Healthy communication is the heartbeat of any relationship, a tie that connects two individuals, allowing them to understand, empathize, and support each other in the good and bad times. A solid relationship filled with harmony and understanding relies heavily on effective communication.

When communication breaks down within a relationship, it can be incredibly distressing for both partners. Understanding and acknowledging the underlying issues and implementing effective strategies can help re-establish a healthy and harmonious connection between partners, restoring the bond you shared and allowing for healing.

Causes of Communication Breakdown in a Relationship

  • Misaligned Expectations: One common source of communication breakdown is the presence of unspoken or conflicting expectations. It is very typical for partners to have different ideas or opinions about their roles, responsibilities, or the direction of the relationship. When these expectations remain unspoken or misunderstood, it can lead to frustration and resentment. For example, Tamara wanted her husband, Aiden, to be more active in household chores and parenting duties. She was constantly frustrated that he sat in front of the TV when he came home and did not want to help her with the kids or the nightly chores. However, Aiden believed in a more traditional division of labor. He focused on his career, providing for the family, and thought his wife was happy as a homemaker and mother. This misalignment in their expectations created tension and conflicts within their marriage, leaving Tamara feeling hurt and used while Aiden felt frustrated. Neither were happy, yet they did not address the issue. This example emphasizes the importance of open communication and the need to compromise when resolving such matters.
  • Emotional Distance: Over time, emotional distance can develop in a marriage, causing partners to become less engaged in open, meaningful conversations. This emotional gap may result from unresolved conflicts, unaddressed issues, apathy, or external stressors, such as work pressures or financial concerns.
  • Poor Communication Patterns: Negative communication patterns, such as criticism, defensiveness, contempt, and stonewalling, can erode any chance of positive communication and lead to escalating conflicts and further deterioration of communication. This cyclical problem eventually spins out of control, leading to a collapse in trust, destroying feelings of love, and creating a wall between the couple that may feel insurmountable.
  • Unresolved Issues: Unresolved conflicts or past issues can continue to fester, making it difficult for couples to communicate effectively in the present. These unresolved issues can trigger emotional reactions such as anger, resentment, apathy, or distrust, creating tension, distance, and a communication breakdown where both parties feel victimized.

Consequences of Communication Breakdown

The consequences of communication breakdown in a relationship are profound and can have a lasting impact on both partners:

  • Increased Conflict: A small unresolved argument often leads to more frequent and intense conflicts that continue to escalate. This can strain a relationship further and, in extreme cases, result in emotional or even physical harm.
  • Emotional Distress: Both partners may experience frustration, resentment, sadness, and anger due to poor communication. These negative emotions can take a toll on your emotional well-being. One person may find themselves getting sick all the time, another may not be sleeping, and this, in turn, affects their health. Our emotional and physical bodies are inextricably linked. We must take care of both the physical and emotional for the good of ourselves and our partners.
  • Decreased Intimacy: When communication breaks down between a couple, it can likely result in reduced emotional and physical intimacy. This significantly impacts the quality of any relationship, leading to feelings of resentment as the couple slowly drifts further apart. 
  • Risk of Separation or Divorce: Persistent communication breakdown can sadly lead to a breakdown of the relationship itself, as partners may consider separation or divorce the only viable solution.

Overcoming communication breakdowns in a relationship is challenging but certainly achievable. It begins with a slight change on your behalf; your partner may initially not show signs of wanting to make changes but try not to feel disheartened. When you make changes, it encourages your partner to follow suit. The following strategies can help couples work towards effective and harmonious communication:

