, what we want, and what we need to feel secure. Finally, we can make our actions match our goals by treating our partner with a level of respect and affection that gets us back on track. By taking these steps, we can get through hard times, perhaps, even using them to enhance closeness and know each other better.
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