Getting past the hostility with your partner
Hostility in relationships
“For most of the time we are a perfectly reasonable couple, then we will disagree and it’s no holds barred. We seem determined to put all our energy into beating the other up, winning at all costs. We criticise, we drag up ancient history, and we seem to hurt each other."
"Eventually we separate and don’t talk for days, then slowly we come together, the problem never really being resolved, but set aside for another day and it smoulders beneath the surface." While this could be described in any counselling office and will be familiar to many couples, is it really possible to do something different? Is it possible to get past the hostility with your partner?
Often poor communication is peppered with criticism, hostility and contempt for each other. The criticism will be personal and not about behaviour, it will be unhelpful and usually said to insult or to wound. It is often tinged with contempt to show derision, for example, “you’re a terrible mother”. Hostility is attacking with the intent to do the partner verbal harm, attacking the person not solving the problem.
Part of the difficulty in repairing communication and relationships that have reached this stage is the hurt. You can feel very disconnected from a person that you thought you loved and who loved you back - with each fight and each trip round the circle of hostility, you may feel that you are drifting further apart.
The relationship communication
The solution is to make quite dramatic changes in the way that you communicate with each other. The focus of your communication with your partner needs to be about your thoughts and feelings. For example, “I hate having to feel like I am walking on eggshells when we talk about your mother” or “it feels like you are annoyed by me, are you?” By doing this we are moving away from the pattern of criticism, hostility and contempt of the past, this helps your partner to know exactly what is going on and invites them to respond honestly and openly. This is the first and perhaps the key step to learning to communicate effectively.
If you and your partner do have an argument, think about how you are going to tackle the problem. Decide how long to argue for. If you argue for hours and hours it is unlikely to be productive to your relationship. Decide that you will look at the problem for 30 minutes and then you will take a break, if it’s not solved you will agree a time to come back to it. Secondly, give up the need to win. Try to remember that you are trying to decide what is the best answer for you as a couple; it is not about winning or losing but finding a solution that you can both live with. Be respectful. Listen to one another’s point of view and take turns at speaking. Think about the things that are bad communication (above) and finally, only tackle one issue at a time.
It is a cliché but relationship health is directly related to the strength of the communication. It is worth making sure that your communication is as healthy as possible. Being open, no matter how difficult, lets your partner be certain of what is going on for you and invites them to show you the same respect. If your relationship is struggling to achieve this, perhaps you might want to consider speaking to a counsellor to improve your relationship.
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About Graeme Orr
Graeme is a counsellor and author living and working on the south side of Glasgow. In his practice he sees a number of clients with emotional, anxiety and self-esteem that have relevance to us all. His articles are based on that experience and are offered as an opportunity to identify with, or to challenge you to make changes in your life.