Monthly Archives: January 2024

If Feeling Unseen In Your Household Is Driving You Into A Boiling Rage, Do This.

A step-by-step guide to getting through one of the most common triggers in a relationship.

In the course of a relationship, it’s not uncommon for either person to start to feel invisible or overlooked by the other.

Have we not all felt it?

That urge to report the 767 thing we did that day to make the lives of those around us run smoothly? To cry out how deeply, deeply drained we are? To fish for some teeny tiny token of recognition?

A recent survey of American mothers showed that 75% felt “invisible” and 94% felt “unappreciated, unacknowledged or unseen.” Even as professional, parenting, and household responsibilities are divvied out more equally, women still take on about “2/3 or more of the unpaid domestic work and childcare for their homes and families,”according to Eve Rodsky the creator of The Fair Play Method. And there’s a long list of what she calls “invisible labor,” meaning unpaid or unnoticed work, that women still predominantly do.

It’s not necessarily that our partners aren’t hardworking or generous or loving or considerate in countless ways. But sometimes we just don’t feel seen. And that can make us carry a certain weight. A resentment. Maybe even a certain level of … boiling rage?

And then, of course, we feel something else – guilt. Guilt for being irritable. Unsatisfied. For wanting something.

On the flip side, and if we’re being truly honest, we might feel sorry for ourselves. Victimized. Wronged. Punishing toward the partner we feel shut out by.

Finally, to make it all extra easy on ourselves, we feel all these things at once. And ultimately, that leaves us feeling the biggest feeling of all. Demoralized.

But according to research from John Gottman, Ph.D. of The Gottman Institute, who has studied the dynamics of couples for decades, we apparently don’t have to be.

We talked to Certified Gottman Therapist Karen Bridbord, Ph.D. about exactly what to do when we feel a quiet rage at being overlooked in our relationship, both in ourselves and with our partner. And it was all so actionable, so honest, and so … hopeful.

Making Sense Of The Disconnect

According to Bridbord, there’s a series of critical steps we can take to help us navigate our own hurt and rageful feelings around not feeling seen and to improve the dynamic with our partner. But first, it’s important to make sense of the dynamic that’s leading us to feel disconnected in the first place.

“In any given interaction between two people, there are really one of three choices,” said Bridbord. “You can either turn towards someone, turn away from someone, or turn against someone. What really put [Gottman] on the map was the fact that he found that for every one [act of] turning away or turning against, you actually need five turning towards. So that’s an enormous ratio right there. And what happens is that over time, when people turn away, that can lead to this boiling point.”

Turning away is basically a form of “stonewalling, where a person just shuts down,” said Bridbord. “Oftentimes, people turn away not because they’re intentionally trying to ignore or hurt the other person on the other end [but] because they’re flooded. They’re overwhelmed themselves by the situation and they don’t know how to address it. Flooding is kind of like the fight, flight, freeze response where they shut down.”

It’s, of course, normal to feel triggered by our partner shutting down or “turning away” consistently. In fact, “Gottman’s research found that turning away was a little bit worse than turning against,” said Bridbord, “Why? Because in turning against at least there’s some energy. Even in the conflict, there’s connection.”

The absence of connection can create a “build up” of heated or hurt feelings. In order to reestablish connection and communicate what we want and need from the other person, we ourselves have to be willing to turn towards our partner. “Even in the discussion of a challenging scenario, it’s really your work to be able to not get into that fight, flight, activated mode, so that you can acknowledge your feelings, you can talk about them calmly with your partner, and hopefully, your partner can hear what you have to say and respond to you in a calm effective way as well.”

Steps To Take Before You Sit Down To Talk:

We all know that storming up to our partner with a suitcase brimming with rage-driven complaints will get us nowhere. But neither will using all of our strength to keep that suitcase sealed shut while bursting at the seams. Communication will need to happen, but before it does, there are 3 things we can do to feel calmer and clearer in ourselves:

1. Self-reflect

“The first piece is to recognize that you really don’t feel seen and understand for yourself where that pain is coming from,” said Birdbord.” That might mean asking yourself if there’s “a way that you bring either baggage to the table, meaning you have a history of feeling ignored in some way, or are you contributing to being ignored?”

