What happens when you navigate painful emotions differently than your partner? David Kessler, author and grief expert, states that couples don’t divorce because of insurmountable hardships or loss, couples divorce because they judge each other’s grief.
While Kessler is talking about couples navigating the illness and death of a child, the implications are universal. If you are prone to embracing emotions and staying with your feelings and your partner leans towards shutting down, this can create a chasm. In the Gottman lexicon, we call it a meta-emotion mismatch, and it often manifests in a cycle of fighting and distance.
Over time this dynamic breeds deep resentment, loneliness, and contempt. We come to see the other person’s way of coping as more flawed or problematic than our own, and this bias results in further damage to the relationship. Trust that the other will be there for you during hard times erodes, and negative sentiment becomes the norm instead of the exception. How to turn this around (or avoid getting into a marital crisis, to begin with) is what couples therapy does best, and right now, more than ever, our relationships need to be prioritized and cared for as COVID-19 is distilling us down to our nuclear families for better or worse.