The success or failure of a relationship often depends a lot on individuals being able to listen to their partner’s complaints about unmet needs without getting extremely offended by those complaints.
When partners hear each other’s concerns, they should not become so upset that they either let their self-esteem be negatively affected or be driven to react defensively to protect themselves. Both partners must realize that even the toughest, seemingly most mature grownups often regress. When they do, they regress or mentally shift backwards to points in time during which they had experiences of disruption with their primary caregivers.
Such regressions indicate that wounds exist, and those wounds need to be mended. But it's difficult for one partner to ask another to help them mend those types of wounds. Partners need to trust each other implicitly to make such requests.
The common emotional wounds that necessitate that type of trust are linked to the lack of love and attention from individuals’ caregivers or parents in childhood. Those who lacked sufficient attention and love in childhood are likely to be particularly offended if they perceive those things to also be lacking from their adult romantic partners.
As an example, you'd likely find it difficult to tell your partner, “Hey, my mom didn't love me enough, and I really need more touch and cuddling from you. I feel disconnected and injured—the way I felt when I was four.” And if you said that, it's unlikely that your partner would respond, “Oh, I really understand that. Here, let me stroke your head and reassure you that I love you.” It's unfortunate that such conversations don't often occur in relationships. But they don't.
Our partners will often trigger feelings or wounds within us. The triggering usually happens subconsciously, so we’re often just offended by the hurt or perceived insult rather than recognizing the source of the triggered wound. But we need to understand some things about this dynamic. One is that we are all wounded and broken to some degree. Another is that we are both triggers of our partners’ wounds and potential healers of those wounds. If we're conscious enough and sensitive enough, we can help our partners deal with their wounds and subsequently move past the effects of them.
Like many things, this is easier said than done. Both partners have to have a lot of self-awareness to make such a dynamic work. A partner has to be sensitive about asking to have a need met. The other partner then needs to be sensitive regarding how they respond. And both have to understand the link between unmet needs in childhood and how they affect adult life.
But more than just a casual understanding of how this works will be necessary. The partner who's being asked about something or confronted about something will need to fight the temptation to feel threatened, criticized, or offended. They’ll have to understand that such responses are irrational and are based on unskillful relational dynamics they earned in childhood.
A few simple things can help diffuse potential blowups in such situations. If our partner says something that triggers us in a discussion, we can respond by saying something such as the following: “I don't quite understand what you mean by that. Could you try to explain it a little better?” We can then cool off a little, and perhaps take a few deep breaths if the triggering temptation doesn't subside fairly quickly.
Self-mastery is vitally important in a relationship. And it entails that both partners need to understand themselves better and understand their partners well enough to know how to avoid and diffuse potentially triggering words and situations.