The point here is not to “blame the victim” but to reflect on your side of the equation in order to gain a fuller understanding of the dynamic. Ask yourself whether you’re setting boundaries or setting yourself up to be hurt in certain ways that might be based on your own history. As Bridbord put it, “Real self-reflection comes in terms of trying to figure out what’s me, what’s them, and what are we creating together?”

2.  Self-soothe

“The antidote to stonewalling is self-soothing,” said Bridbord. “Self-soothing usually means not thinking about the thing that really pissed you off that the other person did. And in this case, we’re talking about the thing that the person did many times over the course of who knows how long, but it’s to learn how to take care of you. Because if you don’t take care of you, you’re not going to be able to come to your partner as easily and say, ‘Hey, this really bothered me when you did this, and it hurt my feelings.’”

3.  Reflect on the other person’s experience

“Acknowledging what’s going on in the other person’s life is also important, not as a way of excusing the behavior, but as a way of understanding,” said Bridbord. “For example, are they having a particularly stressful time at work or with a friend or with their parents or with something that could be contributing to their behavior? And they’re not necessarily aware that your perception is that they’re turning away.”

Taking this time to reflect is done “in the service of coming to your partner to share with them how you feel and acknowledging that you recognizethat they’re going through a lot, and it’s been hurtful that you’ve felt like you’re the one that’s been carrying the load for the relationship and they have not been turning towards you,” said Bridbord. In this way, it’s not about blame, which tends to put the other person on the defense.

When You’re Ready To Talk, Here’s How To Do It:

There are five very helpful things to keep in mind to help you convey what you really want to say and to elicit a better response from your partner.

1. Make sure that your partner is ready to have the discussion

“You know how they say in real estate, location, location, location. Well, I tell couples all the time when having critical conversation, timing, timing, timing is key, because you might be ready to have the conversation, but they might not be ready to have the conversation,” said Bridbord. “We want to set up the conversation to be successful. So you might want to say to your partner, ‘Hey, I would love to talk to you about some stuff, but I don’t want you to be distracted, and I need your full attention during this time, so when would be a good time for you?’”

2. Use “I” statements to say what you are feeling

“When you say something like, ‘I’m feeling alone,’ it’s different than saying, ‘Hey, you’re ignoring me,’” said Bridbord. “Even better is saying something like, ‘I really miss you.’ If you say to somebody, ‘I really miss you’, it’s going to be seen as a turning towards rather than “you’re not doing enough.”

3. Remind your partner of your intentions

Be outright in stating that your intentions are not about blaming. It’s about getting closer, knowing each other, and making things feel better, individually and together.

4. Be clear and give specific examples as opposed to generalities

Pay attention to when you use words like “always” and “never.”

So instead of saying:

“You never thank me for cleaning the kitchen late at night. You’re always just watching TV, not even offering to help.”

You might say:

“The other night when I did dishes and you watched TV, I felt lonely and really tired. It would have meant a lot to me to be offered help or thanked or acknowledged in some way.”

5.  Be open to hearing what they want to tell you

To create a climate where feedback is welcome, it has to go both ways. Showing that you’re interested and care about the other person’s inner world and point of view creates a sense of safety, where each person knows they’re not just there to bare the brunt of the other person’s blame.

“Chances are, if you are not feeling good, they may not be feeling good, too,” said Bridbord. “They may share with you some information that you may not be aware of about how they’ve been feeling.”

3 Practices To Keep You Feeling Seen And Connected:

In order to avoid falling back into a pattern of stonewalling or feeling overlooked, Bridbord recommends consistently having three types of conversations with your partner.

1.  State Of The Union

Gottman talks about having what he calls “state of the union” meetings once a week. These are really just an opportunity for both people to talk about how things have been going the past seven days, which “prevents a buildup of negativity over time,” said Bridbord. “At work, everybody can appreciate that they probably have more meetings than they even want to … and yet couples don’t even think about having regular meetings where they come together and say, ‘how are we managing ourselves as a family? How are we communicating with each other? What’s working? What isn’t working yet?’ Turns out that couples who do have those types of meetings regularly report having better connection and, ultimately, better communication.”

