When you are in a relationship, it is normal to face conflict since you and your partner are individuals with differing points of views and expectations. However, the way we react to disagreements could also make a situation bigger than it is and make it harder for couples to forgive and forget. Jean Chen, psychotherapist and director at Relationship Matters shares with us four common issues Singaporean couples face and tips on how to overcome them.
1. Putting each other down or blaming each other
“Some couples criticise and blame each other when they feel hurt,” says Jean. “They’ll say things like ‘You’re so selfish’ and ‘The kids don’t listen to you because you’re lazy’.”
In this type of exchange, one partner releases their frustration while the other remains quiet. Eventually, it may escalate into a situation where both partners can’t stop criticising, blaming and judging each other. Jean says that this problem may happen whenever there are differences in opinion about issues like parenting, household chores, and so on.
“You may think this is due to incompatibility but it’s really a communication problem in which blaming behaviour has played a huge part,” Jean explains.
2. Emotional avoidance and distancing
When it becomes too painful to engage or interact with our partner, some of us put up invisible walls in order to keep our partner at an emotional distance.
Says Jean: “One partner may shut down if they feel like they can’t make their partner happy or are being blamed for something. Emotional disconnection may erode a relationship over time and cause one partner to feel rejected, dismissed or neglected, and make the other, more critical. This vicious cycle of blame only results in further avoidance and emotional disconnection.”
3. Reduced sexual interest
When there’s a lack of emotional connection, couples may experience sexual issues like vaginal dryness or erectile dysfunction, says Jean. The frequency of, and interest in, sex may also decrease when the relationship is in distress.
4. Reduced emotional support during critical periods
When both partners do not feel cared for, they may end up failing to support each other during bouts of illness, stressful periods like pregnancy, or when there’s a death in the family, serious career issues, conflicts with the in-laws, and so on.
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Tips to address these problems
Before the situation escalates, Jean suggests taking the following measures:
- Check in with yourself. What emotion do you feel beneath the anger? What is triggering your hurt or concern?
- Find a good time to talk to your partner about your underlying feelings, when he or she is feeling more relaxed.
- If possible, allow your partner to see your pain or discouragement or worry, and not merely hear you talk about it in a logical or angry manner.
- Try not to problem-solve before fully understanding what your partner is feeling beneath the anger. What both partners have to do is address the communication gap between them rather than try to problem-solve. It’s important for both to let their guard down with each other and allow themselves to be vulnerable with their feelings.
- Both partners should let each other know that they understand how the other feels before describing how they feel or how they perceived the situation, says Jean. When one partner feels heard, they will be in a better position to listen to and empathise with the other. Try to keep “buts” out of the conversation, too. For instance, it’s not always helpful to say, “I can understand why you’re upset, but…”
- If you want your partner to change or improve their behaviour, avoid pointing out their weaknesses or the problems in your relationship in an “honest and straightforward” manner. Instead, start by telling your partner how much you appreciate them before suggesting how the relationship can be improved. The way you convey your feelings is crucial if you want to be effective.
- Try to give your partner the benefit of the doubt. Sometimes, women feel that men just want sex for the physical pleasure and not the emotional connection and that they’re incapable of having deep emotions. But that’s a myth, says Jean. Most men do, in fact, have deep emotions and hope to connect with their partners. What they don’t want are conversations that involve hearing how terrible a person they are and how they have failed to make their loved one happy. Similarly, it’s a myth that women don’t want sex. Most women do hope to have good sex, especially if they feel emotionally close to their partner.
- Try to comfort before you convince and appreciate before you appraise. Comforting and appreciating your partner can help strengthen your emotional bond and improve your relationship.
- It’s not easy being understanding towards your partner, especially if you’re already very hurt or emotionally drained. But it’s important to nip any problems in the bud before your relationship gets worse. Many couples benefit from professional counselling, so that’s something to consider if you feel your relationship needs extra help.
Text: Sasha Gonzales / Her World / June 2019
Additional reporting: Valerie Toh
Images: Unsplash, Pexels, Envato Elements