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Shame--Why We Push Those Who Love Us Away

There’s one sad truth in life I’ve found
While journeying east and west –
The only folks we really wound
Are those we love the best.
We flatter those we scarcely know,
We please the fleeting guest,
And deal full many a thoughtless blow,
To those who love us best.
— Unknown

There is unfortunately too much true in this little rhyme. My observations, both of myself and my clients, have led me to conclude that we are not great at negotiating to have our needs met. We also have these insecurities that seem to get triggered more easily by those we love. Once our insecurities are triggered our behavior can become less than stellar.

Why do we respond the way we do? Our behavior does little to help us get our needs met. We get sucked into the drama, rather than finding solutions. The answer is that we do what we do because it takes incredible courage to choose to be vulnerable rather than defensive. And our default position is to protect ourselves.

None of us make it out of childhood without some emotional scars. We all, in varying ways, have self-doubts and insecurities. We all have trigger points or buttons that can get pushed. And the fascinating thing is that we seem to pick a partner who is an expert at pushing our buttons and bringing out our defensiveness.

In Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead, Brene Brown states, “When I talk to couples, I can see how shame creates one of the dynamics most lethal to a relationship. Women, who feel shame when they don’t feel heard or validated, often resort to pushing and provoking with criticism (“Why don’t you ever do enough?” or “You never get it right.”) Men, in turn, who feel shame when they feel criticized for being inadequate, either shut down (leading women to poke and provoke more) or come back with anger.”

This shame and fear that we are somehow defective or inadequate can lead us to respond in unhealthy ways to each other. It also makes it difficult for us to feel the love when our partner is offering it.

It is helpful to consider what was it that you needed most as a child and were not able to get from your parents? Was it attention, space to be you, to feel loved, accepted, wanted, or needed? Whatever that unmet need was, chances are incredibly good that you are still looking for your partner to fill that need today. The problem is that although you want them to help you feel wanted, loved, or beautiful; at the same time you are brushing aside or rejecting their attempts to do so. All the time probably blaming them because you continue to feel unloved, stupid or not enough.

Choosing to be defensive and go to blame and shame leads to disconnection. Choosing to be open and venerable can lead to increased connection. We can make small choices each day to help us to pull together rather than apart. It helps to understand that there has always been a good intention behind our pushing away behavior—that of protecting ourselves. Recognizing that our defensiveness probably has it’s root in unmet childhood needs can help us become better at meeting those needs ourselves and allowing our partner to help us.

Once we become aware that we are allowing shame to control us and we are choosing the defensive response; we can start to consciously make a new choice. We can greatly improve our ability to self-sooth. We can hang on to ourselves when we feel like being suspicious and distrustful when our partner is kind or generous to us. We can hang on even tighter when we feel the urge to be critical of our partner. We can choose to bring their compliments inside of us and breathe deep while we enjoy those warm feelings. We can choose to stop pushing away those who love us.

Relationship Tune Up

Most people know that waiting for the red flashing check engine light, is not the best way to maintain their car. Regular attention to little things like fluid levels can lengthen the life of a car. Likewise relationships benefit from regular attention to the little things. A regular relationship tune up is more important that regular maintenance of your car.

Image by Krzysztof Szkurlatowski

Image by Krzysztof Szkurlatowski

Creating healthy relationship habits can help prevent wear and tear on your relationship and possibly avoid major problems. Let’s face it; we are all going to fall into ruts. The majority of what we do in life is routine or done by habit. We can, however take advantage of this fact by developing and encouraging healthy habits and entrenching ourselves in good ruts, that enhance rather than erode our relationship. Think of this as putting gas in the tank, watching fluid levels and changing the oil.

Healthy Relationship Habits:

  • Think lovingly of your partner every day
  • Express gratitude
  • Positive leaving and returning routines; look each other in the eye, hug, kiss, smile
  • Protect couple time
  • Use the sandwich approach when dealing with concerns (Start with something positive, express your concern and end with something positive)
  • Create a safe place to share your thoughts
  • Make seeing what is good the priority
  • Practice acceptance, rather than judgment

Your relationship does not come with standard warning lights or a maintenance manual to point out areas of concern. The following could be used as a maintenance checklist:

Yearly Check In At least once a year have a check in. Create complete safety so that each of you can be honest at this time. Take whatever your partner says as feedback, not criticism. Rate each other as partners, from 1 – 10 (where 10 means everything is perfect). Whatever the response, ask what would it take to make it a 10? (unless it already is).