2. Date Night/ Love Mapping

Unlike a state of the union where you’re focusing on the dynamic between you, there needs to be a time in your week where you’re just connecting and sharing about your individual lives, according to Bridbord. “It’s really hard to feel disconnected when you are making time every week to just turn towards and talk about your lives outside of the relationship, building those love maps [and relaying] who you are [to each other].”

3. Repair Meetings

A repair meeting is “when we’re actually talking about a conflict that happened recently, and we’re going through a process of trying to understand and learn about each other more deeply as well as come up with a plan of action for next time we get into a fight,” explained Bridbord. “You’re saying, ‘wow, we blew up this week and let’s look at what happened … How did you feel? How did I feel? What was your perception of what happened? What was my perception of what happened? What were the triggers that led to how are we each taking responsibility for the conflict that we had? And finally, next time a conflict like this arises, how are we going to do it differently?”

Of course, each of these conversations can naturally “meld into each other” but it’s also important to make time for each one in their own right in order to keep both people feeling understood and close to each other.

Ways To Cope When Feelings Of Being Invisible Run Deep:

And finally, if feelings of being invisible get triggered easily or seem out of proportion to the situation with your partner, here are three actions Bridbord suggests you take:

Self-care: “When I say self-care, I don’t mean sitting on the couch eating bonbons,” said Bridbord. “I mean doing things like taking care of your own mental health, exercising, sleeping well, meditation, laughter, just lifestyle strategies for self to help you not get as triggered when your partner is turning away from you.”

Open up about your vulnerabilities: “It is important for your partner to know if you have a sensitivity to feeling overlooked or rejected. “Everybody brings baggage to the table from the past, from past childhood wounds as well as past relationships,” said Bridbord. “It’s important for your partner to know that this is a vulnerability that you carry into the relationship, so that they can be more gentle with you when it comes to that issue.

See a therapist: Finally, if you find yourself struggling with feelings of insecurity or abandonment, it’s incredibly valuable to find a therapist. And this is true for anyone, hoping to make sense of their reactions and ways of being in a relationship.

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How To Get Your Partner To Meet Your Needs When You’ve Spent Your Whole Life Ignoring Them

These 7 things might just finally make you feel secure.

Most of us are uneasy about the idea of “having needs.” We may know logically that they’re necessary. We may fully expect everyone around us to have them. But when it comes to ourselves, we frequently misfile any feeling of need as “being needy.”

It’s an idea that springs directly from the stirring reality that most of us just took care of our OWN emotional needs as kids, which paved the way for us to not expect it from other people, especially our partners.

Hopefully, by now, with the advent of so much therapy, we finally understand that needs are ok and normal and human. But how do we reconcile wanting them met with living for so long without a willingness to admit we even had them?

For those of us who’ve clocked decades ignoring our needs, we’ve probably either predominantly hidden them from others, or we’ve learned a way of expressing them that isn’t adaptive and doesn’t inspire the response from the other person that leads to our needs being met. So we’re left feeling chronically (at least somewhat) unsatisfied. Unfulfilled.

The good news is, we can learn a different way.

According to The Gottman Institute, which has spent decades studying couple relationships, there are tangible ways that both people in a couple can “get better” at making their needs known. And at meeting each other’s needs in ways that makes each person feel more secure. More themselves. More sane.

And so, here are 7 ways we can make our needs known to our partner:

1. Pick the right time when both of you have agreed to talk.

Very often, both people in a relationship spend more time than they should glossing over their needs. In turn, they might let them spill out in small ways: an eye roll here, a passive-aggressive joke there. But eventually, many of us come to a point where we’re revved up enough to approach the other person. Unfortunately, our timing can be terrible. We might be feeling too triggered to communicate how (or what) we hope to. Or we might be completely calm and coherent, but our partner is caught so off-guard, the conversation slams to a halt pretty much as soon as it starts.

One of Gottman’s key principles is that you make time to talk to your partner about the “state of your union,” but according to Certified Gottman Therapist Karen Bridbord, Ph.D., both of you should choose when and where to have this talk, so that you’re both ready to communicate openly and listen to the other person’s needs. “I tell couples all the time when having critical conversation, timing, timing, timing is key, because you might be ready to have the conversation, but they might not be ready to have the conversation,” said Bridbord.

