The Partner Trap – The Vicious Cycle of Surprise, Reaction, and Resentment

Man and woman split on sides, bridge through separation crack. Concept 3D illustration.

Man and woman split on sides, bridge through separation crack. Concept 3D illustration.


Key Points: All relationships have difficulties, but being in one with concentration issues presents its own unique challenges. At best, living with an affected spouse can be an exciting journey, filled with positive experiences; however at its worst, the relationship can devolve into a vicious cycle of unpleasant surprises, intense reactions, and deep resentment. This is a cycle we refer to as the Partner Trap, and we’d like to discuss it with you here. We hope you will recognize it if and when it happens, and provide you with some great tips on how to get out of it! You may already be caught in the Partner Trap right now. If so, we are delighted that you’re reading this and sincerely hope you find the help you need.

Let’s take a look at this dynamic.

SURPRISES (of the very unpleasant variety!):

While surprises in a relationship can provide moments of unexpected delight, they can also have a very negative effect when they come as a result of erratic, unpredictable behavior. One client explained this situation. "I was in the middle of making a recipe that called for orange juice. My wife said she’d go to the store for me to get it, and off she went. A while later she returned. And what did she bring home? Patio furniture! And we have perfectly good patio furniture already! She totally forgot all about the orange juice and had to go back to get it. I could have been furious, but I chose another way."

This unpredictable behavior is what we call a ‘mini-betrayal’ and is typical of someone with concentration issues. (And quite frankly it’s very typical for the non-affected person to become upset when they occur.) In these instances, what’s most important is to know how react appropriately. Although blowing up and giving a lecture may feel like a normal reaction, it really won’t get you anywhere. Let’s read on and get for insight into this dilemma.

REACTIONS (how each partner may feel):

Some couples have so many mini- betrayals throughout a normal day they say there is hardly time to react before they’re blind-sided by another one! Let’s take the orange juice incident for example.

The affected person didn’t understand that coming home without the orange juice was a problem. She thought she was doing something wonderful for her hubby by surprising him with this new treasure and was excited to see his oh-so-happy reaction. However, hubby needed the juice for the recipe so he could finish up. So when she walked in with her latest find, he was surprised all right, but in a very unpleasant way.

‘Jolted’ or ‘stunned’ would more adequately describe his feelings, and he was able to tell her so in a quiet, non-threatening way. At the end of this chapter, we will explain the healthy way this husband chose to respond.

Here’s another mini-micro betrayal scenario which ends in a much different, very harmful way:

A wife, who does not have the condition, makes a simple request of her affected hubby. What she doesn’t expect is the loud, emotional outburst because he was already feeling totally overwhelmed by life in general. Whew…talk about being blindsided…that really seemed unfair! She let him have it; lock, stock and barrel. Their words were loud and unkind and they went to bed mad. In the morning, although they weren’t yelling anymore, they were giving each other the silent treatment, which lasted all day.

The wife was so mad she could hardly think straight. ‘How dare he talk to me that way!’ she thought over and over to herself as she went about her business. Hubby, on the other hand, had all but forgotten what he did wrong. ‘I don’t know what she’s so upset about this time,’ he thought, ‘but I’m going to avoid her like the Plague!’ Remember: people with the condition think differently than those who do not have the condition. You are not going to change him or her!

So…how do you deal with this?


Resentment builds as one partner thinks the other is purposely causing disappointment and chaos or over-reacting in a critical and angry way.


One unhealthy way to try and break the negative reaction cycle is for the non-affected partner to assume all of the household, relational and/or financial responsibilities. You cannot do everything by yourself! Sometimes it seems as though the only way to get things done is to do it yourself. You may think that since you can’t count on him to finish a task, or do it right, or to remember what he promised in the first place, you’ll just do it yourself. You’ll do the cooking. Cleaning. Laundry. Shopping. Balance the checkbook. Pay the bills. Take the car for repairs. Make the appointments. The list goes on. ‘He can just sit around all day and do nothing,’ you say to yourself. ‘I don’t need him and the messes he makes. I’ve had enough!’

Meanwhile, your spouse doesn’t understand the problem. The messes made do not look like messes to him. The unfinished projects do not look like unfinished projects to him. The house does not look like a tornado hit it, even though there are garbage bags of stuff sitting around and the garage looks like one gigantic, hodge-podge toolbox.

So while you cook and clean and run to the store, fix the drain and pay the bills all by yourself, he’s doing his thing, not really aware that there’s a problem. He’s happy in his world…EXCEPT that he knows you are not happy. He doesn’t understand why. When he asks, he gets yelled at and criticized, so he doesn’t ask.

He simply does not understand.

So the two of you go about your day, together but not together, and the division between you widens. …As the old saying goes: If you want it done right, do it yourself.



This approach may seem to work for a little while, but soon leads to resentment. When the non-affected spouse does more and more, the affected partner does less and less to help out. In our practice, we often see this self-perpetuating cycle destroy relationships. It eats away at the core of trust, dependability and safety that the couple needs to survive.


Once you and you and your spouse recognize that you doing an unhealthy song and dance routine, it will be easier to break away from it. The key is good, old fashioned, open communication. By continually sharing honestly with each other, you will find it possible to manage those unpleasant surprises and to keep them from becoming gigantic crises!

What do you share? And how do you share it?

Remember back at the beginning of this chapter, when the wife went to the store to get orange juice and came back with patio furniture? How do you suppose hubby felt when she didn’t bring it home? A very unpleasant conversation could have taken place, but the hubby did not want another fight. What he wanted was for things to work out, and this is the healthy response he chose.

Instead of getting all bent out of shape, he realized the situation was what it was and could not be altered.

