Being the best partner — 29 April 2012
Manage your frustrations for sustained marital harmony

Happy love relationships are nourished by ongoing mutual gratification of our needs. When our expectations are not met we tend to feel frustrated, hurt and angry. Though becoming occasionally frustrated with a spouse is inevitable – we can learn to manage our disappointment in ways that do not hinder our shared love.

Terri Orbuch, researcher and author of “5 Simple Steps to Take Your Marriage from Good to Great” states, “Frustration is the tension that builds up until it eventually erupts into disappointment, anger, or unhappiness. Frustration occurs when our expectations aren’t met; we think something should occur or unfold in one way, and then it doesn’t go as we planned. The “should” statements are relationship expectations. If our love partner meets our “should” statements or relationship expectations, then we are very happy. If he or she doesn’t meet these expectations, we become frustrated.”

The core of the frustration may be the annoyance about not getting our immediate need met but it often gets exacerbated by our interpretation of what this actually “means”. For example, Lori had an exhausting time with the kids. When Jeff came home she asked him to take over the childcare. He stated that he had a hard day and needed to go for a run. Lori was hurt and angry as she interpreted his response as “selfish, inconsiderate and unloving.” She surmised, “He is selfish and really does not care about me.”

Since emotions are bi-products of thoughts, the messages we create in our minds determine how we feel and subsequently act about anything we experience. Susan Hendrick of Texas Tech University writes, “because the substance of a person’s thoughts is often a powerful determinant of his actions, it is very important for spouses to control the way they think about each other. Husbands and wives can do this during times of conflict by focusing on the troublesome issue instead of their partner’s flaws.”

If Lori had greeted Jeff by asking about his day and then stated her need for a break from the kids, they may have negotiated to take turns in their break from responsibilities without discrediting his character or love for her.

If you experience repeated frustration about a chronic situation ask yourself how you may be contributing to the repetitive, frustrating pattern. For example, placing hooks inside the front door for coats can eliminate the frustration of misplaced garments. Or, greeting your mate with a happy, welcoming attitude may render you both a more intimate connection.

To manage your marital frustrations:

  • Focus on the frustrating issue – not on your spouse’s presumed nature or flawed character.
  • Separate your feelings about the issue from your emotions about your spouse. Being chronically late is annoying- not your partner’s tardiness.
  • Assess your role in repeated incidents of frustration and change your behavior to ease your mutual stress.
  • Think lovingly about your partner even when your needs are unmet. It will sustain your harmonious love.

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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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