  • Self-Reflection: Take time to self-reflect to understand your communication styles, triggers, and emotional responses. Are you an assertive communicator? A passive-aggressive communicator? Do you tend to take on a more passive role, or do you attack conversation head-on, aggressively? This self-awareness can help individuals take responsibility for their role in communication breakdown. In a past blog post, I covered harmful versus assertive communication, so take the time to learn and understand how you communicate and how to make changes to encourage communication with your partner. That post has many tips and helpful hints, which I will link to at the end of this article.
  • Open and Honest Communication: Encourage open, honest, and non-judgmental communication. Create a safe space to share and express your thoughts, feelings, and concerns without fear of criticism or blame. You may like to do this in a setting away from home, take a stroll in the park or a walk on the beach, and talk openly with each other.
  • Active Listening: Listening to your partner’s perspective is crucial for understanding their viewpoint. Avoid interrupting and practice empathy by trying to see the situation from their point of view.
  • Work as a team: View your partnership from a joint perspective when conflicts arise. Look at the relationship as a ‘we’ instead of a singular. It is easy to look at the world through your eyes, but to do so through your partner takes patience, understanding, and empathy. Practice this technique when listening to an opinion that may not be similar to your own. Put yourself in their shoes and try to understand your partner more deeply. The more you practice, the easier it becomes, and when an argument arises, you can talk together openly, understanding each other’s viewpoints while quickly resolving the issue.
  • Seek Professional Help: Couples experiencing persistent communication breakdowns may benefit from the guidance of a trained marriage therapist. As a couples therapist, I provide a neutral, supportive environment and offer valuable insights and techniques for improving communication. My details are at the end of this blog post.
  • Conflict Resolution Skills: Learning and applying practical conflict resolution skills, such as compromise and negotiation, can help couples address and resolve issues without escalating arguments. A relationship is about give and take, understanding that we can make changes (within reason) for the person we love, and being confident enough to ask for changes to me made in return. 
  • Revisit Expectations: Touching base with each other and revising prior conflicting expectations can prevent misunderstandings and align both partners on their goals and roles within the relationship. It always feels good when you are both on the same page.

Communication breakdown in a marital relationship is a challenging issue that affects many couples, but it is not insurmountable. By understanding the root causes and consequences of communication breakdown and implementing strategies that enable open, honest, and empathetic communication, couples can begin to heal their relationship. A thriving relationship relies on solid communication; talking with your partner about issues can lead to a healthier, more harmonious partnership. Isn’t that what we all want?

To learn more about communication and its importance in your relationship, download our mini-course: “Discover harmony in your relationship: A Psychologist’s guide to conflict resolution.”

This mini-course introduces you to the concept and principles of Verbal Aikido and its application in marital communication. Verbal Aikido empowers you to resolve marital conflict harmoniously, fostering unity in your relationship. We then explore the importance of emotional connection and how modern-day technology has entirely changed our communication methods. Finally, we learn about conflict igniters, what this is, and how this behavior leads to contention and disharmony, and we teach you how to address these behaviors effectively and harmoniously to achieve resolution.

Our entire course is also available on our website, as well as books, our blog, and other classes., follow the link, and start your journey to a harmonious relationship.

To schedule an appointment, please click here.

The holiday season is a time when we pile in the car, drive around our neighborhood, look at the fairy land that is Christmas, and marvel at the creativity of our neighbors. The shops are filled with endless gift opportunities, and the scent of pine trees and gingerbread cookies wafts through our home. 

It is also when many of us try to live up to quite unrealistic expectations. We want to make Christmas time memorable for our little ones, enjoy a home filled with family and friends, and make it a wonderful time for all who enter through the wreath-strung door. 

I honestly believe the only perfect Christmas is in a Hallmark movie. The reality is, the holiday season can be downright stressful at best, grey hair producing for many! 

There have been times when my wife and I would much rather skip the day entirely, get into our comfy clothes, kick back at home, and enjoy a fine wine together, and there are others who may agree with me. This plan never quite pans out for me, and I want to offer you some tips on how to avoid the stomach-churning, headache-inducing stress that can be the holiday season.

Each year, around the middle of November, I begin to notice a change in some of my patients. Their stress levels rise as they grapple with the high expectations they set for themselves for the upcoming holiday season, and this takes a toll, both mentally and physically. 

There is so much that plays on your mind this time of year: food, gifts, the added expense, and, of course, dealing with the challenges of hosting family and friends in the home. 

In this article, we’ll delve into the problems associated with excessively high self-expectations and provide strategies to reduce holiday-related tension, making the season more manageable and enjoyable.

