What do I do when I hate my partner who I really love?
I recently received an email from a good friend asking me this question. How do you deal with your feelings when you are enraged at your partner? What do you do when you are triggered, hurt, feeling betrayed, and most of all when you are sure that you are ‘right’ about what the other person did to you? This really is the greatest challenge of long term partnership.
Part of what makes it so difficult is that when triggered often enough, most of us do not WANT to act in loving ways or move towards connection or reconciliation. No matter how much work you may have done on yourself, no matter how evolved, enlightened and conscious, most people, when plugged in by those that we love the most, have very unenlightened and irrational responses and feelings as our first responses.
Some of what we think we want in that moment includes being right, making our point, and dumping our anger onto the other. Or maybe we think that we want to hurt the other in the same manner that we believe that they have hurt us. If you fight often enough, you might truly believe that you are no longer in love with your partner. Anger, feelings of betrayal, and upset can blind us, and leave us feeling like the love is truly gone. It can feel impossible to get it back, and worse, it might feel like you don’t even WANT to get it back.
Most of us have few role models for how to deal with conflict. In our ‘throw away’ generation, when things get really really hard in a relationship, (which for most people in long term relationships happens at some point) we think that the only solution is to leave.
What do you do? How do you deal with it when you are out of your mind crazy from things that they do or say?
Here are a few simple tips. Notice I say ‘simple’. These behaviors are not necessarily ‘easy’.
Make it OK to be angry and to NOT like each other, even hate each other at times.
Let it be ok that you hate the other for short periods of time. Not your typical advice, I know.
We are all human. Each of us has our trigger points. No matter who we are with, at some point, they will likely drive us crazy. Instead of running from this feeling, being afraid that it actually means something, or thinking you need to urgently fix it, just allow it to be ok. Give it time. There is no rush to fix it. Do not say things you will regret. Do not take action based on what your mind is telling you when you are mad. Do not make permanent decisions based on temporary feelings.
I certainly do not mean that you should ignore problems in your relationship or continually engage in abusive situations. I just mean that it helps if you learn how to simply give anger some space and recognize it for what it is. Anger. An emotion that can color your perception and radically effect the way you see the other in the moment. Breathe. Trust the bigger picture of your relationship.
Remember that anger is often a reaction to feelings of fear or hurt.
Take some time to figure out what is underneath your anger. What hurts? Where do you feel disappointed, sad, afraid??? What idea or belief makes you think that you were let down, betrayed, or not cared for? An example might be that you find yourself really enraged because your partner won’t do something that you want them to do, or because it appears as if they won’t act in ways you wish that they would. Underneath your anger, you might find a fear that your needs won’t be met, or that you will be hurt or rejected. Perhaps you have a need to be heard in a certain way, but your partner’s response seem argumentative rather than reflective or compassionate. This can trigger the fear that they don’t love you, that they don’t care about your feelings, or that you will never get your need to be heard met.
What core wounding or decisions are being triggered?
Often, when we are angry to the point of feeling crazy or irrational, some core, childhood wounding is being triggered. We all have them. The place where we decided ‘It is not ok to … (*fill in the blank).
An example might be that as a child, you had experiences that left you believing that it is not ok to share your feelings. Perhaps someone told you that you were a ‘cry baby’. Or you were told to go to your room when you were throwing a temper tantrum (a perfectly reasonable parental boundary). As a child however, you decided that it is not ok to express anger. Then as an adult, when your partner wants or needs some space before they want to talk through an upsetting event, it triggers that place in you where you decided that people don’t care about your feelings, or that you will be rejected when angry. Even though all your partner may be asking for is some time and space to process, when this event gets re-stimulated, it may be nearly impossible for you to hear what the other person is actually saying to you.
Therapy or a support group can really help you in understanding your core wounding and decisions if you don’t already have a good sense of what those are. I do believe that in general, in order to work through these types of triggers, we all need support in understanding our motivation, core fears and needs, and core wounds.
When you are ready, communicate vulnerably, when your partner has truly agreed that they have space to hear what you have to say and are willing to be vulnerable also.
Personally, I believe we all need room for ‘raw’ communication, even when that means screaming and yelling at each other. However, that is not what I am referring to here. I am talking about sharing the fear and hurt that is underneath the anger from a place where you feel vulnerable and transparent. This can feel risky and scary. However, consider how much easier it is to hear from someone that they are afraid you will leave or that they are afraid of being hurt than it is to hear someone’s rage and blame. Vulnerable communication means communicating without defense, justification, or explanation of the why’s. It is what it is. It is expressing the core fear, hurt, or sadness, rather than the anger that covers it, in an open hearted and non-defensive way. And it is how we recreate understanding, compassion and intimacy.
Be willing to hear and truly understand the others’ perspective.
Most of the time, what you think your partner has done to you has nothing to do with what their intentions were. Yes, sometimes fights are based on real differences. But often, the worst fights and anger provoking incidents get started because of miscommunications and missed intentions. Most of us get caught up in the idea that ‘our reality’ is THE ONLY reality, and fail to see that what we think was going on with the other person has nothing to do with what they were actually experiencing, responding to, or intending.
For example, when my husband tries to explain to me ‘why’ he did what he did when we are working through an issue, for HIM, it is his way of apologizing, and demonstrating his intentions. For me, his explanation takes away from the apology, puts the attention back on him, and seems like he is making what he did OK. I just want him to say, ‘O. Sorry. Let’s work on that’. Once I hear that, I am open to hearing whatever else he wants to say. I first need to know that he gets the effect that his behavior had, whereas he thinks that if he explains it, I should feel differently.
On the other hand, one way that I take responsibility for my actions is to verbalize what I will do differently, which is actually part of what I want from him. He wasn’t able to hear that as me taking responsibility for my part in the issue.
Until we saw that we were misunderstanding each others’ intentions and needs, we tended to start more fights while trying to make up!
Look for the key words or moments where you got off track
Often there are one or two words, or one or two sentences that you both misinterpret on a regular basis that is the core of the fight. Using the example from above, if you are someone who decided that it is not OK to express your feelings, and you think that your partner is starting to problem solve before you are ready, (they say things like, ‘maybe we could’, or ‘I didn’t mean it like that’) that can trigger your belief that they don’t care how you feel. If your partner can say something as simple as, ‘I understand’, first, before they make suggestions for solution, that can clean the whole mess up.
If you can explore the words that you each get triggered by together, when you aren’t actually mad or fighting, and agree to use different words when possible, you can stop many fights before they start.
By giving yourself and your partner space to just be angry at each other, even enraged at each other, without being abusive, a lot can change in your relationship. If you are then able to discover what is driving your anger, and you both learn to responsibly communicate and listen to each other from a vulnerable place what you really want and need, you will like them again. With time, you will fall in love with them again. Remember, honesty and vulnerability are the greatest aphrodisiacs!
The good news is that it really is possible to keep passion alive in relationships. And to fall in love again, over and over.