How To Tell If Your Relationship Conflict Is Stemming From Within
Feelings often deemed negative, like frustration and anger, in and of themselves are not bad. They're usually a sign that there's a need or issue that needs to be addressed. But if you find yourself getting worked up at your partner over minor things time and time again, could it be a sign that the conflict is stemming from within?
When your reactions to an event seem to be out of proportion to the event itself, couples' therapist Alicia Muñoz, LPC, says it's highly likely that the problem is coming from your own unresolved issues and has little to do with your partner. "When it's hysterical, it's historical," she tells mbg.
Relationship issues vs. personal issues.
Here's an example of a personal issue that may be masquerading as a relationship issue, according to Muñoz: "Your normally thoughtful partner is stressed out and says I can't help you right now, and you start yelling at them, calling them selfish, and then collapsing into a flood of tears." Your emotions are indeed a sign that something's wrong, but the extremity of the reaction in comparison to the event itself suggests there may be something deeper going on.
While your partner's action may be the trigger, this type of reaction is often the result of internal problems that stem from your own personal history, Muñoz explains. The way we behave in relationships often stems from the ways in which we were treated or cared for as a child (i.e., attachment styles). For example, individuals who grew up with parents who were inconsistently available might develop an anxious attachment style, causing them to feel constantly insecure in relationships and worried about being abandoned. This can cause them to overreact—for example, becoming extremely worried when their usually trustworthy partner chooses to go out with friends.
To recognize when you might be doing this, therapist Chamin Ajjan, M.S., LCSW, A-CBT, shares a few signs you may be taking out your own problems on your partner:
- Your partner shows concern or asks what is wrong, and you respond with an angry tone.
- You blame your partner for how you are feeling.
- You are speaking or acting aggressively toward your partner without cause.
- You are overly critical of your partner.
How to deal with your own inner conflict.
If you begin noticing a pattern where you're constantly reacting disproportionately to an issue at hand or taking your own emotions out on your partner, that's a good sign you may need to do some inner work.
There are plenty of methods for healing and growing self-awareness. When you're spending time in reflection, whether it be through meditation, journaling, or therapy, take note of how your mind works, Muñoz suggests.
"Learn to identify, experience, tune in to, and regulate your emotions. Try expanding your capacity to feel more of your feelings, both positive and negative," she says. One way to do this is by checking in on your emotional state frequently and trying to name your feelings as they arise.
Understanding your emotions can make it easier to discern whether your feelings are directed toward your partner or something else entirely and can therefore prevent unnecessary tension from arising.
How to know when you should let something go or confront it.
If you notice your reaction is stemming from past wounds or inner conflict, it may not be the best time to confront the issue with your partner. "If you are feeling rage, extremely irritable, or aggressive, it is not a good time to confront a problem," Ajjan says. "Those emotions increase the chances of having an unproductive and possibly out-of-control exchange."
Making space to process your emotions before directing them at someone else doesn't always mean you're "letting something go." It may instead prepare space for a more productive conversation.
The same is true if you notice these highly reactionary behaviors in your partner. Instead of confronting them when they're short-tempered, it might be best to give them space and approach the subject once they've cooled down.
On the other hand, if you're a people-pleaser, you may benefit from "practicing" confrontation, Muñoz says. This is because people-pleasers tend to silence their own needs in order to accommodate their partner, and over time this can lead to resentment, she explains.
Instead of letting things go, Muñoz says, "You might take baby steps, like saying I'm not sure whether this is something I want to let go of or confront, but since swallowing my feelings only leads to resentment, I'd like to try being honest and direct with you about how I feel."
If you find yourself sweating the small stuff more often than not, and it's interfering with your relationship, it may be time to look within and see if you have underlying wounds from your past that need to be healed.
The same applies to your partner if their reactions seem extreme. "If your partner takes their problems out on you in a way that is physically, emotionally, mentally, or sexually harmful to you, seek help immediately," Ajjan adds. "There are resources available to you, and you are not alone."
If you need to, call the number for the National Domestic Violence Hotline: 800-799-SAFE (7233).
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Abby Moore is an editorial operations manager at mindbodygreen. She earned a B.A. in Journalism from The University of Texas at Austin and has previously written for Tribeza magazine. She has covered topics ranging from regenerative agriculture to celebrity entrepreneurship. Moore worked on the copywriting and marketing team at Siete Family Foods before moving to New York.