My ex husband used to tell me, “I’ll never hurt you.” I knew it was bullshit. After all, the ones we love are also positioned to hurt us the most, even when it’s unintentional. Yet even though I knew his statement was wrong, I chose to believe him. Because I wanted it to be true.
In contrast, my now-husband will occasionally say, “I will hurt you. And you will hurt me.” I don’t necessarily like to hear it (after all, it’s not what I want to be true), but he’s right.
At some point, in every relationship, we hurt – and are hurt by – the ones we love.
Yet all those hurts are not the same. This is definitely one of those cases where the intention behind the act matters as much as – or even more than – the magnitude of the emotional injury.
1 – We Hurt the Ones We Love Inadvertently
We get careless. Speaking without thinking and making hurtful comments we don’t really mean. Often, we know we’ve stepped over the line as soon as our voice leaves our mouth. And apologies – and regret – soon follow.
This type of hurt is especially prevalent when people are busy, preoccupied or tired. We can try to mitigate it by taking a few moments to decompress from work before entering the home or being careful about topics broached when stress is high. Regardless, as long as we’re human, this sort of accidentally trespass will happen. Apologize, acknowledge the hurt feelings and move on.
2 – We Hurt the Ones We Love Unconsciously
Sometimes we forget that we don’t know everything about the people we love. And sometimes we say or do something hurtful without knowing that it is a tender area.
These are distressing missteps for both parties; one feels badly for the accidental wounding and the other is tending to the wound. At the same time, these can also be healing transgressions, as they provide an opportunity for increased vulnerability and openness.
3 – We Hurt the Ones We Love Cautiously
There are times when getting our own needs met mean hurting someone else in the process. This is deliberate harm, meaning that it is conscious and premeditated, yet it is also compassionate harm because the impact on the other is considered and buffered as much as possible.
Sometimes, hurting others in the short term is both necessary and kind for them in the long run. This is true for everything from administering a childhood vaccination to asking for a divorce in a lifeless marriage. Step carefully and with kindness, but make the needed cuts.
4 – We Hurt the Ones We Love Selfishly
When you hurt someone without regard for their feelings, it is different than the previous method. It’s selfish to act without regard for others when your wants crash against theirs.
This is often the type of hurt that arises from cheating. One partner is feeling unappreciated or ignored and so they seek to meet their desires without considering the pain that it will cause their spouse. Often, they will perform creative cognitive contortions to evade facing the reality of what they’re doing to their partner. In the worst cases, the selfish person then attempts to cover their initial harm with lying, manipulating and/or gaslighting. Jerks.
5 – We Hurt the Ones We Love Instinctively
We know what we have learned. And for those that have been raised in homes where any attention is good attention and abuse becomes muddled with love, they may hurt others from a place of unconscious reflex.
This is a tragic hurt as the contagion of unacknowledged trauma carries forth like a virus, infecting the next in line. And the only way to stop its spread is to face its origin and learn how to neutralize its power.
The hurt that radiates outwards from addicts, often leveling those around them, fall into this category. Yes, their actions are selfish, but they are operating at an instinctual level in an attempt to meet their needs.
6 – We Hurt the Ones We Love Intentionally
It’s difficult to accept that this is even possible. How can you love someone and yet seek to hurt them at the same time? Yet it is not so unusual for us to simultaneously possess such diametrically opposed – yet intense – emotions.
For some, it may come from an innate cruelty or disorder, abuse in its most ruthless form. For others, it is a much less harmful, using love testing in an attempt to alleviate their own anxiety.
Hurting the ones we love is inevitable. Yet it is within our power to limit the harm and to take responsibility when it does happen. And when we’re on the receiving end, it’s helpful to consider what may be behind the words or actions that caused pain.