Sometimes people do things in relationships they’re not proud of. As a result, their transgressions can leave their partner with feelings of hurt, confusion and sadness.
And sometimes those feelings – which can be difficult for the partner to express in those moments of chaos – are left unaddressed, causing a buildup of contempt and resentment that can ultimately lead to the relationship’s end.
“For the person experiencing lingering negative feelings the mental and emotional torture can be enormous,” relationship expert Chantal Heide of Canada’s Dating Coach says. “And since it’s difficult to experience opposite emotions at once if your mind and feelings are trapped re-experiencing negativity, you’re limiting the amount of emotional pleasure you can get from your relationship, regardless of what your partner is doing.”
So while the partner who has committed the transgressions feel they’ve done everything they can to make up for their actions, the hurt partner may be missing the full impact their partner’s efforts because they’re stuck in raw, negative emotions, Heide explains.
These feelings can then promote a “well, what am I trying for anyway?” attitude and then the hurt partner can begin to give up altogether, Heide adds.
They can also keep hurt partners in a loop of negative decision-making with their partners, constantly creating new wounds until one or both has reached their breaking point.
This, Heide says, is how you end up with couples who stay together not because they’re sharing a relationship with love, mutual understanding and respect, but “because of the children” or “for financial reasons.”
But getting to that point doesn’t happen overnight. It starts with one emotion which then snowballs into other feelings, Heide explains.
“At the base of all your negative emotions is an act that felt like a transgression, causing a deep emotional wound,” she says. “This could be anything from an inconsiderate comment to a straight out betrayal, but the most hurtful aspect of the transgression is the other person’s lack of sincere apology or regret.”
If left unresolved, hurt can ultimately morph into other, harsher emotions, and begin to cloud judgment and drive actions towards deeper negative consequences, Heide adds.
Next up is fear – when hurt is left to its own devices, Heide says it will often turn into fear and this is where the mind-clouding effects take over.
“Fear in itself is a survival mechanism, meant to help us identify what we should avoid,” she says. “Fear’s purpose is to take over our minds and drive our actions into a protective stance.”
So if fear is your most consuming emotion, then your brain is desperately looking for a way out.
And given enough time without reprise, Heide says this emotion will then morph into a strong, more powerful force, meant to further help you out of this situation.
Anger is a byproduct of fear, Heide says, and a self-protective measure.
“That anger, accompanied by the resentment you feel over your inability to feel good in the relationship, begins to create what I call an offensive-defensive,” Heide says. “Now instead of simply shielding yourself from further attack, you’re seeking to set up an emotional army, ready to strike at the first opportunity.”
Then that’s when revenge comes along. As the transgressions keep repeating in your head, you may look for opportunities to enact your offence. And when a particular transgression is never resolved that offence can take years to come into play, delaying the response to “get even” with the partner who’s done wrong, Heide says.
The problem with this is the unexpected hurt your partner experiences, since they have no idea you’ve been harbouring this scenario to the point of “vomiting it up” years later, Heide explains.
And being surprised in this negative way will create another layer of hurt and anger within your partner, she says, and in response, they will withdraw emotionally as a defence before striking out angrily.
People hate to admit when they’re wrong and our brains are adapted to overlook our flaws. This gives us a sense of “rightness” so we don’t question our ability to fit in with people, Heide points out. Because of this trait, it’s easy for us to feel like defending our sense of righteousness is the right thing to do.
And if all a person is doing is deflecting, this means they’re never acknowledging what could have been done differently, Heide says.
Next comes blame, the most disempowering emotion on the spectrum, Heide says, because it doesn’t give you a chance to change the outcome.
No matter what your partner tries to do to better a situation, it will never feel like enough because other retaliatory behaviours will cancel out any positive impact your partner is trying to have on the relationship, Heide says.
Because of this, the six above emotions will keep cycling over and over again until hopelessness kicks in.
“This emotion spells the beginning of the end for most relationships,” Heide says. “When someone feels like nothing can be done to change the pattern of negative emotions, hopelessness can set in and partners truly give up on even attempting positive change.”
It’s at this point people begin to plan their exit strategies rather than their future with their partner, Heide adds. It’s this hopelessness that can then breed contempt, as people start to hate their partner’s perceived neglect to their emotional well-being.
Change is always around the corner, Heide says. All it takes is the power to observe your own reactions and take responsibility for them.
“Fear that past pains will repeat themselves can make us say or do hurtful things to our present partner,” she says. “And if we never take responsibility for our reactions when we have them, or forgive our partners when they themselves exhibit those reactions, we end up in a constant cycle of hurt and negativity.”
It’s never too late to say sorry, Heide says, and it’s never too late to accept your partner’s apology either. If you resist this, then it will keep you from moving forward.
If you want to move forward, modify your brain to gain a better outcome going forward – in order to achieve a new life, you need a new brain, Heide says.
You can do this by doing a few minutes of mindfulness every day. This will reduce your capacity to feel stress, anxiety, fear and anger, and reduce those negative emotions. It will make it easier to forgive yourself and your partner, she says.
“Remember, perspective is key to forgiveness,” Heide says. “If you can understand why either you or your partner had a negative, hurt reaction, then you’re better able to forgive and move past it before that hurt escalates into something more damaging in your relationship.”