Saturday, January 11, 2003

I Bruise You, You Bruise Me

From Reuters Health:

Dr. Sandra Murray and her colleagues at the University at Buffalo, State University of New York examined a group of mostly married couples. Each member filled out a questionnaire about how they believed their partner felt about them, and then submitted daily logs for 21 days about what had happened in the relationship and how they had reacted.

The researchers discovered that people who said they felt relatively less well-regarded by their partners were more likely to feel hurt and rejected the day after a difficult incident occurred. In response to that hurt and rejection, Murray told Reuters Health that less valued partners tended to start "behaving badly" toward their partners, by being difficult or hurtful themselves, for example.

Interesting study. (The citation for the full article is Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 2003;84:126-147.) Now, all I’ve read is a brief news item about the study, so maybe they address some of these concerns and ideas.

These behaviors aren't isolated. Though the article about the study doesn't mention this, they must end up feeding into vicious cycles. If you feel unappreciated, so you get nasty, your partner is going to feel unappreciated and get nasty, so you feel. . . . You get it.

If you feel like your partner does appreciate you, however, the necessary bumps and bruises on the way to genuine intimacy can act as glue to bind you. This becomes a cycle of positive reinforcement, in which you can learn to trust your partner with even the most negative things. Of course, it could also be one of the reasons abusive relationships last. If afterwards you feel appreciated when your spouse brings you roses to compensate for the blows or hateful words, the cycle can go on a long long time.

Another thing this article doesn't address is how to deal with these issues:

1. Partners who have different styles of appreciation and affection. Some people respond better to verbal praise and thanks, whereas others distrust words and go by actions. And some people just can’t seem to say the words. Others have a hard time remembering to do the little things that make people feel appreciated – like doing the dishes, say.

2. Partners who have a hard time accepting or even perceiving love and appreciation. Many people with trust issues filter out the love and see only manipulation, indifference, or betrayal in the making. Or they perceive minor problems to be so threatening that they freak out, and it’s easier to skip telling them unpleasant truths (which destroys trust and can become a horrible trap for both parties) or withdraw emotionally (which can ultimately destroy the relationship) than to keep explaining patiently that that wasn’t what you meant.

Learning each other's language takes time and trust and effort. Dealing with someone who can't see how much you love them — that's a lot harder.

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