Anger in the Age of Entitlement

Cleaning up emotional pollution

Still More Ways to Shoot Yourself in the Foot Over Love

How can I love you when you’re so defensive?

Here are a couple more ways that toddlers in love shoot themselves in the foot.

Toddler-Love Mistake #5: High emotional reactivity
A negative emotion in one partner causes chaos or emotional shut down in the other. They "push each other's buttons," mostly by accident, although each will swear that the other does it on purpose. Over time, they develop an automatic defense system.

The automatic defense system - ADS - gets triggered unconsciously, via body language, facial expressions, and tone of voice. By the time you're aware of any feelings, the ADS in an advanced stage of operation. It's the feeling you get when your partner doesn't look at you or sighs as you speak or when you hear the door close before he/she enters the room or when the talk starts with "that tone." Suddenly you find yourself in a defensive posture, prepared for the worst.

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When you're both defensive, the worst is likely to happen. You're apt to find yourself in a battle of cold shoulders or curt exchanges or hot arguments - the missiles seem to fly on their own, with no one giving the order to launch. You both feel powerless. You get irritable, impatient, resentful, or angry and want to stonewall, ignore, avoid, shut down, criticize, yell, or devalue. But nothing helps.

If the ADS is anything, it's hypersensitive. Under stress it becomes a coiled spring. And like all good defense systems, it has preemptive strike capabilities. If you expect to be criticized or put down, you are likely to strike first. That's how the ADS can do damage even when the partners have the best of intentions.

More on how the ADS works and how to disarm it is here The best way to avoid it is to practice self-regulation skill. That's the ability to hold onto self-value and value for your partner when you don't like his/her behavior and when he/she doesn't like yours. When no one feels devalued, connection endures in the face of disagreement. You always recognize that you are disagreeing with someone you love, not someone you dislike who's trying to make your life miserable. In an intimate relationship, behavior is negotiable; caring is not.

Toddler-Love Mistake #6: Failure of compassion
Compassion makes us sensitive to the individuality, depth, and vulnerability of loved ones. It allows us to appreciate that our partners are different from us, with separate sets of experiences, different temperaments, and, most likely, opposite vulnerabilities, all of which make them give different meanings to similar events and circumstances.

The intensity of love, when it exists without high levels of compassion, seems to make us merge with one another and assume that our loved ones see the world exactly the way we do. This obscures what they actually feel and think, and, in large part, who they really are. They become merely a source of emotion for us, rather than separate persons in their own right. If they make us feel good, we put them on a pedestal. If they don't see the world the way we do, we feel betrayed and, at times, vindictive. Love without compassion is superficial, possessive, controlling, and, sometimes, dangerous.

Love Can Start to Fail with No One Doing Anything Wrong
All you need is a little defensiveness about inadvertent lapses of compassion. While lapses are unavoidable, defensiveness about them gouges at the wound and then pours on the salt by minimizing the pain. Defending your ego becomes more important than compassion for your partner's pain.

Compassion and resentment in intimate relationships are counterweights; decline in one automatically increases the other. When defensiveness begins to suppress compassion, it pushes resentment into a downward slide, where it hardens, grows embittered, turns into contempt, strangles love, and kills the relationship.

What Makes a Person Lovable?
Toddlers are lovable because they're cute. We can't get away with love from the toddler part of our brains because we're just not that cute anymore. To arrive at what makes an adult lovable, think of the truly lovable people you have known. What major qualities do they all posses?

I'll bet you didn't think of things like resentment, insistence on getting your own way, having to be right, or focus on being validated and getting their needs met.

You most likely thought of qualities like appreciation, care, tolerance, and compassion, all features of the adult brain.

If you want to feel lovable and viable in your intimate relationship, you have to return to the appreciative, caring, tolerant, and compassionate person you were, before you started shooting yourself in the foot by trying to conduct a committed relationship in the toddler part of your brain.

Steven Stosny, Ph.D., treats people for anger and relationship problems. Recent books: How to Improve your Marriage without Talking about It, and Love Without Hurt.

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