NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Monday, November 30, 2015

Fear of Intimacy Can Lead to Fault-Finding Which Destroys Relationships

In a prior article, Relationships: Fear of Being Emotionally Vulnerable, I discussed the topic of fear of intimacy in relationships.  

To continue the topic of fear of intimacy, I'm focusing on a particular manifestation of this fear, which is when one or both partners engage in fault-finding as a way of creating emotional distance in a relationship.

Fault-Finding Can Destroy a Relationship

People who are fearful of emotional intimacy are often unaware of it.  They can enter into a relationship  and seem committed during the heady early stages of falling in love.  

But, with time, as the relationship becomes more emotionally intimate and their core issues about intimacy come up, fear sets in.  At that point, many people will begin to find "faults" with their partner, which can destroy a relationship.

When I refer to "faults" in these cases, I'm not referring to major problems like physical or emotional abuse or substance abuse.  Instead, I'm referring to petty issues that, when compared to everything else about the partner, might be annoying to some people but become magnified out of proportion.

In other words, the fault-finding is blown out of proportion, and it is an unconscious strategy to create emotional distance because of a fear of intimacy.

What Does Fault-Finding Look Like in a Relationship?
Here are some examples:
  • Recurring negative thoughts about petty issues relating to the partner
  • Expressions of criticism, blame and resentment where the person who is engaging in fault-finding actively criticizes and belittles the partner about small issues
  • Sudden expressions of doubt about the partner and the relationship based on petty issues where there was no doubt before
  • Bringing up old arguments and petty issues and re-arguing them
And so on

The partner, who is on the receiving end of the negativity about petty issues, is often taken by surprise by the complaints.

Fault-Finding Can Destroy a Relationship

Partners, who are more psychological-minded, might detect a false note in the criticism, especially if it seems to come from nowhere, and sense that their partner has underlying issues that are at the root of the fault-finding.

But if neither person realizes that the fault-finding is an unconscious strategy to ward off emotional vulnerability, the couple could get stuck in an endless cycle of arguments and hurt feelings until the relationship becomes too toxic and one or both people want to end it.

What Are Some of the Petty Issues That Are Part of Fault-Finding?
There are countless petty issues that are used as part of fault-finding and most of them are issues that were non-issues before, including:
  • A critical view of a particular aspect of the partner's anatomy ("her nose is too big," "his penis is too small," "her big feet are ugly," "he's too short," etc.)
  • A sudden dislike for a partner's habit ("I don't like the way he eats," "I don't like the way she laughs," "I can't be in a relationship with someone who throws his socks on the floor")
  • A sudden change of view about something that seemed endearing and now seems annoying ("I used to like the way she crinkled her nose when she laughed, but now I think it's annoying," "I used to like his sheepish grin, but now it irritates me")

What to Do If You're on the Receiving End of Fault-Finding
Being on the receiving end of fault-finding can be very hurtful and, in the long run, it can erode your self esteem, especially if you believe the criticism.  

This isn't to say that you should never listen to your partner when s/he expresses things that s/he finds annoying.  

Fault-Finding Can Destroy a Relationship

But when you sense that you're suddenly on the receiving end of criticism or contempt for small issues and there might be more going on for your partner than s/he realizes, here are some tips that might help:
  • Recognize that your partner probably doesn't realize that s/he is finding fault as a defense mechanism that usually comes out of fear and his or her actions are probably unconscious.
  • Don't retaliate by criticizing your partner to get even.  This will only make the situation worse.
  • Talk to your partner about the way that his or her criticism is affecting you and how you feel it is affecting the relationship.
  • Address fears of vulnerability (both yours and your partner's) and what each of you can do to make the relationship feel safer.
  • If your partner refuses to get help in therapy, seek help for yourself to deal with the negative impact the criticism is having on you.

What to Do If You're the One Who is Engaging in Fault-Finding?
Being able to take a moment to step back and reflect on what you're doing can save you and your partner a lot of heartache.  

It's not unusual to feel vulnerable as you and your partner develop a deeper, more intimate relationship.  But if you're unconsciously trying to sabotage the relationship because you're afraid of getting closer, you're doing damage to your partner, your relationship and yourself.

Fault-Finding Can Destroy a Relationship

Here are some tips that might help:
  • Take some time alone to think about these so-called "faults" that never bothered you before and that now loom large in your mind.  
  • Use journal writing as a way to sort out your feelings and reflect on them.
  • Put those "faults" in perspective in the context of the totality of who you know your partner to be and the relationship as a whole.  
  • How do these "faults" compare to what you value in your partner and in the relationship?
  • Are you repeating a pattern that you internalized as a child from your family?
  • Listen to what your partner tells you about how s/he experiences the criticism.
Ask yourself if you're willing to destroy the relationship by continually criticizing your partner.

Getting Help in Therapy
Many people who recognize that they're engaging in fault-finding want to stop, but they don't know how.  

Their fear of intimacy is so great that fault-finding is the only way they know how to create enough emotional distance for them to feel safe, so they keep doing it--even when they know it will destroy the relationship and they don't want the relationship to end.

If you recognize these traits in yourself and you've been unable to stop on your own, you could benefit from seeking help from a licensed mental health professional who can help you get to the root of the problem and develop other strategies for overcoming your fear of intimacy.

Before you destroy an otherwise good relationship, get help so that you can overcome your fear and you and your partner can have a more fulfilling relationship.

About Me
I am a licensed New York City psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing therapist who works with individual adults and couples.

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

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email me.