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Expectations and Hidden Issues

How do you know if there are hidden issues in your relationship? Look for the SWAT signs.

   Scorekeeping - when one or both of you are keeping track of who does what.

   Wheel Spinning - when you talk about the same problem over and over again.  When an argument starts with you thinking, "Here we go again."

   Avoidance - when one or both of you are avoiding certain topics or levels of intimacy.

   Trivial Triggers - trivial issues are blown up out of all proportion.  A small event triggers horrendous arguments.

Many hidden issues arise from deeply held expectations.

 Expectations build up over a lifetime of experiences. These expectations are based in the past but operate in the present. There are three primary sources for our expectations:
    1.  Our family of origin,
    2.  Our previous relationships, and
    3.  The culture we live in.

Expectations are transmitted both directly by what we hear and indirectly by what we observe. A hidden issue can't get triggered in the first place unless an expectation is violated. Studies show that it's more likely that relationships will develop problems when expectations are unreasonable. Conflicts caused by unexpressed expectations are very common and unmet expectations can lead to great disappointment and frustration in your relationship. One great clue to expectations is disappointment. It's a good habit to stop a minute when you're disappointed and ask yourself what you expected. Doing this can help you to become aware of the expectations that may be unconsciously affecting your relationship.

Be reasonable in what you expect. Be clear about what you expect. Unless you make your expectations clear, you'll have trouble working as a team. You can't work from any kind of shared perspective if you don't share your perspective.


How do you handle hidden issues?
  • First you can recognize when one may be operating and start talking about it constructively.
  • If you're in an argument and suspect hidden agendas, call a Stop Action.
  • Reschedule a time to discuss the hidden issue.
  • Go for problem discussion not problem solution.
  • The deeper the issue, the less likely it is that problem solving will be the answer.
  • What you need first and foremost is to hear and understand each other's feelings and concerns. Such validating discussions have the greatest impact on hidden issues. This alone can help to resolve a hidden agenda. Listen for understanding.  Try to see things from your partner's point of view.  Look through their eyes with their experiences.

Such talks have so much power because the most common root issue is the desire to know you're really accepted by one another. What better way to know that you're accepted than to feel that you’re really being heard? Couples say that when they finally do talk about hidden issues, there's a tremendous sense of relief, as if a weight has been lifted.

Since dealing with these issues takes skill and effort, it's best if you're working as a team to discover, explore and handle them. Ask your self and your partner the following: "What can we do together to work through these issues?"

You can prevent a great deal of damage by learning to give events and issues the time and skill they require. If hidden issues don't come out they fester and produce levels of sadness and resentment that eventually destroy the relationship. When you learn to discuss deeper issues openly and with emphasis on validating each other, the issues that generated the greatest conflict can actually draw you closer together.

Recommended Reading: Fighting For Your Marriage by Markman, Stanley, Blumberg

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