Getting Along

Since most couples who vow to commit to each other for life start their union with love, dedication, mutual admiration and awe, why do some find themselves in a devastating battleground which diminishes their personal and mutual regard for each other? What caused this major shift in their previously harmonious connection and how can they restore it?

Our human make up is biologically programmed for survival and self-preservation. To fend off any threat to our existence we were geared to be physically strong, emotionally resilient and determined to protect ourselves from any harm in order to survive and thrive. This imprinted program also had social implications. In order to survive, one needed to become a part of a clan and learn to abide by its rules and practices. Those who did not blend appropriately risked being ostracized, unable to mate and reproduce or were ejected from the clan.

Despite humans’ innate programming, Charles Darwin believed that human beings differed from lower animals by having a moral compass. He stated, “A moral being is one who is capable of comparing his past and future actions or motives, and of approving or disapproving of them.” This insight into one’s conduct requires honesty and courage to face one’s failings and correct one’s ways, when needed.

Today, the primary social unit is the family that begins with two loving mates. We may surmise that the same dynamics of insightful reflection about one’s actions and their impact on the spouse would be practiced today for self-preservation and emotional wellbeing.  Regrettably, with the evolution of man, being perceived as emotionally or psychologically flawed evokes new fears about being unacceptable.

Curiously, though the compelling drive to be viewed favorably by a mate is powerful, some people abandon their moral judgment about themselves and engage in arguing, shifting the blame, accusing, attacking or belittling their beloved to escape losing his/her esteem. These methods are destructive and distance you from the one you love. When both partners employ the same defensive/aggressive techniques the relationship may be threatened.

Experiencing periods of distressed connection between mates is common. Knowing how to ameliorate these events can spare both mates needless pain. When either individual feels misunderstood, insecure, needy, hurt, disrespected, discounted or unloved, he/she is wise to state the feelings in a help-seeking tone without ascribing blame to the other. The listener needs to become the “healer” by providing compassion for the hurt spouse, containing his/her defensiveness and postponing problem solving. When one’s feelings are validated, a safe, bonded connection between the mates occurs. Being supported when we hurt is profoundly healing.

To get along well with your spouse:

  • Accept that the ancient self-preservation instincts are innately programmed about enemies – not lovers.
  • Use your moral compass to assess your behavior.
  • Seek and provide acceptance by gently expressing your needs and emotions.
  • Avoid being right – seek being honest and caring.
  • Be your partner’s healer by affirming his/her emotions and needs through compassion and acceptance.




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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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