A lot has been written on the various areas of our lives affected by the current economic recession. One area that deserves attention, albeit not as immediately identifiable as others, is that of intimate relationships. When under a lot of stress, intimate relationships often cease to be haven from the storm, and can become the target of the storm. There is more tension and less energy for couples to address the issues and conflicts in their relationship, as they already feel overwhelmed by all the other stressors in their lives.
Let me explain why intimate relationships can become casualties during hard economic times. One defense mechanism most of us use at one time or another is displacement, an unconscious process by which we shift emotions from one area to another. Typically we shift from one area where we have no or little control to another where we think we have more control. This process helps us manage stress by compensating and balancing things out. We make use of this unconscious process when we have to deal with situations that are particularly stressful and painful to endure.
A perfect example of displacement is what happens when we get reprimanded by our boss at work. We have no control over his or her behavior, and we cannot truly express how we feel about this situation. So, when we come home, we may become intolerant with the dog, impatient with our children, or irritable with our mate. The emotions we feel and express at home have been displaced from the work situation onto our loved ones. As displacement is a completely unconscious mechanism, this occurs without us being aware of what we are doing. We believe the real causes of our irritation or disaffection are indeed our dog, our children or our mate.
Displacement creates a means of expressing our emotions in “safe” ways, while distracting us from what is really upsetting and compensating for it. Arguments, misunderstandings, and disappointments with our loved ones are likely to develop and not get resolved. Frustrations and resentments lead to fights and eventually to emotional disconnection. Thoughts of separation and divorce are more common at times of chronic or sudden severe stress. Yet often we don’t make the connection between our feelings and what causes them. Instead, we feel our desire to leave our mate is warranted. We reinforce these views by dredging up anything and everything negative we can think about her or him. This reinforces our current position and, in our eyes, justifies it.
Of course, this does not mean that every time couples think of splitting up it is because of displacement. However, displacement may account for the increased rates of conflict in intimate relationships during times of severe stress.
What are the external factors that are contributing to increased rates of interpersonal conflicts for couples? Some of them are traditionally associated with challenging economic times in general; some are unique to this recession. In the following three blogs I will examine these factors and discuss them.
If you are personally experiencing challenges in your primary intimate relationship, we would like to hear your thoughts. Or, if you have an opinion on this subject even though you are not directly affected by the current economic problems, please share it with us.
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