When Love Hurts: How Hurting Someone You Love Hurts Your Relationship

Updated September 28, 2021

Medically Reviewed By: Wendy Galyen, LCSW, BC-TMH

More Than Hurt Feelings:  How Hurting Your Partner Hurts Your Relationship

When you hurt someone you love, your relationship inevitably changes.  How you choose to handle conflict can have a profound impact on your relationship.

While many people think that avoiding an argument can help save their relationship, this strategy may actually cause more harm than good.  Choosing to avoid conflict in favor of comfort can cause emotional scars to callus as opposed to heal.  As time goes on, these old wounds can reopen with each new conflict, revealing raw, painful emotions underneath.  Small disagreements may be blown out of proportion for seemingly no reason, not because your partner is “irrational,” but instead because he or she is reacting to conflict and pain that has compounded over time.

When the wounds of past conflict are left unaddressed, they may also become infected by insecurity.  Pain that has festered over time may quickly breed contempt and distrust; your partner may become more reluctant to talk to you about their feelings because they don’t trust that their needs will be met.  This, in turn, can complicate communication between you and your partner, quickly causing your relationship to deteriorate.  Your partner may seem to avoid you, become unusually distant or irritable, or show less physical affection towards you.  These warning signs may suggest that they are unhappy in the relationship.

A relationship can be equally damaged if the conflict is mishandled. It’s not about intent; it’s about impact.  When you hurt someone you love, they often don’t care to hear why you caused them pain because it usually doesn’t change how you made them feel.  Repeatedly telling your partner you didn’t mean to hurt them sends them the message that their feelings are less important than their perception of you.

Similarly, pain caused by the people who love us can be amplified when it is played down.  When you don’t understand how or why your actions hurt your partner as much as they did, you may dismiss their dismay by telling them to “calm down” or saying that they are “overreacting.”  This attempt at de-escalation will almost always worsen the conflict between you.  Effective conflict resolution is predicated on your partner feeling heard; by invalidating their feelings and experiences, you are effectively damning every chance you have at fixing the problems between you at that moment.

When Love Is Painful:  Growing From Conflict

Relationships Can Run Into Hurdles
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Dr. Julie Gottman says that “conflict is an opportunity to learn to love our partner better over time.”  While this may sound counterintuitive initially, the science behind it is sound; when a couple of conflicts, working together as a team to resolve their differences allow them to build a deeper feeling of trust that helps strengthen their relationship.  Many relationship experts note that some of the strongest relationships they’ve seen have been formed from overcoming conflict.  So how exactly do you build trust in a relationship after it’s been all but destroyed?  The Gottman Institute suggests the idea of attunement.

Drs. John and Julie Gottman, the Gottman Institute’s cofounders, define attunement as “the ability and desire to respect your partner’s inner world.”  This is easier said than done; for many of us, learning to respect our partner’s thoughts and feelings may mean coming to terms with the fact that we may not yet know how best to love them.  Luckily, these relationship experts say that the research is detailed – while this work may be difficult, it can be done using six simple steps.

Repairing Your Relationship

While the Gottman Institute originally introduced the concept of attunement to build trust in a relationship, the same principles of attunement can also apply to repair a relationship after trust has been broken.

Awareness Of The Problem: “I Hurt Someone I Love, Now What?”

Tony Robbins, a relationship expert, says that “Insecurities are bound to surface from time to time in even the most stable relationships. You can’t control your partner’s emotions, but you can be the most supportive, loving version of yourself possible.”  Awareness is the first step toward emotional attunement.  When you can recognize that you hurt someone you love, you can start repairing your relationship right away.  Simply acknowledging your partner’s pain can provide them with some small comfort of feeling seen.

Turning Toward The Emotion:  Steering Into The Pain

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When you hurt someone you love, your first reaction may be to try and resolve the problem as quickly as possible to put the pain behind you and move forward with your relationship.  This, unfortunately, will do more harm than good.  By bypassing the pain and trying to prove that things can be better, your partner may be left with unresolved feelings that can linger long after your initial conflict.

Instead of instinct and trying to repair what is broken immediately, learn to sit in discomfort and respond to your partner’s various needs as they’re being communicated to you. While these small talks and tasks may feel tedious and time-consuming, they provide your partner with affirmation that you still love, respect, and cherish them.

Hurting Someone, You Love: Respecting A Different Viewpoint

No one ever wants to cause their partner pain.  Oftentimes, the worst conflicts can actually be caused by you acting with the best of intentions.  The conflict caused by these types of miscommunications can be incredibly frustrating for both partners; Simultaneously, you may feel as though you’ve done nothing “wrong,” your partner may have a different perspective entirely.  Instead of fighting about who’s in the wrong, consider conceding that you could both be right.  The truth is this: reality is entirely subjective.  What is a known fact to you may be fiction to your partner, and vice versa.  By learning to respect and tolerate each other’s varying viewpoints, you and your partner can work to overcome almost any conflict.

Understanding Your Partner:  Effective Communication And Conflict

George Bernard Shaw once wrote that “the single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”  While couples in conflict may bicker back and forth about a particular point, neither is actually communicating their point with the other if they are not listening to each other as well.  True communication can only occur when partners choose to talk less and listen more.

If you’ve ever hurt someone you’ve loved before, the chances are good that you’ve probably apologized profusely for causing them any pain and promised never to do such a thing again.  While apologies can play a profound part in putting pain in the past, they cannot help your relationship grow if you don’t take the time to understand why they are significant.  Before just apologizing to your partner for whatever you think has made them mad, consider taking the time to really understand why they are upset.  Ask your partner open-ended questions about their experience and validate their feelings along the way.  Let them air out their emotions by talking through their thoughts and feelings; while some of what they say may be painful to hear, having the ability to clear the air and speak their peace may help them begin to heal from the pain you’ve caused.  By taking the time to understand your partner’s point of view truly, you can resolve current conflict while preventing future problems.

Non-Defensiveness:  The Art Of Responding To Your Partner After Causing Them Pain

Defensiveness is the enemy of intimacy.  When you become defensive towards your partner after causing them pain, you’re essentially telling them that you are unwilling to listen to their thoughts or feelings.  This, in turn, creates an invisible wall between you and your partner that breaks down your bond over time.

To repair your relationship with your partner, let yourself be a little vulnerable during the conflict.  Consider counting to ten when your partner says something that upsets you to prevent yourself from snapping back with a quick retort.  Use “I statements” with your partner about how you feel during an argument.  Acknowledge that your actions may have an impact that may not always match your intentions, but this explanation hardly helps when your partner is in pain.

Using Empathy To Support Your Partner

Relationships Can Run Into Hurdles
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If you hurt someone you love, respecting their feelings is paramount to repairing your relationship.  While you may want to swoop in and “fix” how your partner feels, often, it is more helpful to sit with your partner in their pain and show them some support.  Empathizing with your partner can help them feel like you have taken the time to listen to and understand their concerns.  Oftentimes, simply feeling understood can help rebuild lost trust in a relationship.

Know When To Seek Help

Vienna Pharaon, a marriage and family therapist, says that “behind every great relationship are difficult and uncomfortable conversations we rarely get to see.”  She continues that great relationships “require people to move through their fears and insecurities and do the hard work to move wounds into healing.”  If you and your partner struggle to move past the pain, you may want to consider consulting a professional.  Licensed mental health professionals can help couples work together to overcome the “regrettable moments” of their relationships to become a stronger, more unified team.  For support on your schedule, considering contacting our staff of highly-trained professionals at ReGain; we’re here to support you and your partner through these trying times.


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