The Scary Beliefs
I think the hardest barrier to communicating differently with each other are the negative and scary beliefs that start to form due to the cycle of conflict. Beliefs sound like:
I’m not important to him
My needs don’t matter to her
I’ll never be enough for him
I am too much, I don’t deserve love
She doesn’t care enough to put effort in
When that belief starts to grow, we become more and more guarded. We don’t ask for what we need, we demand what we need. We hold back our needs altogether. We get critical about behavior that sends us danger cues, or just withdraw completely and try to numb out.
There are a variety of coping skills to try and deal with that awful belief. For me, although I feel relatively secure with my husband, I can have the belief that it annoys him when I cry about something. This feels vulnerable, and I can feel both shame that I need comfort and also anger that he’s not comforting me. In these moments, do I ask for what I need in a gentle way? No! I tell him something is wrong with him for not comforting me. Does he recognize my need under my critique? No! He defends because I’ve made him feel bad, and he likely has some self-critical feelings about not comforting me more.
Those beliefs take a lot of work to chip away at, and that’s a big goal of therapy, to try and change those beliefs in order to create a more secure feeling between the couple. See what it’s like to notice your beliefs that have formed, and how they influence your feelings and communication. It may not change anything yet, but that growing self-awareness is incredibly valuable in eventually changing the cycle.