Habits die hard. Patterns rule behaviors. Blindly, we walk through life thoughtlessly reacting, just as we always have, hoping for change. Patterned reactions in relationships can lead to a dangerous spiral, eventually destroying dreams of security and love. Often, the precipitating event triggering a patterned reaction is a flawed character trait by our beloved spouse. At the first the flaws are cute, but, over the years, they gnaw at our core and in a moment of frustration we blurt out, “my wife is driving me crazy!”
Our Reaction to Imperfection is Critical
When asked, if we believe a partner should be perfect, we quickly reply, “Of course not. Nobody’s perfect.” But in the staggering moment of conflict, feelings unveil a different opinion. During heated arousal, we must grapple with the imperfection. Do we react with compassion or some other way? We acknowledge human limitations (in general); but demand perfection with specifics. We conceptually accept. However, when aching with an unmet need, and feeling the sting of disappointment and frustration, we lash out with sharpness, condemnation and berating a lover for being something they cannot be—perfect.
We allow the human attribute of imperfection to drive us crazy. If we want to resolve partner conflict, we must examine these patterns, scrutinizing our responses that interfere with closeness. Most importantly, we must identify how we respond to our partner’s flaws. Are we patient and forgiving, or does their imperfection ignite damaging rage or painful withdrawals? Root out these evils, replace them with compassion, and your relationship will soar. So when our wife (or husband) is driving us crazy, perhaps it is our inability to deal with differences.
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Relationships are Unpredictable
Life varies, responses vary; relationships patterns are complex and inconsistent. Surprises occur, and demand regulating emotions to flexibly respond appropriately. Perfect consistency doesn’t exist—complexity always intervenes. Our partners will surprise us, take us off guard. We have to shift gears, regain balance as we process something new. Unexpected deviations, even when we expect the unplanned, spark emotions, momentarily upsetting us, our partner, or both.
Our emotions, feelings, thoughts, and behaviors are always in a state of flux, lifting and falling before settling back to a comfortable homeostatic range. These emotional pulls and pushes drive us crazy when we lack sufficient skills to regulate emotional arousal. We think it is our wife (or husband) that is driving us crazy but the real criminal is our inability to regulate emotion
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“Perfect consistency doesn’t exist—complexity always intervenes.”T. Franklin Murphy
We can give some order to the chaos. We can identify cause-and-effect connections; recognizing associations between happenings and reactions. This incredible skill gives meaning to the mess. Through mindful attention to the past, and drawing proper associations, we reasonably can predict the future. This process creates trust. The consistency of actions and reactions in a relationship settle our souls, soothing worries, and building bonds. Security is built on relatively few surprises. We establish trust—and vulnerability.
A major disruptor is clinging to faulty expectations. Partners are imperfect. Relationships must make room for these imperfections. Partners may be sad, angry, tired, or disconnected. If we expect perfect homogeneous emotions that never arouse our system, their normal mood swings will magnify our reaction.
Security that depends on perfect consistency, perfect pleasing, or perfect anything will fail, leaving us scrambling to rebalance our faulty expectations. Unrealistic expectations send us tumbling with every variation. Partners do occasionally deviate, not because they are flawed, but because our predictions are flawed. Accepting human imperfections is tested with the real collisions that occur. We must soothe our upsets when we feel displeased, frustrated, or disappointed and not attack the partner that failed to act as we demand them to act.
If these moments create too much chaos in our mind, and our wife (or husband) is driving us crazy with their normal ups and downs and autonomous behaviors, then, again, maybe it is us in need of changing.
Critical Moments for Relationships
These are the critical moments of any relationship, whether our partners rarely disappoint or routinely disappoint. If we can’t manage arousal, the emotions destroy safety and closeness. How do we act when staring into the eyes of the beast? During emotional upset, our proclaimed acceptance of imperfections are tested.
Caroll Tavris and Elliot Aronson warn that “Every marriage is a story, and like all stories, it is subject to its participants’ distorted perceptions and memories that preserve the narrative as each side sees it.” They continue saying there is “a crucial decision point on the pyramid of (each) marriage, and the steps they take to resolve the dissonance between ‘I love this person’ and ‘This person is doing some things that are driving me crazy’ will enhance (our) love story or destroy it” (2020, Kindle location 2,651).
A Few Words By Psychology Fanatic
When faced with the challenge of emotional arousal, we can mediate feelings, calmly accepting surprises without going crazy. We build a foundation of trust by displaying love when imperfections arise. Allowing our partners an autonomous existence, separate and distinct from us, allows for deviations. When viewed from this wider perspective, we minimize the conflicts, maintaining respectful acceptance, while nurturing a better relationship.
We can’t foolishly expect lovers to sacrifice their individuality in service to our chaotic emotions. We must confront the damaging cycles—those persistent habits of reaction—and with awareness and purposeful intervention, we achieve the intimacy and joy we desire.
Tavris, Carroll, Aronson, Elliot (2020). Mistakes Were Made (but Not By Me) Third Edition: Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts.