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Why We Hurt the Ones We Love

Here are two answers to the “Why do we hurt the ones we love?” question, plus practical tips for improving your relationship. If you want to stop hurting someone – or if you’re tired of being hurt – you first need to learn why it happens.

Here’s what Liz said about her boyfriend, Benjamin:

“When he was in a bad mood, he acted cranky around me because he knew I would put up with his unpleasant behavior. But when he bumped into a stranger or casual acquaintance, Benjamin perked right up, acting pleasant and cheerful.”

This is from Happy Money: The Science of Happier Spending by Elizabeth Dunn and Michael Norton. It’s an excellent book – it reveals practical tips for spending money and finding happiness. My favorite tip is “buy experiences” (i.e., spend your money on experiences that bring excitement, adventure, and fulfillment to your life).

I was also very interested in the information about why we hurt the ones we love. For instance, why do I take my bad day out on my husband instead of confronting the real problem? You must be facing the same issue: why do we hurt the ones we love most in the world?

Why Do We Hurt the Ones We Love?

Liz was a graduate student when she noticed that her boyfriend Benjamin was unpleasant to her but polite to strangers or acquaintances. She conducted a study to understand his behavior, and found that it is usual for couples to be unpleasant or even rude to their partners, and to treat strangers in perky and polite ways. Further, she found that when grumpy partners were nice to strangers, their mood improved.

Hurting our loved ones makes us feel bad. On the contrary, if we hurt the ones we love, our mood will worsen. This was not one of Liz’s conclusions about the “why do we hurt the ones we love” question – it’s my own extrapolation. I am 100% sure I feel guilty and sad after I’m rude to my husband, and that makes my mood even worse. One of Liz’s observations was that if we interact with strangers in pleasant, polite ways when we are in a bad mood, we will start to feel happier.

So, why do we hurt the ones we love? Two reasons: 1) We’ve been taught to be polite in social situations with people we don’t know well; and 2) We feel free to be ourselves with the people we are closest to. Unfortunately, this has the unintended effect of damaging our relationships.

The conclusion: treat your partner like a stranger. This is one of the best ways to stop hurting the ones you love! You wouldn’t be rude to a store clerk, cab driver, or massage therapist, would you? Well maybe you would. But you’re less likely to be rude to a stranger than to someone you love. So, a simple and practical tip on how to stop hurting the ones you love is to start treating them like strangers.

Are you confused about whether or not you’re guilty of hurting the ones you love? Read Surprising Examples of Verbal Abuse in Relationships.

Bonus tip: learn about the limbic system. I’m training to be an addictions counselor, and am learning how the limbic system (the “heart” of our brain) affects our responses. When we are emotionally or physically triggered, we automatically react without thinking. This is our limbic system kicking in, and it may be responsible for why we hurt the ones we love.

Here’s how it might work in abusive relationships: an abuser may lash out at his victim when he feels threatened in some way. This threat isn’t necessarily physical or even emotional. It’s a deeply buried trigger that the abuser isn’t even aware of, and that he responds to on a subconscious, primal level. It’s possible that the reason why he hurts the one he loves is because of his primal brain or limbic system.

why do we hurt the ones we love
Are you being hurt by someone you love? Read Men Who Hate Women and the Women Who Love Them : When Loving Hurts and You Don’t Know Why by Susan Forward and Janet Torres.

Don’t stay in a relationship if you’re being hurt because that is not love. That is abuse. Sometimes it’s hard to admit we’re in an unhealthy relationship, but the only way to get healthy is to accept it for what it is.

Is your relationship in trouble? Get 7 Steps to Fixing Your Marriage from relationship coach Mort Fertel. It's free and helpful, no strings attached.

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Read How to Cope With Abuse in Your Relationship.

why do we hurt the ones we love

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