• Couples Therapy

    The Hidden Dangers of Meaning Well


    The day Becky unexpectedly lost her job, her first reaction was shock. Worse, her husband Bill, who was struggling with multiple sclerosis, was barely able to move — much less work. How would she tell him?


    So Becky decided not to tell Bill until she could get another job, when there was a plan to bring money in. As Becky entered the house, Bill called out, “How was work today?” She answered, “It was fine.”


    Becky meant well. But the well-meaning behaviors couples often use to protect relationships can have unforeseen consequences. The intention behind these behaviors may be to spare your significant other discomfort, but they can create even more pain and disconnection in the long run.


    Becky was trying to avoid sharing with Bill the bad news of her job loss and impending financial difficulty. However, by not being forthright, she also denied him the chance to participate in the planning and decision-making around the loss of her income. As a result, Bill may think that Becky sees him as weak, not capable or not trustworthy.


    Another well-meaning behavior that can have unwanted results is shielding your partner from difficult emotions you experience. I’m not talking about self-protective emotions such as frustration or anger, but rather the primary emotions that frequently underlie frustration and anger — like fear and sadness.


    Primary emotions are felt initially, but can often quickly be supplanted by self-protective emotions. You might be trying to spare your partner by not sharing those primary emotions, but you’re also depriving them of the opportunity to help. And they may interpret this as a rejection — or a sign you don’t trust them.


    When you don’t share vulnerable feelings, you may experience even more protective frustration and anger, potentially causing your loved one to feel that energy from you instead. But many people would prefer to be present with the painful emotions of their partners. That way, they have the opportunity to offer support, rather than being cut off or experiencing the anger that covers up those emotions.


    Yet another common well-meaning behavior that can take a toll on relationships is focusing solely on pleasing your partner at the expense of satisfying your own wants and needs. For instance, you may never ask to go to the restaurant or movie that would make you happy — or choose not to share your unhappiness about a situation or a desire for change. Repeatedly stuffing your own needs and feelings down can lead to resentment, anger and, eventually, emotional detachment.


    Asking for something you need from your partner may feel like you’re taking a risk. But the bigger risk is becoming resentful over time. You’re also not giving your partner the opportunity to show how much you mean to them by being responsive to your emotional needs.


    These behaviors — as well-meaning as they are — can be detrimental and difficult to change. Often these relational patterns are learned in childhood family systems and have been entrenched for many years, making them harder to overcome.


    If you feel stuck or are unsure how to proceed in dealing with behaviors that are causing problems, a therapist is a great option. Should you have difficultly changing harmful relational patterns on your own, I encourage you to seek the help of a qualified therapist. If you’re interested in meeting with me, I can be reached by email at , by phone at 407-579-2070 or online at www.CouplesTherapyOrlando.com.

    Therapy services available via Telehealth.