The Perils of High Self-Expectations

Setting excessively high self-expectations, both mentally and physically, can take a toll on your overall well-being. It’s essential to recognize the problems this can cause and to learn how to manage these expectations.

  • Mental Expectations: Many of people undue pressure on themselves to create the “perfect” holiday experience, from meticulously decorated homes to flawlessly prepared meals. The constant pursuit of perfection can lead to feelings of inadequacy and stress.
  • Physical Expectations: Physically, the holiday season can be exhausting. Preparing large dinners, hosting guests, cleaning, playing referee when the kids argue, and participating in the numerous activities we may be invited to can be tiring. Overcommitting and neglecting self-care can result in burnout and feelings of resentment.

Coping with Hosting Family

Having family come to stay during the holidays can be a double-edged sword. On the one hand, you may love your family; on the other, you can’t wait for them to leave! Here are tips to help you manage tension in your own home and make the experience more enjoyable for everyone:

  • Effective Communication: Clear communication is essential. Set boundaries and expectations for the visit, such as how long each family member stays, discuss routines and child care duties, help out in the kitchen, how family can help out by contributing to the food cost and address any potential conflicts before they escalate.
  • We all Need Personal Space: Ensure you and your guests have personal space and downtime. Setting boundaries is essential, such as explaining to your guests that your bedroom is off-limits so you can retreat to that space when needed. Or explain in advance that you need to crash for half an hour during the day to recharge. If people understand this, they are more likely to respect your boundaries than wonder where you are and come looking. 
  • Respect Differences: Inevitably, family members will not always see eye to eye. People have diverse beliefs, traditions, and preferences. Use empathy by looking at their viewpoint to understand their opinion and avoid imposing your values on others. Embrace the diversity that makes the holiday season rich and meaningful.
  • Adjust your Expectations: How many of us have that one family member who had a little too much egg nog, got wobbly legs, and began reminiscing about the ‘good old days’ before falling asleep mid-sentence and filling the room with a cacophony of snores. Or, the one Uncle who loves to brag about his many successes while following you from room to room as you try to get Christmas lunch prepared. As much as we value family, they can drive us to our limits. Try to accept their flaws or limitations. Understand that they will irritate you, and when this happens, acknowledge your feelings and take some time away for yourself. You can’t change who they are but can change how you react. 
  • Delegate Tasks: Share responsibilities. Assign specific tasks, such as meal preparation or decorating, to involve everyone and reduce the burden on yourself.

Reducing Tension, is it Time to Dial Things Back?

We all want to make our Christmas something to remember; however, sometimes it feels like expectation exceeds reality. Do we need to run ourselves ragged, making so many different kinds of desserts? Will anyone care if the front yard isn’t decorated? Most of the time, family members just want to spend time with you and enjoy your company. It is important to remember that not everything needs to be perfect. It is far better to let some things go than to run yourself ragged.

  • Set Realistic Expectations: Instead of striving for perfection, aim for a realistic and enjoyable holiday experience. Understand that not everything has to go flawlessly.
  • Prioritize Self-Care: I know I covered this, but I will repeat it: Take time to look after yourself. Rest, relax, and engage in activities that rejuvenate you. This will save you from collapsing into a heap after your guests leave, you can enjoy the holidays and look forward to next year.
  • Learn to Say No: It’s okay to decline some invitations or trim down your holiday commitments. Setting boundaries and prioritizing your well-being is essential.
  • Focus on Meaning: Rediscover the true meaning of the holiday season. Spend quality time with loved ones and create cherished memories. In 10 years, no one will remember how perfect the tree was. They will however remember how lovely it was to sit by the fireplace, exchanging stories and enjoying the bond you share.

The holiday season should be a time of joy, not exhaustion. By managing your self-expectations, effectively coping with hosting family, and dialing back your holiday celebrations, you can create a more balanced and enjoyable experience. Remember, it’s about quality, not quantity, and the most precious moments often come from genuine connections with loved ones, free from the burden of excessive expectations.

