Before we gained love sense, it was hard to offer an incisive explanation for how love fails. Theories that concentrate on bad behavior and lack of communication skills focus on the symptoms of couple distress rather than the root cause: the overwhelming fear of being emotionally abandoned, set adrift in the sea of life without safe harbor.
What we’ve missed for so long is that discord is almost always an unconscious protest against floating loose and an attempt to call, and even force, a partner back into emotional connection. Here are some of those signs of discord:
1. The slow erosion.
When emotional starvation becomes the norm, and negative patterns of outraged criticism and defensiveness take over, our perspective changes. Our lover begins to feel like an enemy; our most familiar friend turns into a stranger. Trust dies, and grief begins in earnest.
Research from the University of California found that the quality of positive support—reassurance that a partner is loved and esteemed and is capable of taking control of his or her life—is the most crucial factor in the health of any relationship.
2. Poisonous criticism.
We never like to hear that there is something “wrong” with us, or that something needs changing, especially if this message is coming from the loved one we most depend on. Criticism from loved ones rings the survival alarm bell in our brain; it sets off the deep-seated fear that we will be rejected and abandoned.
Psychologist Jill Hooley’s work at Harvard measures the impact of critical, hostile comments made by loved ones and shows that disparagement by those we rely on may even trigger relapse of mental illness, such as depression.