Except in the case of abuse or battering, the real barrier to a satisfying intimate relationship is not the personality, selfishness, ill-will, poor behavior choices, or communication skills of you or your partner. The real enemy of your relationship is the hypersensitive Automatic Defense System (ADS) that has evolved between you.
Activated almost entirely without words, the ADS gets triggered unconsciously by body language, facial expressions, and tone of voice. By the time you're aware of any feelings, it's usually in an advanced stage. It's the feeling you get when your partner doesn't look at you or or sighs as you or when you hear the door close before he/she enters the room, or when he or she starts with that "tone." Suddenly you find yourself in a defensive posture, prepared for the worst.
Of course, when you are both defensive, the worst is likely to happen. You can just as suddenly find yourself in a battle of cold shoulders or curt exchanges or hot arguments - the missiles seem to start flying on their own, with no one giving the order. You both feel powerless. You get irritable, impatient, resentful, or angry and want to stonewall, ignore, avoid, shut down, criticize, yell, or devalue yourself or your partner.
The sensitivity level of the ADS varies throughout the day. In its hypersensitive stage, anything - serious or trivial - can set off your ADS. There are certain times when it is likely to become hair-trigger:
But even when your physical and mental resources are high, certain incendiary triggers are so powerful that anything remotely close to them will set off your ADS. These usually invoke the memories of some form of past betrayal, such as:
Over time, the ADS tends to stay in a hypersensitive state more or less continuously, as you come to expect that your partner will let you down in some way.
Like all defensive systems, the hypersensitive ADS has preemptive strike capacity that is also mostly unconscious. Without intending to, you have an urge to get your partner with some kind of critical remark before he or she gets you. It may seem like you are always defensive, but many times you are striking first in anticipation that you partner is about to do the same.
Good News and Bad News
The bad news about your ADS:
The good news about your ADS:
You probably know couples who are largely numb to one another. They are not interested enough in the negative opinions of each other to be hurt by them. They don't hurt because they don't care. Where there is pain, at least there is life, and a motivation to heal and improve. Following the motivation to heal and improve will help you disarm your ADS.
Disarming Your ADS
It's important to realize that in the vast majority of cases you inadvertently push each other's buttons. Even though it may seem that your partner is out to make your life miserable, neither of you likes the way you feel when your ADS gets triggered. Neither of you wants it to be triggered. The secret to disarming it is to see your partner as an ally in the effort rather than a nemesis.
To disarm your ADS:
One thing is for sure: Your ADS is not going to improve without determined effort. If you conscientiously try the above and still find that it is too difficult to break on your own, your ADS has become reflexive and habituated. In that case, you may need some internal reconditioning to eliminate it completely, such as that provided by HEALS.