May 30, 2024
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Why Do We Often Hurt Those Closest to Us?

Often, we get along well with our friends, co-workers, and others who are peripheral to our lives, but when it comes to our spouse, the person with whom we are most intimately connected, we often inflict or experience hurt. Why does this happen?

One answer to this question is that, unfortunately, we often take those closest to us for granted. We mistakenly believe that once we have found our bashert, “the right one,” our marital relationships will flourish on autopilot. This, of course, is far from the truth. In order for our bond with our partner to continue to be strong and healthy, we must put in sustained, daily effort.

Even if we are aware of the need to devote daily time and attention to our spouses, the demands of life often take up much of our time and energy, leaving little energy to devote to our spouses. After a long day running after our toddlers or working at the office, we are sapped of energy and left with little to give to our partners. After controlling ourselves with our difficult clients or bosses, perhaps we feel incapable of extending to our partners the patience that they need. After all, “They’ll understand if I’m a little short with them.” Or maybe we even feel entitled to show our partners some impatience after a hard day with the kids or at the office. And social media pulls at us to connect to anyone and everyone except our partner who is sitting right next to us.

There is another, more complex phenomenon at play which often results in our hurting or being hurt by our marital partners. Our spouse is the one person out of all the people in our lives to whom we turn for emotional connection, love, and intimacy. We do not expect or want this type of relationship with our co-workers, bosses or friends. Therefore, if these other people in our lives mistreat us, we may be annoyed or somewhat upset, however, we will not be emotionally crushed. On the other hand, since we do expect and need to feel loved, wanted, and desired by our marital partner, when the inevitable moments occur in which we feel slighted or ignored by them, we experience deep hurt or rejection. Since these feelings are so strong and difficult to experience, we immediately feel the need to protect ourselves. And, the options we have for doing so are limited to only two responses: We either lash out in anger or withdraw from our partners. This, of course, is experienced by our partners as being extremely hurtful.

Is there anything we can we do to prevent hurting our spouses or being hurt by them or is this an inevitable occurrence in marriage? In fact, it is not possible to totally avoid being hurt or hurting our partners. Despite our best intentions, there will be moments of hurt. However, my experience working as a marital therapist has taught me that there definitely are ways of being, and actions we can take, which will help us minimize the frequency and degree of hurt occurring in our marriages.

To those who are just embarking on marriage, I would advise that it is imperative to recognize and understand the essential need to devote regular, ongoing time and energy to their spouses. They must commit to unplugging from the myriad of electronic devices at their fingertips and connecting with each other. They must also be mindful that while work is a necessary component of life, we should not allow it to eclipse our need to provide for the physical and emotional needs of our partners. This is, of course, easier to do before children arrive, but essential to continue doing even afterwards. It can be particularly challenging to make time for each other in the frum world, because of the great value placed on raising children. However, continuing to nurture our couple relationships even after little ones enter the picture is as vital as giving them the love and attention they need, as it creates the shalom bayis essential to their emotional and psychological development. Too often, I hear from couples whose children are beginning to leave the nest that they have realized that they have been so focused on their children for so long that there is not much left of their marital relationship.

And what of the couples who are not newly married and are finding that there is a significant degree of hurt, conflict, or distance in their marriage? Is there a way out of their distress? Sometimes, such couples are able to recommit to making their relationship a priority in their lives and shifting their patterns of behavior with each other. However, if couples have been engaged in negative cycles with each other for a long time, the degree of hurt and anger is sometimes too deep to enable them to repair their relationship on their own. When this is the case, it might be advisable for a couple to seek the professional help of a therapist trained in marital therapy. While these couples sometimes lose hope that their marital relationship can recover, my experience working with such couples has shown me that it is definitely possible to repair their marriages. With commitment, determination, and effort, even couples who have experienced a great deal of hurt in their marriages can rebuild emotional connection and intimacy with each other. Couples do this by learning how to recognize the negative interaction cycles that they repetitively get into which cause them so much pain and distress. They are helped to express their needs for love, support, and comfort from each other which have been hidden by their angry, critical words or their distance from one another. As each partner begins to “listen with their heart,” the other partner is better able to respond from their heart in kind. Once this safe haven is formed, in which the partners feel close, secure, and responded to, they will be better able to manage conflict and hurt feelings which will inevitably arise from time to time.

While it is common and even inevitable that we will hurt and be hurt by our spouse, the person to whom we are the most intimately connected, there are steps we can take to minimize the occurrence of this hurt. Even when a couple does experience a significant amount of hurt in their relationship, it is definitely possible to reduce the frequency and degree of negative interactions and build secure bonds and intimacy.

Laura Turk, MS, LMFT, LPC, NCC, is a licensed marriage and family therapist. She practices marital and pre-marital therapy in Teaneck, New Jersey. Contact her at [email protected] or by calling her at 201 823-7933. You can also visit her website at
www.marriagecounselingbergencounty.com.

By Laura Turk, MS

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