If you would like to learn more about managing your expectations and how to cope with conflict, especially in your relationship, download our mini-course: Rise Above the Chaos and Embrace your Inner Smile.

In this course, we emphasize the importance of centering your mind and body, creating a state of mental and physical calm. We teach you the value of being mindful of your emotions and the importance of acting objectively rather than subjectively. Additionally, we explore concepts such as “dropping the bone”, mastering the art of taking the high road in an argument, and how to deflect sarcasm. While these skills are a crucial part of every relationship they are often overlooked. Here we guide you and help you develop these essential skills so that you can rely on them when stress and conflict inevitably arise.

Our entire course is also available on our website, as well as books, our blog, and other classes., follow the link, and start your journey to a harmonious relationship.

Have you ever had a friend or acquaintance who you must tip-toe around? You find yourself carefully choosing your words because you know, from experience, that something you say may be taken too personally and lead to an argument or misunderstanding. You may feel exhausted after a conversation and decide to step back from the friendship because it is a minefield of emotions waiting to explode. 

When this occurs within a relationship, things can get very tricky. I see this within my practice when one person in the relationship consistently interprets their partner’s actions and words as a personal attack. This instability is unsustainable and can lead to a relationship breakdown, causing emotional distress for both people involved.

The Science Behind the Problem.

When an innocent comment is taken as a slight, a cognitive distortion occurs, which is often seen in psychology. This distortion happens when a person interprets external events or actions of others as a direct reflection of their self-worth. For example, a simple, innocent comment from one person may be perceived as a criticism of their self-esteem, character, or abilities. This distortion can create a vicious cycle of negative interpretations, leading to both people feeling emotionally vulnerable, and inevitably, conflict escalates within the marriage. 

 How Does This Affect Communication?

When one or both partners habitually take things personally, it can destroy a couple’s communication ability in several ways. Firstly, it can lead to defensive responses. Instead of listening to their partner’s perspective, they may instead put up emotional walls and focus on protecting their self-esteem. This defensiveness can, in turn, escalate conflicts, making finding common ground and resolving issues challenging.

When someone is sensitive to constructive criticism or a simple ask for change, even the most minor requests can blow up into a full-blown flight. Let’s take the following couple, Holly and Aiden, who decided to make dinner together, cutting vegetables for a stir-fry. Holly likes the vegetables cut in a certain way; she feels comforted by routine and knows how long each vegetable takes to cook when cut a specific way, making the cooking process more straightforward. Aiden knows his wife’s routine in the kitchen, having helped her before, but tonight, Aiden decides to change things up and cut the vegetables differently. Seeing this, Holly asked, ‘Hey, babe, can you please go back to how we usually cut them? It makes it easier for me.” It was a polite request and one that had reasoning behind it. Aiden responded by slamming down the knife. “I can’t do anything right, can I?” he fumed, swiping the vegies he cut into the bin before walking away and slamming the door behind him.

Aiden took the request personally, leaving Holly in a predicament. She may hesitate to have him help again, choosing instead to do the job herself while quietly feeling resentful. Or, she may react immediately, telling Aiden to ‘Quit taking things so personally,’ but this could lead to a full-blown argument. Either way results in a negative outcome and a situation that leads to feelings of resentment with no resolution.

Secondly, taking things too personally can involve making negative assumptions about your partner’s motives and intentions, creating mistrust and further eroding the ability to communicate effectively. We all misinterpret people’s actions occasionally, but things need to change when this is a default state.

For example, Steven is a devoted father and husband, but once a month, he sets time aside to meet up with his old college mates, something he has been doing for over a decade. The mates all loved a hot curry, and every month, they would challenge themselves to find a new restaurant and order the hottest curry on the menu. It was a bit of a running joke because Steven, despite loving curry, could never handle the heat, so his mates thought it was a hoot watching him sweat and pant his way through his meal as he guzzled down pints of water.

Steven’s wife knew her husband’s routine but was always suspicious. She believed his ‘curry nights’ were a slight at her, interpreting it as him not wanting to spend time with her. This was not true, and he reassured her of this every month, but she still took his night with the boys personally.