Self-Assess Your Resentment Gauge Ask yourself, on a scale from 1 – 10, how resentful do I feel toward my partner? Anything over a 3 indicates that maintenance is needed. Allowing your resentment level to continue to rise is extremely damaging to the relationship. Sometimes resentment builds up because someone has a difficult time saying “no” or someone has a difficult time hearing “no.” Boundaries may need to be set, firmly and consistently and forgiveness may need to happen.

Check Your Fun Gauge Ask yourselves: When was the last time that we went on a date, just the two of us? When was the last time we got away for a couple’s weekend or holiday, again just the two of us? What do we do for fun together? And sitting in front of the TV or gaming does not count. Having fun together only counts if you are making eye contact and smiling.

Check The Fulfillment Gauge How fulfilling are you finding your relationship? To increase your sense of fulfilling try learning something new together, or finding a way to contribute outside of yourselves, together. Try doing something new together regularly.

Check The Connection Level How connected are you feeling to each other? If you are feeling less that connected try reaching out in different ways to let the other know that you care. Do your best to learn what helps your partner feel loved and do it. Think about the kind and caring looks, the gestures, the touches and verbal expressions of love and appreciation. In these cases the small stuff is the big stuff.

Check the Dream Gauge Do you know what your partner’s dreams are? What are your couple dreams? Try getting past the acquisition of stuff, kind of dreams. Think about when your relationship feels the best? And brainstorm ways to create more of that.

Regularly checking to see how your relationship is doing can allow you to fix problems when they are small. If the check engine light of your relationship is flashing. If you are noticing that you may be in need of some major repairs, take immediate action. It may be time to reach out for some help.

Open To Influence From Your Partner

When we are open to influence from our partner, we validate them in a substantial way. We help them feel loved, valued and important all at the same time. This ability to listen to and accept our partner, especially when we disagree is an important element of lasting, happy relationships.

Open to Influence

Are You Open To Influence From Your Partner? When couples refuse to allow their partner to have a voice in the relationship or to weigh in on decisions the relationship slowly or sometimes quickly deteriorates. As with other harmful relationship habits, awareness is the place to begin rectifying the problem. I have included a short quiz to help you identify your strength or weakness in this area.

Do not think about how you wish you were or how you want people to think you are; carefully consider your actual behavior in the relationship. Be completely honest with yourself and answer the following questions True or False:

  1. I can accept my partner’s opinion; it is okay if we disagree.
  2. My partner is too irrational; I cannot take him/her seriously when discussing issues.
  3. I want to hear and understand my partner opinions.
  4. Even if we disagree, I appreciate my partner’s insights.
  5. I believe there must be a give and take to our discussions.
  6. My partner comes up with good ideas.
  7. If I don’t make major decisions, no one does in this relationship.
  8. My partner is too often overly emotional.
  9. I want my partner to know that his/her opinions are important to me.
  10. Usually I find it easy to agree with at least part of what my partner says.
  11. I get tired of listening to my partner after a while, or I tune my partner out at times.
  12. Usually I can listen and be respectful, even when I disagree with my partner.
  13. I am very convincing and win more than my share of arguments with my partner.
  14. I feel my opinion matters, when we make decisions.
  15. My partner completely lacks common sense.

For questions 1, 3, 4, 5, 6, 9, 10, 12, 14, score one point for each true answer.

For questions 2, 7, 8, 11, 13, 15 score one point for each false answer.

If you scored 13 or more, then being open to your partner’s influence is a solid part of your relationship.

If you did not score high, it does not mean that you cannot have a great relationship, but it does mean that you could benefit from working to become more accepting of and open to your partner. Strive to be more respectful of your partner’s thought and opinions. It is possible that you may have to give up the need to be right and practice allowing your partner to enjoy that opportunity now and again.

Are You Fighting Fair? Rate Yourself

Take a few minutes to assess how you are doing in the fighting fair department. Sometimes couples are very aware that their fights are not fair. At other times one or both of them may be unaware of how destructive their fighting patterns are. Doing the following assessment, may help you pinpoint things that you could do to insure that the conflict in your relationship is constructive rather than destructive. Are you fighting fair?

Rate yourself: Answer each of the following questions true or false.

1. Do you believe that conflict means you don't love each other?

2. Do you think that angry feelings should not be expressed?

3. Do you believe that conflict is inevitable and can be positive?

4. Do you find yourself blaming your partner for the problems in your relationship?

5. Do you initiate a fight late at night or at other inopportune times (like when you are about to visit your in-laws)?

6. Do you carefully choose where and when you bring up problems?

7. Do you say mean things to your partner, especially about things s/he cannot change?

8. Do you ever start fights with your partner when you are actually angry with someone else?

9. Do you discuss your concerns soon after the incident rather than bringing it up months later in the middle of a fight?

