Over time, relationships evolve and change. Resentments can build up, sometimes unbeknownst to one partner or the other. For example, maybe early in your relationship, still unsure of your partner’s boundaries and desires, you let slip something personal to a friend that he wished you’d kept private. Maybe he said something to you about it, or maybe he let it slide. And then suddenly, when you mention you ran into one of his friends at the coffee shop, and he lashes out and accuses you of betrayal.
Whoa. You wonder what you said or did wrong. You feel like what you said was totally innocuous, and his response was way out in left field. But he sees you through a filter he’s developed from past experiences. Meanwhile, you worry about saying much of anything to him for fear it will elicit a negative response. He’s upset for some reason but talking it out doesn’t seem to provide clarity. Finally, you focus on other things, and your relationship weakens.
It’s possible that he tried to tell you on more than one occasion. He considered the information you revealed to friends to be private. Maybe you brushed him off, thinking it wasn’t important. After all, you’re an open, affable person and you find sharing with friends a comforting, positive thing. But over time, without being fully conscious of it, you may have betrayed his trust and now he is resentful and critical of you for just about everything you say. Pretty soon, conversation with each other becomes a painful exercise. He is bitter and you have no clue why. No wonder you find it easier not to communicate at all.
Negative Sentiment Override
Your partner is now firmly in the habit of interpreting everything you say in a negative way—negative sentiment override. It’s a difficult pattern to break. Here are some suggestions.
- Really Listen to Your Partner. He’s emotionally hurt, so it’s incumbent on you to try to understand why. “You don’t pay attention to my family.” Or, “You didn’t defend me to my brother.” Or, “You left me on my own when I needed you.” Or, as in our example, “You told private information about me to my friends.” Even if you feel his complaints aren’t valid, he is obviously injured. And that’s what really counts. You need to take his concerns seriously and talk with him until he feels his hurts are acknowledged. Then he can begin to heal.
- Take Responsibility. It doesn’t matter who’s wrong or right. What matters is how you both feel. If he feels betrayed because you let something slip that you feel is insignificant, take responsibility for your part. It was obviously not insignificant to your partner, so honor his feelings. Hear his grievance and own up to the fact that you played a part in distressing him. Help heal him with your empathy.
- Remove Yourself with a Time Out. His blaming you may make you feel angry in return. If that happens, you can be in a never-ending cycle of blame, anger, and recrimination. Nip it in the bud. Take a walk or go to another room until you feel calmer. But tell your partner what you’re up to before you storm out of the room, so he doesn’t feel deserted and even hurt further. Tell your partner you’re stressed and upset and need to take a break, but that you want to resolve the situation. Make a pact to resume talking at a time when you can both be rational and calm.
Nancy Travers is an Orange County Counseling professional. If you need safe, effective counseling services, please get in touch. You can reach her here: https://www.nancyscounselingcorner.com/contact