Would You Say That to Your Friend?

Remember the last time a friend came by for a glass of wine or craft beer? (Granted, it’s likely been a while due to the global pandemic.) Now imagine they spilled a glass… all over your couch. 

What would you do? Can you see yourself rolling your eyes in an over-exaggerated way? Maybe even yelling, belittling them for their clumsiness, or demanding they clean it up immediately? 

Probably not.  

Because when dealing with friends or colleagues, we tend to obey social norms and practice kind communication… or at least attempt to.

Now pretend that your partner is responsible rather than your friend. None of those responses seems quite so far-fetched now, does it?

It’s sad but true that couples tend to treat their partners far worse than friends — and even acquaintances! After you’ve been together for a while, kind communication often goes out the window. Why is that?  

The Complexities of How We Treat Each Other 

A common explanation for this poor treatment among couples is that they feel “safe enough” with their partner to be “that honest” with them. You’ve reached a level of closeness and intimacy where you don’t have to filter anything.

Which sounds nice, but…

In reality, closeness and intimacy have little to do with it. Because you know who else does this? Toddlers. When they’re learning to deal with their emotions early on. They behave well in socially structured environments, then unleash on their parents at home because that kind of control is exhausting when you’re first learning it.

As an adult, though, we do not have that excuse. We learned (or should have learned) to control our emotions a long time ago. Unleashing on our partners is merely an excuse to vent.

The venting isn’t the biggest problem, though. We see many clients — even the most committed couples who consistently and actively seek out a deeper connection to one another — brush off this kind of bad behavior toward each other by saying their partner “knows I love them.” 

Instead of addressing it head-on, they choose to believe these interactions aren’t that big of a deal. That kind communication isn’t necessary.

Unfortunately, that isn’t the case. Because the level of intimacy in a long-term committed relationship is virtually unparalleled, treating each other poorly has several crucial consequences.

Vulnerability Becomes Painful 

In a committed relationship, you show more of your flaws and failures to your partner than anyone else in the world. This level of vulnerability can be especially scary and painful when a partner lashes out at these shortcomings.

Outdated Emotions are Stirred — and Magnified

The transition from interdependence on the immediate family to independence in adulthood is hard. Depending on someone so deeply again can stir up old feelings. Both the positive and negative feelings are magnified by the dependence within a truly committed relationship.  

Painful Experiences Can Trigger Intolerance

Even those who specifically sought out a partner who is seemingly the antithesis of their parents often discover agonizing and infuriating parallels that can unknowingly trigger intolerance.

Hurting One Another Becomes a Habit

Not many people innately have the coping skills for these triggering effects. Hurting one another becomes a ping-pong cycle, compounding negativity until there’s no longer time to heal between blows. 

It’s Never Too Late to Learn to Be Kinder to Your Partner

At this point, the overall tone of your relationship can seem hopeless. The Gottman Institute calls this stage “negative sentiment override.” These aren’t all of the countless factors involved in what may seem like harmless jabs at one another, but they’re enough to see the harm. 

And while sooner is always better when it comes to positively changing your treatment of each other, it’s never too late to be more kind. Research suggests that a happy, healthy couple needs to see about five positive interactions outside of conflict in order to combat one negative one. 

The greatest part about treating your partner more kindly? How quickly you’ll find them being nice back! If you need help with incorporating more kind communication into your committed partnership, reach out to Oregon relationship counselors Tim Higdon and Norene Gonsiewski.