Opposites attract and likes repel. When a couple cannot accommodate their “attractive differences” and tries to act as one person, the second half of magnetic law is set into action. A widening gulf develops as partners start to repel each other and differences become extreme.

The first step to bridging this chasm is to become aware of the communication patterns that feed it. You can start by identifying what your partner does that bothers you. However, immediately examine how you react. For example, if your partner is sloppy, have you become the critic? If your partner is critical, do you find yourself on the defensive or withdrawing? Whenever a problem occurs, the variety of responses to it is endless. Yet, most people get stuck in “fight” or “flight” reactions. 

The most important learned communication response to use when either you or your partner is upset is to show understanding. The word “show” is emphasized because it does not help to understand unless you demonstrate your understanding by rephrasing thoughts, labeling feelings, and validating factors that contribute to emotions. Using all three active listening responses can produce powerful results.

Many people have fears that they will never be understood, resolve their feelings, or have their needs met unless they talk. When the art of listening is understood, it makes sense why the opposite is true:

  • You can reduce the intensity of your own reactions by understanding the hurt that underlies your partner’s undesirable behavior. Always assume that when your partner does not treat you well, there is an old resentment or fear behind that behavior.
  • Your partner will have less need to defend, withdraw, attack, or give long-winded speeches. It may take several statements of understanding before your partner realizes that you simply want to understand without trying to force changes.
  • The best way to obtain understanding is by giving it. As your partner’s defenses come down, they will want to understand how things have been for you. Your persistent efforts to show understanding will serve as a model that can teach your partner to rephrase, identify feelings, validate, and sympathize. You can aid the process (after you thoroughly understand your partner’s feelings) by asking, “Would you like to understand why I acted the way I did?”
  • Long-lasting solutions come from understanding. They are never reached by convincing, ordering, threatening, or nagging. Over time, deep levels of understanding will develop and conflicts will begin to resolve themselves.
  • You and your partner will begin to encourage the best in each other by appreciating the good intentions in difficult behavior. When understanding and active listening have been cultivated, it enables you both to come into conversations with the assumption that your partner is doing the best they can.

Understanding the pain that underlies troublesome behavior and noticing the little things a person does to change is simple, but it’s not easy. Our therapists are trained to help couples strengthen their active listening skills and move toward deeper understanding of each other. Give us a call today at 425-462-8558 to schedule an appointment.



If your car was stuck in sand, would you continue to press on the gas pedal or would you get out and figure out a new line of action? Most people would do the latter. Yet, when it comes to relationships, people often keep their foot on the gas and dig themselves deeper. A person may continue to provoke their spouse to be “rebellious” by attempting to control them. Some people may drive their partner further away by chasing them when they distance themselves. How do these vicious cycles get started? The answer lies in the mystery of romance.

High levels of attraction actually produce a chemical change in the brain and body. A person’s system becomes flooded with endorphins, nature’s painkiller, and while on this “high” it is easy to be blinded to signs of trouble. This type of attraction is often created because:

  • Your partner has characteristics similar to your early caretakers and you unknowingly think this person will fulfill your unmet childhood needs. If you had a controlling parent, you may strive to win freedom from a rigid spouse.
  • Your partner has positive qualities you believe you are lacking. Someone who is insecure may be attracted to confidence in another person. A person who is cool and nonchalant can become captivated by another’s warmth.

Often, the signs of trouble begin to appear after the relationship becomes “official” and partners make a commitment. Each person begins to focus on being taken care of and is less inclined to accommodate the other’s needs. As a result, full-fledged conflict may emerge or resentments may slowly build over the years. For example, a spouse may wake up and realize that their efforts to be docile and complacent are never going to win the approval they seek. Or, a partner’s warmth and attentiveness may suddenly seem like a demand for smothering closeness. When unresolved resentments build, the differences that were once a source of attraction become sore spots.

In healthy relationships, differences are interchangeable and a source of learning. Partners can take turns giving and receiving, being spontaneous, and setting limits. The relationship achieves a balance of closeness and freedom so that neither suffocation nor detachment results.

Unfortunately, when both people in the relationship resist fulfilling their potentials, they become stuck playing certain roles and cease growing. A couple may be satisfied acting out this polarization for years, until a crisis occurs. To make the relationship more open and flexible, one person must change and allow the other to be upset. If this is done with firmness and empathy, even rigid “tyrants” can realize their partners can act independently and remain committed to the relationship.

To learn more about our approach to couples therapy, click here. If you would like to make an appointment for couples therapy, please give us a call at 425-462-8558.

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