In the interest of “keeping peace”, it’s not uncommon for one or both individuals in a couple to avoid topics that might be experienced as critical, hurtful or contentious. This outlook often reflects a belief that an uncomplicated relationship is a good relationship. While too much conflict can be harmful, emphasizing undemanding interaction can stunt individual and mutual growth and result in a spiral of resentment and emotional distance. Kelly Vernon sums it up well in this excerpt from “Knowing Feeling: Affect, Script, and Psychotherapy.” The book was intended to help practitioners respond appropriately to their client’s emotional states but Vernon’s passage directly addresses relationships in all forms, from romantic to platonic.
All close relationships require proximity that cause us to step on each other’s toes. If, for whatever reason, one does not say “ouch” and communicate the distress experienced as a result of the other’s actions, a complex dilemma is created. The need to disguise the distress causes the inmost self to be hidden from the other. The distress, if unrelieved, eventually triggers anger and resentment that must also be hidden. This causes further withdrawal and hiding of the inmost self. The other, perhaps not even aware of the offense, experiences feeling of rejection triggered by the withdrawal, without information adequate to allow reestablishment of the intimate bond. Now hurt, this other may also resort to withdrawal, thus setting in motion a recursive loop of rejection and hurt.