This left Steven in a bind as he knew he came home to a grumpy wife every time he left, but he also enjoyed his time with his long-time friends. This situation leads to both people feeling utterly miserable and resentful.

How Does This Impact You Emotionally?

When somebody repeatedly perceives even the most innocent remarks or actions as personal attacks, they may doubt their self-worth and the strength of their relationship. This can lead to feelings of insecurity, anxiety, and depression, creating a toxic emotional environment within the marriage.

This can have a snowball effect where unresolved conflicts and hurt feelings begin to destroy the emotional connection you once shared. 

Emotional intimacy is a vital component of a thriving marriage. Feeling hamstrung and unable to openly share your thoughts and feelings without fear of sparking an adverse reaction can lead to emotional distancing and detachment.

Breaking the Cycle.

This may be a hard pill to swallow; however, we must take a long, hard look at ourselves and admit that we all tend to take things personally and must learn how this affects our relationships. Doing this helps us foster a healthier, more resilient marriage. 

Here are some strategies to break this destructive cycle:

  1. Self-awareness: The first step is recognizing the tendency to take things personally. This awareness can help you differentiate between objective criticisms and perceived attacks on their self-worth.
  1. Open communication: Encourage open and honest communication with your partner. Create a safe space for discussing concerns, emotions, and misunderstandings without judgment or defensiveness.
  1. Empathy: Try to see situations from your partner’s perspective and understand their intentions. This can help prevent misinterpretations and improve mutual understanding.
  1. Seek professional help: If taking things personally is profoundly ingrained and causing significant issues in your marriage, consider an appointment with a Psychologist specializing in relationship issues. My details are at the end of this article.

Taking things personally is a normal human emotion, but it is time to make a change when this begins to impact your relationship. Taking steps to open the lines of communication between yourself and your partner, talking about how this affects your relationship and how you can make daily changes to overcome this habit, helps reestablish communication and pave the way for a solid future where you build a stronger, harmonious relationship.

To learn more about taking things too personally and how to overcome this problem in your relationship, download our mini-course: “Understanding your partner: Unveiling the secrets to a deeper connection.”

In this mini course, we teach you to the art of Irimi. Here you learn to focus on your partner while centering yourself using your ‘wise adult’ frame of mind. Irimi involves using cognitive empathy to understand your partner’s perspective from a loving and harmonious place. There are six techniques that we cover that are designed to foster an environment of unity and togetherness making it difficult for continued hostility. Once you have mastered these steps, you can move on to the next of Verbal Aikido, Aiki.

Our entire course is also available on our website, as well as books, our blog, and other classes., follow the link, and start your journey to a harmonious relationship.

Thanksgiving is a time of joy, celebration, and eating massive amounts of food while the buttons on our pants strain for dear life. It’s when families come together to create lasting memories and reminisce about past feasts, succulent turkey, and football games won and lost. However, this time of year can also be challenging for many, as it brings the dynamics and tensions within family units to the forefront. 

As the big day approaches, stress levels increase, which can have a domino effect. Someone may have a bad day and snap at you in the store. This makes you mad, and you arrive home feeling vexed and annoyed and, in turn, take it out on your partner. Anger and stress are unwanted gifts that keep giving, which tends to be exacerbated this time of year.

As a family therapist, I’ve witnessed firsthand the struggles that people face when dealing with problematic family members during the holidays. I want to offer some guidance and advice to help you through the holiday season.

The Reality Behind Holiday and Family Conflicts:

The holiday season creates the perfect environment to re-ignite deep-seated family dynamics, stirring up emotions we thought were long forgotten. For instance, adult children returning home may revert to their old roles, leading to power struggles and disagreements. Past grievances can resurface, rekindling old conflicts while spending extended periods in close quarters with family. This can lead to cabin fever, sibling rivalries, or other interpersonal issues that magnify underlying tensions.

Awkward Conversations:

The holiday season brings out both the best and worst in people. Someone will inevitably bring up a topic of conversation that rubs another the wrong way; it wouldn’t be the holiday season without it. 

