Managing Feelings — 23 March 2008
Withholding hurt feelings is inadvisable

People in committed relationships find themselves hurt at times by the actions or words of their partner. Those who elect to “be nice” by withhold their wounded emotions, are actually not being nice or considerate and are acting in a way that is detrimental to their relationship.

Howard Markman, a psychologist at the University of Denver, who studied the differences between satisfied and dissatisfied couples, stated in an interview that: “ All couples go through ups and downs in marriage. But it’s those couples who don’t communicate well whose marriage is more likely to be the victim of such a difficult period.” Not discussing hurt feelings is serious enough to sometimes damage the relationship.

Some of the common reasons why some people hold in their hurt emotions, include: attempting to avoid a conflict, doubting their right to feel offended, believing that the partner loves and respects them and unintentionally hurt them, savoring the pain to see if additional episodes will occur, or being uncomfortable with stating their angry, hurt or vulnerable feelings.

Unfortunately, wanting to avoid conflict does not prevent the hurt mates from harboring grudges or resentments against their partner. Anger is a common response to feeling hurt and if not discharged, tends to increase and distances the hurt person from the perceived offender. Hurt and Anger do not dissipate on their own, they must be released appropriately, discussed lovingly and then their future prevention can be negotiated.

For survival purposes, we are programmed to avoid physical or emotional danger. It is, therefore, unsafe to stay close to a person who may hurt you again. Thus, when you feel emotional pain caused by your partner, you will naturally withdraw from him/her. With every additional perceived injury to your esteem or well being the distance between you will expand. Sadly for some couples the unspoken damaged esteem needlessly distances them for years.

Michael Kolevzon, a professor of social work at Virginia Commonwealth University, states: “Marriage has become the forum for the negotiation of a balance between two conflicting needs: the desire for intimacy on one hand and the need to establish one’s identity as a separate person on the other.”

Negotiations cannot occur without the wounded party stating his/her hurt feelings, as hard as it may seem. Many pairs actually find that voicing an old or recent hurt is a relief and frees them to communicate and regain their sought-after intimacy.

For the hurt partner:

• Be aware that you are suffering needlessly, while your mate may be oblivious to his/her part in your reduced intimacy.
• Being silent is actually a hostile stance, (though not intended to be so), because it faults another without the accused being able to explain his/her perspective.
• Holding onto less than loving feelings towards your mate compromises your comfort, health and freedom to be yourself in the relationship.
• You do have a right to feel hurt and your partner has an equal right to become aware of it, so he/she may repair the damage and help restore your closeness.
• Savoring the righteous hurt feeling only makes you bitter, victimized and judgmental. These emotions impair your capacity to be a loving mate.
• You are right if you suspect that your partner loves you and is not intentionally trying to offend you. Use this stance to muster the courage to talk to him/her, prefacing your comments with this statement. The resolution will likely occur more smoothly and your authentic loving connection can be restored.

For the mate of the withholding partner:

• Understand that your mate’s reluctance to speak about his/her hurt feelings comes from self-doubt and/or fear about your possible reaction. Both concerns are delicate and are erroneous attempts to preserve your loving relationship.
• Model for your partner how to express hurt emotions without attacking or criticizing him/her. Demonstrate how loving presentation, and a respectful discussion can lead to a healthy outcome for both of you.
• Be a positive, affirming and accepting mate. That will help your partner feel safer about expressing his/her frustration to you.
• Pay attention to your mate’s body language and query him/her at the time about his/her feelings. Affirm these emotions before you discuss yours.
• If you feel a distance between you tell your partner how much you are invested in being close to him/her.
• Offer a safe way to discuss conflicts or uneasy feelings. If unsuccessful, seek professional help to recreate the connection you both deserve to have.

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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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