Just as there are methods and means for creating love, there are defensive processes that can obstruct it. Let’s take a look at some of the main love-killers.
Globalization: “Everybody does that.” Globalization essentially obscures the truth. If someone doesn’t want to admit that he or she has some responsibility in the problem, globalization is a perfect distraction.
Blame-shifting: “And you do the same thing but worse.” Another excellent way to shift the blame away from yourself and back onto the other person.
Victimhood: “I’m so good to you, and you treat me so badly.” The victim is always innocent and good. This is an emotional double whammy. “Not only are you picking on me but you should feel guilty because I am so good.”
Gaslighting: “I was just kidding; can’t you take a joke?” “Noise? What noise?” This process is more insidious because it is an effort to make the other person feel crazy in order to gain power and control.
Entitlement: “You’re the one who made me angry. You deserve it.” Entitlement is like a free pass to behave however you want to because you are the aggrieved party. This kind of behavior is a surefire defense because nothing gets through.
Denial: “I’m not angry.” Denial is an emotional way to slam the door on any form of communication about what went wrong.
Displacement: “Just because you had a bad day at work, don’t take it out on me.” Displacement happens more than most people know or understand. It’s important to tell our partner when we think this is going on.
Guilt: “I work my ass off to give you everything and you can’t even make me some tea.” Guilt is often part of playing the victim, but it can also be used as a control mechanism.
Shame/Blame: “You’re a human slug. You never do anything.” This process is essentially infantile because there is no empathy or compassion in it. Infants and children are not expected to be compassionate, but adults are.
Stonewalling: “This is the way I am; take it or leave it.” Stonewalling is exactly that: it shuts down communication. Another form of stonewalling is simply to say nothing.
Projection: “You think I’m stupid, don’t you?” This process is very common because most people are not in touch with how insecure they feel, so what they experience feels like it is coming from the other person when it is really coming from within.
Devaluation: “You really could lose some of that extra weight.” Devaluation is a defense against caring and needing anyone. The less others mean to us, the less we need them.
As we look at what it takes to sustain a loving relationship, it may appear to be quite daunting. I try to support couples by explaining that if they can learn effective problem solving, it will only be difficult in the beginning. If we can evaluate and understand what causes negative communication, both from our own assessment and from listening to what our partner is telling us, our reality will, in time, meet our expectations. We may go many months or even years between serious conflicts once we know how to create a loving environment that is rich with humor and loving kindness.
Learning to evaluate the way we’re communicating, and to talk to our partner in constructive new ways, can be a challenge in itself, especially if the old ways are deeply ingrained. So I work with couples to help them change their interactive style and incorporate the elements of effective communication. Effective communication involves our ability to recognize what it is that we are feeling, then what it is we want. In this process, we take time to initially assess what is wrong or what we need to communicate. Next, we make sure that the other person gets the message the way we are intending it. Then we recognize and express what the problem or the need is. Once we have defined the problem or the need, we can then look at possible solutions that both people feel comfortable with. Most important in this process is to listen with empathy, tolerance for differences, and understanding about what is being said, and to provide feedback to show that we recognize each other’s positions. The dialogue below contains most of the elements of effective problem solving. This may look easy, but guess what, it’s not.
He: When you withdraw, it scares me. My parents withdrew from me when I didn’t behave the way they wanted, and my girlfriends rejected me because I didn’t behave the way they wanted, so when I get angry or upset with you I’m afraid to show it because I’m afraid that you’ll throw me away. So I push you away.
She: I will never throw you away because you get mad at me, but I will get upset if you don’t tell me what’s bothering you. It always comes out anyway. We have to tell each other how we feel without tearing away our love for each other. When I say something that is insensitive and you shut down, and then I get more angry and critical, we are just repeating our old patterns. How can we make this different?
He: We could start by understanding what we are doing to alienate each other. Then we could take some time to find out what we are after. Once we know, then we can help each other to give what we need and want.
The key elements here are support, understanding, and a willingness to reflect on one’s own behavior. Using self-knowledge and feelings to resolve conflicts together creates a compassionate and loving outcome. The more a couple can create these kinds of conversations, the better they will be at creating love that lasts.