10. Do you have repeated fights about things that happened in the past?

11. Do you use blaming and accusing language like “you always”, “you never”, or “you are such a __”?

12. Do you stick to the issue you are concerned about and deal with one issue at a time?

13. Do you call your partner nasty names?

14. Are you ever trying to get even with or punish your partner?

15. Do you make positive rather than negative requests of your partner, like “could you please (insert specific positive request)” rather than “stop it”?

16. Do you blame yourself for your conflicts?

17. Do you ever throw things at your partner when you are angry?

18. Do you believe you can and should express your anger constructively?

19. Do you belittle, shame or speak condescendingly to your partner?

20. During a fight, do you yell at your partner?

21. Do you actively listen to your partner's point of view during a disagreement?

22. Have you ever been physically aggressive toward your partner?

23. Do you have to be right at all costs?

24. Do you call for a time out when you are getting too angry to continue?

25. Do you respect your partner's requests for a time out?

To score the assessment:

Give yourself one point for any Questions numbered 3, 6, 9, 12, 15, 18, 21, 24 & 25 to which you answered True.

Give yourself one point for each of the other questions to which you answered False.

The higher your score, out of 25 points, the more you fight fair. If you scored less than 15 or if you ever exhibit aggressive behavior toward your partner, you are not fighting fair. Go back and carefully consider your answers to the questions and notice areas where you could make some changes to help your conflicts be constructive rather than destructive.

What Is It Like To Live With Me?

You have probably heard the cliche, talk is cheap. But there is wisdom contained in this concept and it applies doubly in relationships. It can be eye-opening to contemplate the questions: What is it like to live with me? Consider if your behavior backs up your claims that you love your partner. Words like, “I'm sorry” or “I love you,” quickly begin to lose their meaning if those words are not followed by loving actions. There are many ways to put your love into actions. The most important thing to remember is that you want to choose loving actions that would be interpreted as loving by your partner.


Take a few minutes to make a list of the things that you do for and with your partner to demonstrate your love for them. If your list is short or if you are having trouble thinking of things to put on the list, then it may be time to start putting your words into actions. Once you have a list of what you do to show your love for your partner, ask your partner to prepare a list of actions that would feel loving to them. Comparing these two lists will help you see how on target your loving actions are. Below are a few examples of loving actions. You can experiment a little and find out which ones best suit your partner. Feel free to brainstorm to personalize the list.

Do something together:

  • Read a book (take turns reading)
  • Play a sport
  • Play a board game
  • Take a walk
  • Go to the gym

Support your partner:

  • Help around the house
  • Give your partner some space
  • Listen actively
  • Compliment and hug your partner
  • Discuss a problem and find a win win solution

Continue Courting:

  • Plan a date night your partner would love
  • Bring home flowers or a small gift
  • Leave love notes where your partner will find them
  • Meet each other for lunch
  • Plan a getaway weekend

Sacrifice for each other:

  • Make things that are important to your partner important to you
  • Make time for your partner when they need you
  • Give up a habit that frustrates or irritates your partner
  • Accept each other warts and all

Please remember that it is important to be patient when making efforts to improve your relationship. Often people will try behaving more lovingly for a week or two and then get discouraged because their partner has not seemed to notice or has not reciprocated enough. Consistency and patience are required. If we change our attitude to one of generosity and worry less about what we are getting back our gifts of love will have far more impact.

Relationship Myths = Unrealistic Expectations

Unmet expectations are probably the biggest cause of frustration in marriage. When expectations are constantly being dashed, we at first become disappointed, later discouraged and finally disillusioned. We can end up believing that it is impossible for our partner to make us happy or perhaps that we were not meant for each other. When we feel this kind of disappointment and discouragement in our relationship it is important to stop and take a look at our expectations. We could probably benefit from considering some of the relationship myths surrounding marriage and taking time to evaluate whether or not our expectations are realistic.


Exploding some of the relationship myths surrounding marriage could lead to accepting more realistic expectations. Perhaps we would set ourselves up for satisfaction rather than disappointment. The following are relationship myths that can lead to frustration in marriage and the corresponding realities:

1. Myth: A “good” marriage will always be romantic.

There will be ups and down. Reality sometimes gets in the way of romantic feelings. There will be times when you do not feel very in love, if at those times you choose to behave lovingly, the loving feelings will return. Love is a verb; action is required.

2. Myth: Feeling or expressing jealousy shows that we care and love each other.

Jealousy reveals insecurities rather than love.

3. Myth: Marriage will make me happy.

True happiness comes from within; no one can make you happy. Happiness is a choice.