2. Soften your start-up

Considering the mess of feelings around our history with having needs, it takes a certain degree of vulnerability to get better at expressing them. Ultimately, it breaks down to “the ability to express one’s self, including one’s feelings, needs, etc. rather than feeling inhibited,” said Mike McNulty, Ph.D., founder of The Chicago Relationship Center, senior certified Gottman therapist, and Advanced Clinical Trainer for The Gottman Institute.

Because many of us have a knee-jerk impulse to protect ourselves, it’s immensely helpful to have a very specific technique for how to approach our partner with a need. This is where a Gottman concept known as aGentle Startupcomes in:

A gentle startup is ‘the antidote to criticism,’ said McNulty. “This template helps people complain without blame.” You can phrase your “start up” with your partner by filling in the blanks of the following statement:

“I feel _____” about “_____” and “I need_____.”

3. Express a positive need instead of a complaint.

“When you bring together two people with different personalities and fundamental needs, 69% of the time people will have differences [around] the typical problems that they face in their life together,” said McNulty. “Having complaints is normal and natural. As long as they are expressed without blame, complaints are not problematic.”

So, what’s a better way to express a complaint? According to Gottman, it’s by stating a positive need. A positive need is a clear, direct expression of something specific your partner can do to support you. Using the framing of a “gentle startup,” you can start to get comfortable saying these needs directly to your partner.

For example:

“I feel hurt when you start looking at your phone while I’m talking to you about something personal. I need to feel like I have your full attention for a period of time to show me that you care what’s going on with me.”

“I feel drained when I spend a lot of late hours cleaning by myself. I need to feel like we’re taking care of our house together and spend more time sharing little projects.”

4. Resist using blaming language by switching “you” statements to “I” statements.

Dr. John Gottman, who founded The Gottman Institute, famously said that, “behind every complaint is a deep personal longing.” One way to make sure you’re giving away a positive need and not just unleashing a sea of blame onto your partner is to keep starting your sentences in the first person, being open and vulnerable about what you need as opposed to critical of the other person for failing to meet that need.

For example, instead of saying:

“You always talk over me. I can’t get a word in. You’re so self-centered.”

You might say:

“I feel like I’m not being heard, and it’s really important to me that you take the time to let me finish a thought before you respond.”

5. Be specific about what would make you feel good.

No matter how well another person knows you, you can’t expect them to mind-read. In this same vein, making sweeping, unspecific statements like, “You’re barely affectionate with me anymore” or “I never have a second to myself” can feel vague and unrealistic to the other person who may become defensive or feel somewhat clueless about what they can do to resolve the issue.

As uncomfortable or vulnerable as it might feel feel to say things like “I need you to pause and hug me a few times a day” or “I need to spend a couple hours alone right now just to feel more myself,” the more specific you can be about your needs, the better able your partner will be to actually do something about them.

6. Avoid the “4 horseman” during rough conversations.

Gottman describes four horsemen of the relationship apocalypse, which are characteristics that actually help predict whether a marriage will end in divorce. It’s helpful to keep these four elements in mind when talking through something that stirs up a lot of emotion or just plain isn’t easy for one or both of you. By noticing if you’re creeping into the territory of any of these 4 dynamics, you can keep things empathetic and on track when communicating about each other’s needs.

  1. Criticism

  2. Contempt

  3. Defensiveness

  4. Stonewalling

7. Let them know about vulnerabilities you have around ways you feel triggered.

We all have certain sensitivities, specific words we loathe being called, certain tones that make our skin crawl. We may feel triggered by feeling ignored or overwhelmed by being asked too many questions. Obviously, these might be things we ourselves need to work through in order to show up and support our partner, but we can also let them know that we have these sensitivities.

This gives the other person a chance to cushion us with a little more support in the areas where we struggle. For example, we may be super easy going about our partner planning activities independently from us but feel anxious when they don’t check in once in a while to let us know they’re okay. Whatever our triggers might be, including our partner in this awareness, gives us a chance to know each other in a way that makes each person feel seen, understood, and ultimately, more forgiving and better able to repair in moments when wires inevitably cross and needs don’t get met.

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