I know a couple who are asked every Thanksgiving, ‘So, when will you start a family?” They have no intention of having children, and they explain this every year, but people continue to ask and always feel uncomfortable.

So, how do you react to questions or topics such as this, especially when sensitive matters such as politics, religion, or personal life choices arise? Here are some strategies to help you navigate these conversations:

  • Redirect the Conversation: When a touchy subject arises, gently shift the conversation towards a safer, neutral topic. For example, if politics come up, you might say, “Speaking of politics, did you catch the latest ball game or binge-watch anything recently?” Try to lighten the atmosphere without being dismissive.
  • Active Listening: When someone expresses their opinion, actively listen without immediately responding or placing judgment. This can help defuse tension and encourage open dialogue. 
  • Practice Empathy: When engaged in a conversation you may disagree with, try using empathy to understand the topic from the other person’s perspective. Put yourself in their shoes and look at how and why they may have their opinion. We sometimes argue before the other person can finish their thought and miss a crucial point that changes everything. Remember, it is OK not to agree with everyone; we all have the right to our opinions.
  • Set Boundaries: Communicate your boundaries politely but firmly. If someone persists in discussing a topic that makes you uncomfortable, say something like, “I’d prefer not to discuss this right now. Let’s focus on enjoying our time together.”

Toxic Family Members:

Dealing with a toxic family member adds yet another layer of complexity to our holiday season. I know several patients who dread this time of year; their stress levels rise because they know they have to deal with that one person in the family who seems to go out of their way to make their day miserable. Here are some strategies to manage such situations:

  • Choose Your Battles: Not every issue needs to be confronted during the holidays. Assess the importance of the problem and decide whether it’s worth addressing. Conversations can be shelved and picked up at a more appropriate time. There may be topics that you will always have differing views on. It is OK to agree to disagree and say as such in a kind yet firm manner, for example: “I don’t think we are going to see eye to eye on this topic; let’s drop this and chat about something else.”
  • Limit Interaction: Spend time with toxic family members in small doses, and make sure you have a support system in place to help you cope with any negativity. Chat with your support people ahead of time; you can even have a code word or subtle gesture you can give them so they can step in and help distract from the conversation. Be sure to ask them if they feel comfortable doing this so they don’t have to choose sides.
  • Be Kind to You: Prioritize self-care during the holiday season. Engage in activities that help you relax and recharge, such as walking, exercising, or just taking time away from the family to read a chapter of your book, walk your dog, unwind, and lower your stress levels. 
  • Keep a positive outlook and embrace your inner smile: When things begin to go south and tensions rise, keeping a smile on our faces and our thoughts in a positive place can be challenging. However, remember that this time of year is fleeting; things will return to normal, and there is the opportunity to create some fantastic memories. When your stress levels build, think of something you are looking forward to or focus on the positives of the holiday. You may be thrilled to see your Dad after many months of separation, or your sister may have done something ridiculous that you can both laugh about for years to come. It is the small things that keep us going.

Remember that every family has its quirks, and while conflicts may arise, they don’t define the entire holiday experience. Focus on the love and shared moments that make the holiday season special, and remember, if things get stressful, there is always pumpkin pie!

To learn more about effective communication and keeping a positive outlook during stressful times, download our mini-course, “Rise above the chaos and embrace your inner smile.”

In this mini-course, we emphasize the importance of centering your mind and body, creating a state of mental and physical calm. We teach you the value of being mindful of your emotions and the importance of acting objectively rather than subjectively. Additionally, we explore concepts such as “dropping the bone,” mastering the art of taking the high road in an argument, and how to deflect sarcasm. While these skills are crucial to every relationship, they are often overlooked. Here, we guide you and help you develop these essential skills so that you can rely on them when stress and conflict inevitably arise.

Our entire course is also available on our website, as well as books, our blog, and other classes., follow the link and start your journey to a harmonious relationship. 

In my decades of practice, I have learned that subjective reality has much to answer for. If it were a character in a novel, it would most certainly be the most cunning and manipulative antagonist. Subjective reality has caused some of the largest roof-raising arguments I have ever heard, and if we look back at our own lives, I am sure we can relate.

