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Exploring Womanhood > Relationships > Articles

What to Do When Your Partner Has Become Your Enemy
By Sharon M. Rivkin, MA, MFT

Breaking the Argument CycleWhere has all the love gone that you once felt for your partner? Do you seem to fight about everything? Has your partner become your enemy? How did it happen?

These are common questions I address time and time again in my private practice. The process of "building a case against our partner" begins quietly and unconsciously, so we hardly notice what we're doing. The emotional battle often begins after the honeymoon phase of a relationship and reality has set in. Suddenly the one who could do no wrong, can't seem to do anything right. The one who used to make us happy is slowly becoming the enemy . . . someone to defend against and distrust. We're certain they're doing things just to annoy us and make us angry. We retaliate by doing things to them that get the same result. Slowly we have forgotten that we love our partner and now wonder what to do.

One of the most important things to do to begin to regain the love you once had for your partner is to start giving them the benefit of the doubt, like you would a friend or even a stranger. In order to do this, remember these three things:
  1. Step out of yourself and listen to your partner. What is she/he really saying if you weren't already expecting the worst and waiting to defend yourself?

    Example: Your partner is upset that you've come home late and says, "Here we go again, you're late for dinner and you didn't even call me." Your first reaction is to defend yourself with excuses of why you're late. Instead, just listen to your partner . . . when we're busy talking, we don't really hear what our partner is trying to communicate. You may see that your partner is simply trying to tell you that she/he's hurt, and not that you're a bad person. By holding back your defenses and addressing your partner's upset, a conversation can ensue rather than a defensive arguing match. In this situation, apologizing for being late, listening, and seeing the situation from your partner's point of view would dramatically alter the dynamics of the situation.

  2. Don't take everything your partner says PERSONALLY. In other words, don't just react impulsively from JUST your emotions. Let your head help you to think about the situation and what's been said, rather than assuming your partner is trying to hurt you. To help you NOT just react from emotions (taking a remark as a personal attack), try asking yourself these simple questions: How might I respond to my partner if I did not take what she/he is saying personally? What if what she/he is saying ISN'T about me? If this was true, would I hear her/him differently? Would I respond differently?

    Example: Your partner's had a hard day and has been unable to talk to anyone about it. Then you walk in and start talking about your day. All of a sudden your partner is angry that you never listen. If you take a minute to THINK about the situation, without immediately reacting, you may realize that your partner did have a hard day and needs to be HEARD, not necessarily that you NEVER listen. By not reacting to your own hurt, you might be able to be there for your partner . . . and then they're more likely to be there for you. Again, a potential argument could transform into an intimate conversation.

  3. What if I didn't see my partner as my enemy? How would I respond if I still loved/liked my partner? How did I respond in the beginning of our relationship?
Do you want to be right or do you want a resolution for the argument? Do you want a healthy relationship? The healthiest relationships are the ones where both people can be right and have the opportunity to express their feelings and be heard. It only takes one person to change the pattern of the relationship. Be that person. Stop attacking and putting your partner on the defensive. Begin with an act of kindness to yourself and your partner by giving them the benefit of the doubt. By doing so, you begin to change the pattern of your relationship from negative to positive, from attacking to understanding, from fighting to intimacy, from enemy to friend, lover, and partner. One act of kindness goes a long way, leading to a different and healthier way of communicating.

About the Author:
Sharon Rivkin"What's the big deal? All I said was . . ." Sound familiar? Argument/Affairs Expert and Therapist Sharon M. Rivkin helps couples fix their relationships by understanding why they fight. Sharon says, "If you don't get rid of the ghosts that haunt your arguments, you'll never stop fighting!" Read her new book, "Breaking the Argument Cycle: How to Stop Fighting Without Therapy," to learn the tools of therapy to break the cycle of destructive fighting. Sharon has been featured in "O: The Oprah Magazine," "Reader's Digest," and DrLaura.com, and appeared on Martha Stewart Whole Living Radio. www.sharonrivkin.com

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