How to express discontent in a love relationship

It is inevitable that even in the most connected, loving and intimate relationship, partners may occasionally encounter a disagreeable behavior, message or attitude of the mate that may be interpreted as unkind, hurtful or insensitive. How one responds to these occurrences is essential in either healing or exacerbating the dissonance between the mates.

From early childhood, we learn that it is not what we say but how we say it that matters. We are told to be nice to our siblings, treat our pets kindly, behave and speak respectfully to adults and treat others with kindness. It is only when we veer from these guidelines that we are reprimanded and even punished by adults. For some reason, these healthy tools may not include a script about how to best express our frustrations in a socially acceptable way. Thus, some children and later adults are unaware of the best way to express their hurt, disappointment or unmet needs in a non-adversarial way.

Since falling in love is so magical, the pair may initially not need to practice or agree upon the best ways to share their frustrations, unmet expectations or disappointments. When these are encountered, the beloveds may feel hurt, discounted, disrespected or devalued without having the tools to talk about it in a kind and productive way. Some people use attacks, accusations, or express disappointment in their mate, which is likely to create a rift, rather than a behavior correction by one or both mates and may reduce their positive feelings for each other.

In “7 Ways Happy Couples Deal with Disagreements Differently”, Author Marc Chernoff states, “Differences of opinion don’t destroy relationships – it’s how a couple deals with their inevitable differences that counts.” He lists seven recommended ways successful couples use in their verbal interactions: “1. They both take responsibility. 2. They are committed to dealing with disagreements, positively. 3. They attack their disagreements, not each other. 4. They practice intentional communication. 5. They let each other save face. 6. They are willing to make sacrifices for each other. 7. They expect to disagree with each other on some things, and they are ok with it.” The underlying theme in this author’s message is that successful couples preserve each other’s dignity without having to be “right”, dominant or belittle the other. I would label it as sustaining “mutual loving and respectful regard for each other”.

The successful ways couples can differ and still be respectful and loving are:

  • Treating each other with the respect, appreciation and adulation they wish to receive.
  • Abstaining from the need to be “right”, “superior”, “a mentor”, or “have the upper hand” in all exchanges.
  • Accepting that differences of opinions or preferences are natural and not a cause for disagreement.
  • Choosing to be loving, kind, and appreciative of each other, regardless of their varied choices or preferences.
  • Valuing their togetherness as a treasure and always cherishing their union.

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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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