Dealing With Shame When It Affects Your Relationship

By Tanisha Herrin|Updated July 1, 2022
CheckedMedically Reviewed By Laura Angers, NCC, LPC

Shame is a painful emotion hard to talk about because we feel others will judge or reject us. It is one of the most challenging emotions that affect relationships. It leaves a person feeling unworthy, embarrassed, humiliated, or damaged. The feeling makes you want to run away, tense up, or be defensive toward others. Shame is more profound when feeling vulnerable. It makes receiving love or acceptance from others more difficult. Acknowledging why you feel shame is an important step to understanding why and how it affects a relationship.

Shame Can Take A Toll - Therapy Can Help
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Talking about Shame Isn't Easy

Something that causes you to feel fearful of what others will think, say, or do is shameful. You may think the person you care about will abandon you, laugh, or insult you if they learn what is behind your vulnerability. Some confuse shame with guilt. When you feel guilty about something, you look to make things right. It is like admitting to a mistake and wanting to correct the situation. Shame makes it difficult to accept responsibility for our actions. It can get worse, reoccurring later in life when it gets harder to admit we did something unacceptable.

Shame affects people differently. Someone may feel shame for something another person may not. Shame may be associated with beliefs from earlier in life related to actions that define a person as good or bad or worthy and unworthy. People can have an ideal perspective of themselves and feel shameful when personal expectations are not met. A person may have expectations for themselves or describe themselves as independent, intelligent, and on top of things. But a situation may change their perspective when they feel exposed or unsafe emotionally, such as in a relationship.

Shame Creates Disconnect of Emotions

Talking to others when feeling shameful seems impossible. A person feels detached from others when they try to talk about it. Just the effort of trying to talk about it triggers shame creating a disconnection from others. Emotional connections become weak or damaged when shame is in the picture. It can impair relations between partners because emotions will vary from one person to another. It affects the level of connection a relationship can have. When an emotional disconnect occurs, it becomes a threat to the relationship.

While shame creates an emotional disconnect in relationships, it is a fundamental emotion to acknowledge because it influences a person's actions. Some may not view shame as a bad thing but as a way to help partners establish and maintain their individuality. Some couples are so caught up in each other they become codependent. Sometimes miscommunications may result, making it difficult to reconcile. Sometimes a person has difficulty dealing with shame because they fear it. It makes establishing limitations or boundaries challenging because of emotional barriers.

The Importance of Empathy and Sharing

When you feel down, it is hard to admit your feelings. It is vital to learn how to be open with your feelings and emotions. Self-disclosure is a productive way of dealing with shame. It sets an example for others and shows it is okay to share. Others can relate to the same feelings, but many hold them back out of fear of what others will say about them. Shame can keep a person from admitting they were wrong or made a mistake, but making such an admission helps you feel better. Self-disclosure lessens feelings of shame and makes forgiveness more comfortable to achieve.

Studies show that men and women react to shame differently in specific situations. The perspective is connected to how men and women are triggered by shame. Women feel shame when they don't meet the expectations of being a mother, wife, sister, or breadwinner. Many women don't want to appear weak to their partners. Women often blame themselves while men commonly blame others for their shame. Men tend to be upset, angry, or uneasy when feeling ashamed.

How Shame Affects Relationships

People commonly hide their shame, but it undermines relationships because it affects our actions. It creates physical effects that affect how you respond. When people feel ashamed, they keep their heads down, avoid eye contact, blush, or force a smile. Emotionally, they may show annoyance, denial, or irritability. The effects of shame make thinking clearly a challenge. Some experience their mind going blank, a state of confusion, or have no words. If you've done something wrong that hurt your partner's feelings, it won't be easy to admit it or apologize for it. Shame can make you feel uncomfortable but also create a false perception that you're not good enough.

Shame may be an underlying cause for relationship problems couples may not realize. It is common for couples to experience disagreements when it comes to things like money or intimacy. Each partner may have issues within an issue that affect their shame. For example, money causes problems when partners are not happy about how it is spent. A man may see the money spent on things as unnecessary, but he is upset and feels unimportant underneath his views. A woman may spend more just because she feels unworthy or alone. With intimacy, a partner may not want to have sex. Their excuse is because they are tired or not in the mood, but they could feel unattractive or think they are lousy in bed.

What Happens If You Don't Confront Shame?

Shame can lead to unintentional actions, activities, or emotions that may affect your well-being as well as your relationship. When avoiding shame, people may turn to unhealthy actions such as addiction. They allow their minds to be fixated on things such as food, drugs, alcohol, or work when feelings go numb. A person may feel they are not good enough. They try to avoid criticism or blame while trying to prove themselves. A person may experience anxiety while trying to handle everything and act as if things are okay. A person may blame others when they are not at fault while protecting their vulnerability. A person may become depressed or undeserving when feeling helpless.

Partners may have shame that originated elsewhere before they entered into a relationship with each other. It affects who you are as an individual. Shame may also result from something that occurred during your relationship, such as a critical remark. Such shame may result from an abusive relationship causing loss of emotional security and confidence.

If you are facing or witnessing abuse of any kind, the National Domestic Violence Hotline is available. Call 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or Text "START" to 88788. You can also use the online chat.

Shame Can Take A Toll - Therapy Can Help

Tips on How to Deal with Shame

Shame brings discomfort no one wants to deal with, but it gets difficult pretending it doesn't exist. Dealing with shame is essential because it helps regulate emotions and communication between partners. It is a personal feeling of pain and humiliation that affects how you make choices in your life and a relationship. Putting it out there is the last thing you want to do, but it may be essential to helping your relationship get to a better place. Here are a few suggestions to help you cope:

  • Learn how to pay attention to one's feelings. It takes courage to explore your feelings, but being open and honest about them will help you understand them from another perspective. Please take note of your reaction to things and how it affects the actions of your partner.
  • Establish an environment that encourages partners to be patient and transparent with each other. It will also make forgiveness easier. Part of this includes working on communication and being open with each other. Being comfortable with your feelings sets the tone for each partner to create a foundation or starting point to acknowledge their shame.
  • Know how to show support. Be respectful of each other as you share your thoughts and emotions. Treat your partner the way you want to be treated. Show the comfort you wish to receive. Let them know it is okay to share their feelings, and you want to understand their position. If they are willing to make a change or take on an effort to do better, let them know you have their back.
  • Learn how to deal with your shame. There are proactive ways to deal with shame, such as talking about it with someone you trust, learning to acknowledge feelings associated with your shame, and writing about your emotions to increase self-awareness. You can also work with a relationship expert for professional guidance.
  • Be truthful about your feelings. Avoid denying or defending who you are, how you feel, where you've been, and what you want. Focus on what you feel at this moment. The more you share about your emotions, the better your partner understands your position. It helps achieve acceptance of each other along with workable solutions for a favorable result.
  • Accept your partner the way you want to be accepted. When partners are truthful and willing to see each other eye to eye, you can accept each other honestly and respectfully.

Hope for Dealing with Shame in Relationships

It is okay to talk about shame. It is important because it helps uncover the root cause and identify feelings that cause it. Talking about it helps understand how it impacts relationships. You'll learn how to confront shame and how to omit unhealthy thoughts of not being good enough. Many couples have found couples counseling helpful when exploring ways to heal from shame. Get answers to questions you have and express your concerns so that both partners can grow productively in the relationship.

 

Shame affects relationships in different ways. It affects emotions, thoughts, and feelings that influence key parts of a relationship. It is essential to deal with shame when it affects relationships because it may lead to unintentional results. A healthy, loving relationship is possible when you learn productive ways to deal with shame.

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