So, let’s start with the basics. Objective reality encompasses the tangible world that exists independently of individual perception. These are occurrences that are physically measured. Such as, it is 71 degrees at the moment, or there is an Oak tree growing in our front yard.

Then we have Subjective Reality – This is how each partner experiences events. Two people can and often experience the same thing very differently. At 71 degrees, one person says, ‘I feel cold in here,’ and the other states, ‘ I feel hot.’ One person remembers events one way, and another disagrees.

As a psychologist, exploring the dynamic relationship between these two dimensions of reality is intriguing, as they significantly influence our thoughts, behaviors, and overall mental well-being, and our ‘friend,’ subjective reality, is the cause of many arguments.

Objective Reality: Our Common Ground

Objective reality provides the foundation on which our relationship is built. It includes shared experiences, external events, and the physical, observable aspects of the partnership.

In a relationship, objective reality includes elements such as the history of the relationship, such as joint financial decisions, and the physical responsibilities and roles each partner assumes. It is the backdrop against which the drama of life unfolds.

Understanding and acknowledging objective reality is crucial for every relationship. This common ground provides stability and a shared reality within the relationship. It gives you something to turn to when times get hard.

Subjective Reality: A Personal Perspective

Subjective reality is the lens through which each partner perceives and interprets the objective world of their life and the relationship. It encompasses personal emotions, beliefs, values, and individual experiences. This dimension of reality influences each partner’s subjective experiences and reactions within the marriage.

Within a relationship, subjective reality is often closely tied to emotions such as love, happiness, jealousy, or anger. It shapes the unique perceptions of the relationship’s quality and the roles and expectations of each partner. Subjective reality also molds individual interpretations of events and interactions, adding depth and personal significance to objective experiences.

For example, Cassie, now in her late 30s, had a tumultuous relationship in her early 20s. Her boyfriend, Mike, flirted with other women, canceled dates at the last minute to hang out with his mates, and his moods would turn from hot to cold in a heartbeat, creating chaos and instability in Cassie’s life. Cassie longed for a committed relationship, but Mike would never commit. One day, while Cassie was at home, listening to music, Mike sent her a text saying the relationship was over. Despite the tumultuous relationship, Cassie was heartbroken. To this day, Cassie can not listen to that specific song that was playing when she received the text without the memory coming flooding back. Despite his unwavering kindness and gentle demeanor towards her, she feels very unsettled when her husband is in a bad mood and is a stickler for ensuring she honors her commitments.  Our past shapes our present, coloring our subjective understanding of our experiences.

The Interplay Between Objective and Subjective Reality in Your Relationship

The interplay between objective and subjective realities is the canvas on which our relationship is painted. It is essential to recognize that this interplay is not always harmonious; honestly, there would be something very wrong if it were. Conflict is normal and, at times, essential in any relationship as it helps clear misunderstandings and encourages needed change. 

Arguments, misunderstandings, and conflicts arise when a partner interprets and responds to objective events and circumstances. The objective reality may remain constant, but their reaction to the subjective realities can differ significantly, leading to differing opinions.

For instance, Zara and Nathaniel saved for many years to put a deposit down on their investment property. This was a decision they made together, and this is now a shared objective reality. However, Zara and Nathaniel react very differently when they receive the keys to the property. Zara is thrilled; this is a step towards her financial security, and she is already lining up tenants. Nathaniel, on the other hand, is worried. Despite choosing to invest, he can’t stop thinking of the risk. Nathaniel grew up in a home where his parents struggled to make ends meet, whereas Zara’s parents came from money. This reaction is shaped by their own subjective reality—shaped by their beliefs, fears, and personal financial experiences—resulting in vastly different emotional responses.

Navigating Marital Challenges Through a Balanced Perspective

As a Psychologist, I often work with couples to help them navigate the dynamic between objective and subjective realities. A balanced perspective integrating both dimensions is critical to promoting a healthy, fulfilling relationship. It involves acknowledging and validating each partner’s reality while grounding it in objective reality.

