While couples frequently complain that their partners aren’t sensitive to their needs, I have observed many dissatisfied individuals presenting as OVER-sensitive to the other’s needs and feelings. Wanting to avoid hurting or “devastating” the other, they avoid confrontation altogether. In the most sensitive of areas – the sexual realm – couples will live together for decades, so enmeshed in one another’s feelings and in their need to maintain emotional stability, that what needs to be said is never said. And so, naturally, nothing changes.
Surprising as it may sound, confrontations are hugely important if relationships are to remain healthy and to grow stronger. Internalized irritation and resentment easily translate into decreased compassion, and rarely add up to improved emotional and sexual connection.
The curious thing is that our need to protect our partner is often really an expression of our own inability to tolerate discomfort. Hearing our partner react unkindly, defensively or inaccurately to our complaint leaves us with a sense of complete isolation and alienation. And for many people, that is a most intolerable emotional place to be.
Growth cannot take place, however, without the ability to tolerate discomfort and unpleasantness. The movie Pleasantville (the ‘90s revival of the cheerful ’50s TV sitcom) demonstrates how personal repression and the fear of change give rise – not only to sexual, racial and political oppression – but to a serious loss of personal freedom and a deep sense of loneliness.
Allow your partner to let off emotional steam when you confront him/her. If s/he responds a bit less than kindly, is defensive and perhaps somewhat inaccurate in that defensive response, try to tolerate the discomfort. The capacity to regulate your own emotions while allowing your partner to take care of his/her own, lessens the enmeshment that stands in the way of growth and change. Ironic but true.