Couples in Distress: Practicing Patience Opens the Heart
Couples often ask each other questions during counseling; when a question refers to an issue or problematic dynamic in the relationship, the person asking the question expects a response that will add clarity or provide information in order to move forward. Unfortunately, a clarification is not always forthcoming; “I don’t know why I did that” or “I don’t know why I got so angry” may be the response. While the questioner may feel that his or her partner is being withholding or spiteful, it’s usually more complicated than that.
People may not know initially why they get triggered and respond or act in ways that frustrates their partner. Triggers are not always easily identifiable, particularly during the initial stages of counseling. Something a partner says may trigger shame, feelings of incompetence and other states of insecurity in the other partner. And let’s remember that people usually come to therapy in order to develop a capacity to talk about their feelings and learn to treat each other in ways that are respectful and less hurtful. That shift in behavior takes time.
The best way to respond when your partner says, “I don’t know why I got so angry” is to give them some space to think. While you may be frustrated at their lack of a ready response, your patience may help your partner begin to think more clearly about their actions and feel safe enough to respond authentically. The least effective response is to accuse and badger your partner into a reply. That type of scenario often encourages lying in order to quiet the demanding partner.
Giving each other space to think following a question during a tense episode in a relationship is a way to encourage honesty and empathy in a relationship. Honesty and empathy builds emotional resilience and can ultimately replace an unhealthy dynamic with a more loving, compassionate one.