For example, in couples therapy, I may assist a couple to explore how each partner’s subjective experiences and emotions influence their reactions and interactions within the objective reality of the marriage. This process can help identify misunderstandings and areas of potential conflict, ultimately fostering healthier communication and mutual understanding.

Using Irimi to understand your partner better.

In my practice, I use a technique called Verbal Aikido. Aikido is a Japanese martial art founded by Morihei Ueshiba during the period of the Pacific War when Japan engaged in some of the most violent conflicts of the 20th century. He developed Aikido as a way to join together in peace. Its aim is not to defeat an adversary but to unify oneself and create harmony.

Aikido can be translated as “The way to harmonize energies.”

One Aikido technique I regularly is called Irimi. Irimi encourages you to focus on your partner to understand their energy and its origin. This essential and peaceful step helps defuse conflict, taking the hostility and anger out of the situation so that you can both sit down and come to a harmonious understanding.

To better understand your partner’s experienced or subjective reality using an Irimi move, try asking the following questions or statements:

  • “What was your biggest turn-off about this?”
  • “I think I would also have trouble coping with that.”
  • “Okay, I think I understand. It sounds like you’re feeling ______.”
  • “That would make me feel insecure, too.”
  • “Are there parts of yourself that are in conflict?”
  • “What meaning does this have for you?”
  • “How might this situation impact you?”

Knowing that you care enough to understand your partner’s viewpoint often serves to diffuse negative emotions better, allowing you both to find workable solutions to your conflicts.

In the ever-changing dance that is a relationship, the interplay between objective and subjective realities is always present. Recognizing the influence of both dimensions on the relationship is essential to help cultivate a deeper understanding of your partner while showing them you want to learn and improve within your marriage. 

Couples who work together to address challenges create a stronger, more resilient bond in their marriage by cultivating a balanced perspective that integrates both dimensions. As a psychologist, I stress the importance of embracing this duality to promote healthier, more fulfilling relationships.

To learn more about objective versus subjective reality and its importance in your relationship, download our mini-course: “Discover harmony in your relationship: A Psychologist’s guide to conflict resolution.”

This mini course introduces you to the concept and principals of Verbal Aikido and its application in marital communication. Verbal Aikido empowers you to resolve marital conflict in a harmonious manner that fosters unity in your relationship. We then explore the importance of emotional connection and how modern day technology has entirely changed our communication methods. Finally, we learn about conflict igniters, what this is, how this behaviour leads to contention and disharmony and we teach you how to address these behaviours effectively and harmoniously to achieve resolution.

Our entire course is also available on our website, as well as books, our blog, and other classes., follow the link, and start your journey to a harmonious relationship.

The rapid acceleration in technological communication has created a problem where our nervous system is still trying to adjust to our online world. Gone are the days when the only way to speak with someone was to do so in person.

Emojis, memes, GIFs, etc are now often used to express emotion and thought. Our primitive self, however, still relies on facial expressions, body language, verbal and emotional cues to navigate daily life as we are drawn to the need for human-to-human contact both physically and emotionally. These primitive connection cues help us avoid miscommunication.

Verbal communication alone without person-to-person context is a poor means of connection as meaning can often be misinterpreted. It requires the frontal lobe to work overtime to interpret language and meaning.

Effective communication however creates a feeling of connection, love, trust, romantic attraction, and security within a relationship.

Here is one technique based on your primitive nervous system that you can adapt into your daily routine to help build the emotional connection you share with your partner:

Develop shared meaning by creating daily routines.

Sharing a routine together can be something you look forward to and want to integrate into your everyday life. These small routines help to bind a couple, and it creates a feeling of comfort and camaraderie. It can be something as simple as sharing a cup of coffee in the morning or spending time chatting while preparing dinner.

In my new course ‘Repair my Relationship’, I cover the different techniques you can use within your relationship on a day to day basis to help build and restore the bond you share with your partner.

If you or your partner are dealing with a lack of connection in your relationship, I encourage you to take our new course titled “Repair my Relationship”. It can be taken alone or as a couple.