Changing patterns of communication in your relationship
The conversation is suddenly hostile and you can’t understand why.
Often a tone of voice can be upsetting. Instantly you recognise the ‘telling off’, ‘moaning’, ‘sneering’, ‘angry’, ‘teasing', ‘organising’ tone.
You want to tell your partner not to speak like that, and why. But you get angry and defensive instead.
This is how some patterns of behaviour get stuck in close relationships. The reason is that we can forget to behave as adults when under stress. We tend to revert to familiar defences against fears of losing control or seeing offence as intended. Then mild annoyance or criticism easily gets serious.
It may be helpful to ask yourself whether you and your partner are being like children and bossy parents or teachers. When tired or in stress, perhaps even a bit desperate and helpless, most of us will retreat from adult behaviour into a childish or rather controlling way of talking. We tend to feel weak and unable to take control (child) or feel we must assert ourselves and be in control (parent/teacher).
At the right time and place, you can be taken care of or take control without this seeming a problem to your partner at all.
Crisis points for couples can include having a baby for example. The couple finds themselves in their own world, sometimes quite separate from the ‘adult’ world outside. Anxieties, tiredness, lack of support may make both feel they need quite a bit of care, but they struggle on trying to be strong and mature. If the couple can get to feel that they are in it together, and meet the difficulties with that aim, then they are both in ‘adult’ mode and can indeed be strong and mature.
A parallel scenario may be found in work situations when people are treated like children. They are not given responsibility, proper holidays or other conditions of work. They pretend to be ill, don’t do their work, chatter too much, some curry favour with the boss. This can happen in a couple relationship too!
The trick is to take a step back and not fall into the usual pattern. Making an effort to change is hard sometimes, but respect your own feelings and tell your partner about them.
You can even have quite a good game with this framework if you can identify where you feel riled at being treated as a child, or somehow feel pressured into the adult/parent role all the time. Tell your partner how it feels when he/she is in ‘boss’ or ‘baby’ mode. Perhaps suggest another ‘script’ for them – and invent your own. Instead of ‘oh why can’t you tidy the kitchen?’ It could be ‘hey let’s tidy the kitchen together tonight!’ This can move on to ‘which jobs can we do together?' 'It was funny when you suddenly became childish instead of me!' If you both can get light-hearted and adult at the same time, you are in a winning mode.
Keep trying. You want to be taken seriously!
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About Sue Trevelyan
I am a four-year diploma trained couples counsellor with over twenty years experience working in London, Cumbria and Cheshire. I am an accredited member of the BACP. I have lived and worked in Knutsford, for three years, seeing clients from many parts of the county and further afield.