Raw Spots in relationships cause problems that need understanding

Raw Spots In Couple Relationships

Identifying the raw spots in your relationship

Mary and John had been  stuck in a cycle that was slowly wearing away all the good will in their relationship. 

Every time Mary wanted to talk about the relationship and their problems, John would become critical and try to ‘shut her down’.  He would argue with her telling her what she was saying was wrong. 

She would feel dismissed, unheard and would start to shut down to him.  She would then withdraw, and he would become angry and frustrated because she was not becoming less emotional, she was becoming more emotional. 

He would feel dismissed and like a failure – he would then withdraw.

Understanding what’s causing the raw spots

Underneath every couple’s defend/attack/withdraw/blame/criticise/freeze/flee cycle are raw spots!!

Emotional triggers that get activated when we fear disconnection, disapproval and rejection. 

We move into one of these defences as a way of trying to protect ourselves.  Biologically part of our brain lights up with survival messages. Fight, attack, withdraw etc etc.  Each of us has our own response.  For me, I move into defending myself pretty quickly at times, if I feel I am being criticised or disapproved of.  That is why it feels so devastating to us all when we are fighting with our partners. We often can’t listen to the other as we are in survival mode. We make big assumptions about why the other person is acting the way they are (often not pretty); and we move into labels and judgments around their motives.

Unmet emotional needs from the past  

If we have unmet attachment needs from our first families we can be triggered into these very quickly with the person who is most important to us.  Being disapproved of or rejected may mean ‘death’ from a survival perspective.  Attachment needs are about feeling safe, secure, loved and being able to depend on another to care for us.  When there is conflict this can shake the foundations of the relationship without understanding the cycle and why it feels so devastating to us.  It’s important to understand these primal fears and needs and how they are activated in our most intimate connections. We also need to understand how our own histories play into these reactions.  We need to learn about our partners raw spots with understanding and compassion.

Understanding our own ‘raw spots’ and our partners

When we come to understand how our raw spots are triggered and work towards soothing ourselves and assisting our partner to soothe themselves, we can step out of these difficult conflicts.  It leads to being able to communicate without blame what our need is or what it is that we are fearing is happening.

Double edged sword of needs and fears 

It is a double edged sword when we are triggered.  We have an unmet need and a fear often at the same time, that is why it is often so intense when the feelings emerge.  The  need might be  to feel heard,  or acknowledged and/or valued in our partners lives.  The fear might be that you are not good enough; or you fear abandonment, rejection or not being important in your partners life.  Both of these work together when a ‘raw spot’ is triggered.

John and Mary

What was going on was that John had learnt from an early age to dismiss his own feelings as he was punished every time he showed sadness or anger to his parents.  He learnt to shut them down and to use his rational mind to try and sort things out.  He felt like a failure every time Mary wanted to talk to him, an internal script he carried with him from childhood.  He couldn’t fix the relationship problems so he tried to ‘shut Mary down.’  Just like he did with his own emotional life.  Hi anger was a mask to what he was truly feeling.  He couldn’t show how scared he really was!

Mary on the other hand had grown up feeling that she was not important or that what she said, wanted and needed was a bother to her family.  She learnt to dismiss her own needs.   She believed she was unimportant.  Every time Mary took the risk to tell John what she needed she felt dismissed and each time John tried to shut her down, up would come those feelings again and she would withdraw as she had as a child.

What happened for John and Mary

Both John and Mary needed to understand what was triggered and why.  Then they could work towards understanding each other and to communicate in a way that stopped John feeling like a failure, and Mary feeling like she was not important.  They grew together in a new way of expressing their needs and their fears and got back on track with their relationship.  They also learnt how to appreciate each other, talk about their dreams and fears and become closer through sharing their feelings with each other in a safe and productive way.

Healthy Couple Relationships

Getting past the blame

Many of the couples that I see in my practice don’t know how to have a healthy couple relationship.  They are unhappy and try to blame each other for these issues.

When you analyse some of their problems  it can be seen that their relationship may be based on some unhealthy beliefs.

  • You don’t have to work on a relationship; it should just be naturally ok
  • This is what my Mum and Dad did, and it worked for them
  • It is the other person’s fault, and I have done nothing to contribute to the problems

Building a healthy couple relationship

Some people may have had good parental role models, but may not have seen the relationship connection between their parents.

Many people may have grown up in a difficult family, and have had to struggle along to understand relationships.

A healthy couple relationship is akin to a healthy friendship, just with extras.

Unfortunately some people just survive their relationships and they never grow and develop as a person, and as a couple.

Relationship quiz – test the health of your relationship

  1. Do you get along well – do you have some shared interests?
  2. Do you have fun together?
  3. Do you do what one person wants to do or is there equal time for both partner’s interests and wishes?
  4. Do you have similar dreams and expectations?
  5. Are you able to raise and talk about difficult issues with your partner?
  6. Are you able to say what you need and what you want without feeling like there is something wrong with you?
  7. Are you able to have your own personal space to see friends and family and have individual dreams and hopes outside of the relationship?
  8. Are you both able to apologise and own your part in a conflict?
  9. Is there room for both of you in the relationship or is it all about one of you?
  10. Do you feel relaxed and happy most of the time or do you feel worried and fearful about upsetting your partner?
  11. Is there a sense of equality and shared responsibility in the relationship?
  12. Do you feel like you and your partner have equal rights, equal say and equal power in the relationship?
  13. Are you able to recover after conflict, or do issues never really get resolved?
  14. Do you feel listened to and understood, or are your feelings and concerns dismissed?
  15. Is the balance right with individual time and couple time?
  16. Do you feel appreciated, supported and loved most of the time?
  17. Can you set healthy boundaries with your partner?
  18. Are you able to reflect and talk about what is working and not working in your relationship?
  19. Is there room for differences in your relationship and are these valued?
  20. Do you have to adjust yourself all the time to please your partner?

If you mainly answered yes to these questions, then you are well on the way to having a healthy couple relationship. 

If no, then it might be time to look at what is going on. 

Your relationship may be really struggling because your needs as an individual, and as a couple, may have gone underground, and you are fighting or arguing all the time about the same old issues.

It’s time to put the spotlight on what is really going on – what you both want, and how to work on it together.

Couples counselling can help!

Jenn Apps,
Relationship Counsellor, Geelong