I have, by all accounts, one of the most gentle and kind friends out there. Let’s call her Matilda (because the Jane’s of the world are tired of taking the brunt of these anonymous stories) She’s giving, compassionate and patient. She remembers everyone’s special days, makes time to really listen to friends, and is a competent and gracious leader.

Which is why the fact that she has, on several occasions, hung up on and sworn at her spouse is perplexing to both herself and, quite frankly, her wife.

Before we dissect poor Matilda’s behaviour, however, let me also tell you about my friend “Kevin”. Kevin is a highly ambitious salesperson with a reputation of getting things done ahead of schedule and being available to coach, mentor and provide support for his sales team.

His wife, however, hasn’t been able to get him to emotionally “tune in” to their relationship or family for years. She can’t understand why Jermone’s colleagues are getting the best of him and she’s got crumbs.

Can you relate? Do you ever wonder why it seems easier to do and say things to your spouse that you wouldn’t dream of doing or saying to anyone else?

Here’s a theory for you: our intimate relationships mean that we are wide open and vulnerable to perceived or real transgressions by our partners. When we feel like a nerve is struck by our partners, it’s much easier to become defensive and protective- because it stirs up the most sensitive areas of pain for us.

Think of it this way: inside each one of us lives the proverbial “inner child”. This is the little you that might not have gotten all of your needs met as a youngster. This is the area where shame was developed inside you. Maybe you were bullied or perhaps you grew up in a home where emotions were repressed or you weren’t validated. Whatever the case, this little person has been hurt.

Later in life, when you open up to love in your intimate relationships, you are saying, “this is all of me- can you love me?” You’re including that inner child in this request, whether you know it or not. At first, this is easy because that crazy, infatuation-love kicks into high gear. After time, however, your partner notices your flaws, you notice theirs, and then “raw spots” get made. These are areas where you begin to feel attacked, criticized, judged or unsupported.

As a species completely dependent on each other for survival, feeling like your “bids” for connection and closeness are being rejected is devastating. Thus, you can become angry, resentful and protective- and either lash out (looking at you, Matilda) or withdraw (we’ve got your number, Kevin).

Try this: begin to reflect on your earlier years and moments that stand out to you as shaping the view you have of yourself. Notice if there are raw spots that can get “rubbed” by your partner. Notice when you feel like withdrawing or lashing out. The first step to changing a behaviour is to bring awareness to it and look for patterns.

Couples counselling can be an excellent way to begin to understand yourself and your behaviour in relationships. One of the things I love best about couples therapy is watching partners listen and link how their spouse’s “inner child” is activated. When coupled can know where they are both coming from, they can understand how to give the other what that person needs. Contact me for more information or book online for counselling in my London, Ontario office.

May you be happy,