Why Do I Get So Upset with My Partner? by Dr. Rich Nicastro

Relationship Help: Why Do I Get So Upset with My Partner?
 by: Dr. Rich Nicastro

Q: I need some relationship help. While I love my husband with all my heart, sometimes it’s just so frustrating being married to him. When I feel that he’s ignoring me, I get so upset, and he’s usually surprised by the intensity of my reaction. Why do I get so upset with him? ~Lynn, Carlsbad CA

A: Thanks for the question, Lynn. Here are some thoughts that might help shed light on your experience:

It is extremely distressing to feel as if your words and actions have no impact (or no longer matter) to your spouse/partner—to think that someone whom you love deeply is no longer engaged fully in the relationship or interested in what’s important to you can be extremely painful.

When you feel like your spouse/partner is not being responsive to you (and to your needs), two outcomes become likely:

1. Initially, you may “up the ante” in order to have some kind of impact on your spouse/partner– this might involve yelling, becoming more provocative, elevating your emotional responses, acting in ways that are uncharacteristic for you (in attachment literature these types of reactions are called “protest” behaviors—your protests are a reflection of losing something extremely important to you; this can be the love of your partner, the security of your relationship, or both).

Is it fair to say that at some point most of us would react negatively (protest) if we perceived our spouse/partner to be unavailable and unresponsive to our needs?

2. When you feel ignored for extended periods of time, your sense of despair can turn into feelings of hopelessness—you give up on trying to engage your spouse/partner and begin to retreat (this is a self-protective behavior—in essence, you’re cutting your loses). This may take the form of indifference, withdrawal behaviors, and disengaging from the relationship in general (and the responsibilities that are a part of the relationship).

Typically a…

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