4. Myth: If we really love each other, nothing else will matter.

Marriage needs nurturing. Little daily interactions are the big things in relationships. Treating each other with love and respect at all times is vital.

5. Myth: My partner should intuitively know my needs; if I have to ask it does not count.

Mind reading is impossible. Give yourself permission to ask for what you want. At the same time recognize that your partner may not be able to or willing to give you everything that you ask for and that is okay. Recognize that the ultimate responsibility for meeting your own needs belongs to you.

6. Myth: Conflict means that we do not love each other.

Conflict is inevitable, but it does not have to damage your relationship. Learn to listen to each other first, to disagree agreeably and to fight fair. Conflict is not the problem, the problem comes from how you handle the conflict.

7. Myth: Men and women get over conflict in the same way.

Women tend to be more concerned with analyzing the state of their relationships and will often take longer to feel that a conflict has been resolved. They frequently cannot release a conflict until it has been talked through. Men are better at compartmentalizing and will seldom bring up a conflict after the fact, to talk it through.

8. Myth: Once trust is broken, we can never trust again.

It takes time and effort to rebuild trust. It require patience and commitment to spend the time necessary to rebuild trust, but it is entirely possible when both partners are willing.

9. Myth: We are not getting along, having a baby will make things better.

Having a child will bring more stress to an already stressed relationship. Having children gives parents an opportunity to stretch and grow themselves, sometimes a painful process.

10. Myth: To have a good relationship we need to frequently talk about issues and problems.

Being problem focused will tend to lead to seeing more and more problems. It is important to communicate about issues and concerns; however it is far more important to talk frequently about what is going right in the relationship.

We can avoid unnecessary frustrations by examining our expectations and by bringing our expectation more in line with reality. When we let go of the myths we free ourselves of those unrealistic expectations and the resulting disappointments and frustrations.

Evaluating Expecations

If you were expecting your partner to get home at 12:00 midnight and they got home at 10:00 pm you may be pleasantly surprised. If however you were expecting them home at 4:00 pm and they got home at 10:00 pm you may be furious, especially if they had not let you know that they would be late. They would have arrived home at the same time in both instances, what is different is your expectations. At times our expectations can cause us a lot of unnecessary distress. Expectations, especially if they are unrealistic, will lead to frustration and disappointment.

If frustration and disappointment are feelings that you are frequently experiencing in your relationship, then it may be helpful to take a look at your expectations. A good place to begin is to actually get your expectations out into the open. Often we have hidden expectations of each other. Things that we expect our partner to know and do, just because that is the way it should be. At times it can be as simple as, we are not getting what we want and need because our partner is unaware of that want or need. It is important to clearly communicate your expectations to your partner. You can only do this when you are clear on what your expectations are.

Before you communicate your expectations to your partner try writing them out and asking yourself, “How realistic are these expectations?” “Do I expect the same kind of behavior from myself?” “Might there be another way to look at this?” “How can I make my expectations more realistic and at the same time remain true to myself?”

You will want to remain firm when it comes to expectations arising from your values and principles. For example it is always reasonable to expect to be treated respectfully in your relationship. It is also reasonable to expect your partner to be honest and open with you. However when it comes to expectations based on preference it is important to be flexible. Which route to take to get from a to b, where you go to eat, what entertainment or activities are all examples of expectation, which if they are causing frustration and disappointment, may need to be adjusted or better communicated to your partner. Remember that, if you have trouble agreeing, you always have the option of taking turns when it comes to decisions based on preference.

Susan Page said, “The expectation that you can have everything you want in your marriage will always be frustrated. If you can accept your spouse, be grateful for what you have, and be gracious about the things you don't get from your spouse, you are more likely to thrive as a couple.”

15 Signs of a Healthy Marriage

Happy Couple

Healthy marriages bring psychological and physical benefits. Married people have a healthier immune systems* and live longer. How can you tell if your marriage is one that is healthy and health promoting? The more of the following signs your relationship has the healthier it is. If you find that you are lacking in some areas, take that as valuable information that there is something you could work to improve.

Signs of a Healthy Marriage:

Responsibility for Personal Needs. Partner’s recognize that they are ultimately responsible for meeting their own needs and they do their best to help each other meet those needs.

Respectful Communication. Couples have open and honest communication. They communicate daily when possible.

Relationship is a Priority. Couples continue nourishing their relationship. They consistently create time for the two of them.

Realistic Expectations. Couples in healthy relationships see each other as whole people, with strengths and flaws. They love each other in spite of their weaknesses.

Empathy. Partners are willing and able to empathize with each other. They are willing to see things from their partner’s perspective and make what their partner wants and needs as important to them as what they want and need.

