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Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Emotional Intimacy: When the One Who Loves You the Most Also Hurts You the Most

Being in an intimate relationship can be one of the most healing experiences in your life when you feel loved and nurtured in your relationship.  At the same time, it can also be one of the most hurtful experiences when the one you love hurts you.  

Emotional Intimacy: When the One Who Loves You the Most Also Hurts You the Most

It's often hard for many people to understand how it's possible for both things to be true at the same time in the same relationship, but this is a common experience.  Let's go beyond the surface and take a deeper look at these experiences, which can seem so contradictory, but really aren't.

Intimate Relationships
When you're in a serous relationship, you're in an intimate relationship.  Emotional intimacy can bring both feelings of love and nurturance as well as emotional pain because your spouse or partner is the closest person to you emotionally in your adult life.

When someone is that close to you emotionally, mentally, physically, and sexually, there is the potential for him or her to say or do things, often unintentionally, that can hurt on a much deeper level than it would if someone else did or said the same thing.

Expectations That the One You Love Will Always Be There For You Emotionally
There is often an expectation that the one you love will always be there for you emotionally and will never hurt you.  In a perfect world, this would be true.  But we don't live in a perfect world and people often say and do things that hurt our feelings.  When it's the person who is closest to you, it not only hurts--it feels unjust.

Expectations That the One You Love Will Always Be There For You Emotionally

It's important to make a distinction at this point:  What I'm referring to are common, occasional interactions between two people in a relationship--not physical abuse, frequent emotional abuse or major breaches of mistrust like infidelity.  I've written blog articles in the past about these topics and, of course, these are the most hurtful.  Here are some common examples of what I'm talking about:

You and your partner get into an argument and, in anger and without thinking, he makes a critical remark about your weight gain.  You feel hurt and angry.

You come home happy and excited to tell your spouse about a major accomplishment at work and your spouse, who is tired and distracted, barely pays attention to what you're saying.  You feel hurt and deflated that he isn't sharing what was, until now, a happy moment for you.

You come home from a difficult day at work and feel the need for a little tender loving care from your spouse, but she is under a lot of stress too and tells you to look for another job if you're unhappy with your current job.  You feel hurt and misunderstood because you're not getting what you need at the moment.

As you can see from these example, these are hurtful experiences, but they're not, by themselves, reasons to end an otherwise good and stable relationship.  But, at the time, any of these experiences can leave you wondering, at that moment, how someone, who is usually loving and caring towards you, can be so unattuned to what you're feeling at that point in time.  You might say to yourself, "How can this be the same person who's usually so there for me and loves me?"

How You Respond to Your Partner Often Depends Upon Your Childhood History
How you respond to these occasional hurts often depends upon your childhood history.  So, on the one hand, if you were fortunate enough to grow up in a loving, nurturing home, you might feel hurt and annoyed at the moment, but when your spouse or partner apologizes for being so thoughtless, you'll  probably forgive him or her and make up, knowing that, as human beings, we all make mistakes.

Current Emotional Pain Can Trigger Emotional Pain From Childhood Trauma
On the other hand, if you had a traumatic childhood where there was a lot of physical or emotional abuse or emotional neglect, you might respond differently, especially if you haven't worked through your traumatic history.

For someone with an emotionally traumatic childhood history, even relatively minor slights can feel big.   This is because current hurts often trigger old hurts.  So, what happens is that you're not only feeling the emotional hurt from the present, you're also feeling the emotional pain from the past.  But it usually happens so fast that it's hard to distinguish the two feelings.

So, you often won't recognize that your emotional reaction contains the older traumatic feelings.  And your spouse or partner might not understand why you might be having such a big reaction to what's happening between you.  In turn, this can lead to more arguments and misunderstandings.

Getting Help
There's no such thing as a perfect relationship.  Whenever you're in a stable, intimate relationship, it can cut both ways where you feel loved most of the time and you feel some emotional pain occasionally.  This is a common experience.

But if you realize, once you've calmed down, that your reactions to occasional emotional misattunements are out of proportion to what's going on in your current relationship, you might be responding to unresolved trauma, and you could benefit from seeking help from a licensed mental health professonal who works with trauma.

I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing therapist.

I work with individual adults and couples, and I have helped many clients to overcome emotional trauma so that they could live more fulfilling lives.

To find out more about me, visit my website:  Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist

To set up a consultation, call me at (212) 726-1006 or send me an email:

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