Note: This is the second of a two-part series.
When you are squabbling with your intimate partner over petty, small, nitpicky things, could you describe with confidence the hidden, more subterranean issues that you are fighting about?
Most people can’t. Most people have, at best, an extremely vague idea about what pushes their buttons, or why they get so triggered about certain behaviors. They may know they’re in a power struggle with their spouses or lovers, but they have poor understanding what they’re actually fighting for.
Why are you so sensitive to accusations, words or behaviors from your intimate partner? Exactly why do some things make you fighting mad? Where are your buttons? Why are they there and what can you do to gain better insight and mastery over them?
If you want answers to those questions, take out a sheet of paper and write as many responses as you can to the following questions:When I was a child, what did I want from my mother that I did not get? What did I want from my father that I did not get? Create at least half a dozen answers for each of your parents.
Your answers will likely point to the issues that mean the most to you in your adult life. And you can be sure those are the issues that will emerge and what you will fight for in your intimate relationships with others. For example, let’s say you grew up wanting more approval from your father. As an adult, it is very likely that you will need and want your intimate partner’s consistent approval, and that you will be very reactive and/or defensive about receiving his/her disapproval. So if your mate becomes judgmental or critical of you, you can expect that you will get defensive, angry or argue more with that person. You will be fighting for acceptance, acknowledgment and approval, and will be particularly sensitive to your mate’s disapproval, judgment or criticism.
Another example: Let’s say your father was controlling and manipulative, and used guilt to keep you in line. Now you’re in an adult relationship, but you’re still sensitive to anyone—especially an intimate partner—attempting to control, manipulate, guilt or play martyr around you. That touches such a raw nerve, you respond with greater anger and reactivity than the situation would normally call for. But because of your past, this issue is extremely sensitive to you, and you remain hyper-vigilant in order to defend yourself from anyone being manipulative or controlling toward you.
Take the lists you created from the questions above and look them over carefully. These are your hidden issues, the deeper, subterranean sensitivities you have that no doubt come out over and over again in your intimate relationships with others.
It is our work to make peace with our inner sensitivities, and to reduce the hold they have over us. If we don’t do that work, we will wind up charging our intimate partners a steep price. Perhaps we’ll be more suspicious, less trusting, more on guard and held back, or quicker to hurt or anger—all of which, over time, could have a huge impact on the quality of our relationship.
These are the issues that you must be alert to, because they will come out with more force and power than other issues. You may always be sensitive to someone who manipulates, controls or guilt trips you—to use our examples from above. But it becomes your work to reduce the power these hidden issues have over you. They come from your childhood, they’re your unmet or inadequately met childhood needs, and they’re your buttons. To discuss these sensitivities with your mate would be extremely valuable. It just might save your relationship.