Constructive Conflict. Conflict is a part of healthy relationships. In a healthy relationship conflict is dealt with in an open and respectful way, so that it strengthens the relationship rather than ripping it apart.

Intimacy (sexual and non-sexual) Healthy relationships have a level of trust and connection that is satisfying and comforting. There are expressions of tenderness, caring, and concern. Sexual intimacy is always respectful, unique to each couple and takes into consideration the needs and desires of both partners.

Financial Responsibility. Couples share the decision-making about finances and come to an agreement on how they will handle finances that feels good to both partners.

Flexibility. Partners accept that change is unavoidable. They are proactive, flexible and solution oriented.

Sense of Humor. Couples are able to laugh at themselves and to find the humor in situations. Healthy couples use their sense of humor and good will to enjoy life and to deal with the unsolvable differences in their relationship.

Shared Responsibilities. There is a willingness to share responsibilities and work together as a team to accomplish daily tasks as well as working toward their goals.

Alliance of Two Adults. Partner’s see each other as equals and behave as two mature adults, rather than behaving either childishly or domineeringly.

Individuality. Healthy marriages are the union of two whole people to make one great relationship. Each partner has a sense of his or her own identity.

Loyalty and Faithfulness. Consistent effort to build the relationship helps to affair-prove the marriage. If an affair has happened the couple works together to rebuild trust.

Commitment. Couples choose to use their stubbornness to stick together through tough times. When something goes wrong they work together to solve the issues.

Susan Derry, B.Ed., M.S.Psy., R.T.C., C.P.C.
Professional Counselor & Life Coach
Co-author of Marriage Prep: Beginnings a downloadable marriage preparation course
Co-author of Intimate Sex: Manual for Lovemaking, a sex manual for couples
Offers a free

Align Your Expectations With Reality

Expecting to have everything that you want in your marriage will always leave you frustrated. When two people live together it is not possible for one partner to always have everything they want unless the other person ceases to matter and if this happens, the relationship is doomed. Unrealistic expectation put a great deal of stress on your relationship. They set an impossible standard that your partner constantly fails to meet. Expecting that the honeymoon will last forever or that your partner will meet all of your needs are unrealistic. Expecting that your marriage will always be romantic or will make you happy is equally unrealistic.

Happiness is a choice that we make and we are responsible for meeting our own needs. Yes it is wonderful to have a partner to share life with, but being married does not improve our self-esteem or fix our insecurities about our self. Ironically it is our personal insecurities that tend to ruin relationships. What expectation do you have about the following: 1. Loyalty 2. Length of relationship 3. Fidelity 4. Dealing with friends and family 5. What feels loving to you 6. How do you show your love to your partner 7. Respect 8. Sexual 9. Handling problems 10. Children 11. Romance 12. Career and finance 13. Emotional support 14. Roles 15. How to make decisions 16. Fighting 17. Household chores 18. Spending time together and time alone 19. Secrets 20. Pet peeves

Try writing out your expectations for each of the above and sharing them with each other. After talking with your partner reconsider the reasonableness of your expectations.

Carefully examine your expectations of marriage and disregard those that are unrealistic or that are hurting your relationship. Bringing your expectations more in line with reality will help you to feel better about your relationship. Start looking at the glass as half full, start noticing and appreciating the things that are good about your relationship. If you cannot find anything good about your relationship then perhaps you are not in a healthy relationship with your self or your partner.

Relationship Assessment

Relationship Assessment

Relationship Quality


Below is a short list of true/false statements to get you thinking about the quality of your relationship. Answer as honestly as possible. You cannot make improvements until you acknowledge what is. Finding the areas of your relationship that need improving gives you a place to begin to make positive changes.

1. I am satisfied with our sex life.

2. My partner really listens to me.

3. I trust my partner.

4. I do not feel picked on or put down.

5. I am hopeful about our future.

6. It is easy to share my feelings with my partner.

7. I cannnot imagine myself divorced.

8. I do not have to be right.

9. My partner treats me with dignity and respect.

10. My partner trusts me.

11. We often do fun things together.

12. I never just want to hurt my partner.

13. I would rather deal with a problem than lie about it.

14. I am free to be myself in our relationship.

15. I do not feel trapped.

16. My partner is open to suggestions.

17. I never feel judged or rejected by my partner.

17. My partner cares if I am upset or sad.

18. I listen to understand my partner.

19. I do not judge or reject my partner.

20. My partner shares his/her feelings with me. You probably have noticed that for these quesitons the more times you resonded true, the better shape your relationship is in. Don't get discouraged if you have a number of falses. This information helps you identify areas that need improving. You have the power to make positive changes in your relationship.