Prudently he explained to his wife that while the furniture was indeed nice, what he really needed right then was orange juice. Asking if she would please run back to town and pick some up, he stated that once he was finished with the recipe, they could sit outside on the new furniture together and talk about what they could do with the patio furniture they already had. (He would work the conversation around to discussing whether or not they should keep it or return it.) That husband wanted to keep the marriage alive and functioning as productively as possible. He understood his wife’s quirky disposition and accepted it.

Was it always easy? No. Was it easy to accept? No.

But what he understood is that it was always do-able!

And that is where he had learned to put his focus. On the positives; the possibilities! When you take responsibility for your own actions and reactions, and are aware of your spouse’s feelings and worth, the relationship can be a fantastic, healthy life journey!

Staying Quiet or Staying Married

View of loving couple sitting on couch

View of loving couple sitting on couch

Staying Quiet or Staying Married

Sometimes it can seem like no matter what either partner does it is just the “wrong” thing to do! So many people just stop taking action all together in a last ditch attempt to avoid failing once again.

That is when the real trouble begins. For many couples they just don’t know how damaging taking no action can be until it is too late.

You see, without action, your behavior looks absolutely aggressive and intentional and your words & promises come to mean nothing to your partner. These every day tiny acts of “micro-betrayal” quickly erode the foundation of love, trust and respect.

When your not taking action to keep your word, especially on the “small stuff, it can feel like you are being deliberately hurtful toward your partner - as if you’re trying to actively disappoint them. To make things worse, these disappointments are often followed by lots of stories and excuses and usually a lot of blame gets hurled around and that can be infuriating to both partners.

Micro-acts of betrayal are the most destructive of all. Too often these small every day let downs are quickly “swept under the rug” in an attempt to keep the peace. Like we said earlier, most couples talk about the big things. It’s those daily acts of disappointment that sit right below the surface that really threaten the integrity of your relationship.

Each time you don’t deliver on something that you agreed to do, or react in a way you agreed not to react, your creating negative feelings of resentment and mistrust in your relationship.

These negative feeling that collect over time seem to band together and end up creating very real barriers to communication, cooperation & intimacy. Behind all kinds of seemingly small every day-let downs are very real and destructive feelings.

Over time, these negative feelings collect like water from a leaking roof. Over time the roof begins to rot, and eventually comes crashing in around you often when you least expect it.

The good news is that roofs, like relationships are repairable, and are best fixed the minute a leak occurs.

If you want to revitalize your relationship then now is the time to start a dialogue about what’s getting swept under the rug in your relationship?

Today, right now, start paying attention to the daily details of your life and in your relationship. When inattentiveness or lack or concentration are factors in your relationship, then it is critical that you “Sweat The Small Stuff” and make your feelings known before it’s too late.

Remember that whatever you choose to stuff under the rug will grow and fester. In no time at all, and when you least expect it, you will find yourself stumbling and falling under the weight of all that stuff you shoved away.

Being successful with this condition means managing your interactions moment-to-moment and day-to-day. When you handle things as they happen, and don’t stuff your feelings under the rug, both partners usually find they hurt less and are able to live better.

Sure it is awkward at first, it is that way for almost everybody when they start dealing with things right as they come up. You might even feel like you are being a complainer. Well, unless you want your relationship to rot like a leafy roof, learning how to deal with your life as it comes along is a really great way to live!

Why Did I Marry You Anyway?

Strengths or weakness concept.

Strengths or weakness concept.

Just like most things you are going to remodel, the first step is usually deciding what you want to keep and what needs to go. You decide together what parts you like and want to keep and what parts are seriously broken, not working, or you just don’t like anymore. Remodeling your relationship works in much the same way. In every couple there are going to be things that work, that you do well, or that just feel good. Knowing what those pieces are in your relationship that you want to keep is a critical step in the rebuilt process. If your having a hard time wondering what works or what are the good parts of your relationship, you can ask yourself this question: “What was it initially about your partner that you found so great that you ultimately decided to marry them?” These are usually a persons strengths.

Whatever is not working is what you will want to unplug from, demolish, and get rid of. You might even have some parts that you both agree are just so awful, that your going to get rid of them first, just so that you can see what things might look like with that ugly part of your relationship gone. These are usually your partner’s weaknesses.

Realize that most people remodel their relationship by just adding onto or building over what is already there that hasn’t been working. This is a little like trying to put frosting over a super burnt cake. It might look O.K. on the outside, but on the inside it is something that no matter how good it looks, is going to be awful.

So instead of just piling a bunch of new skills on top of your old broken down skills, we think of it more like you would when you see those professional home shows on television. They keep a few key items, then they take it down to the bare studs and floors carefully rebuilding from the foundation up. Getting rid of anything you know that doesn’t work, also opens up your ability to see any other issues or concerns that might have been covered up before.

Rebuilding your relationship works in many of the same ways. You can spend endless time, endless resources, and endless effort trying to force something to work right, and usually only end up being only raising your ability form zero to so-so.

When you of spend all that time, resources and effort trying to get yourself or your partner to make a weakness into a strength, guess what? Your using what is known as a “Weakness Based Approach” the name even sounds like a bad idea.

If you want to be super successful at remodeling your relationship changing your approach. Imagine a relationship based upon what your already good at and making it into something great. Basing your relationship your strengths, and not on your weaknesses is what is called using a “Strength Based” approach.

This is attractive to many folks because it makes a lot more sense to try and build upon the alive parts of your skill instead of fooling yourself into believing that you can revive the dead parts back into life!

Instead we work on what ever the good parts are that we can find in a couple no matter how small, we build upon that. We seek out the attributes that each partner brings to the relationship and seeks to turn something good into something great.

We all have attributes, some of which are our strengths, and we all have some things that we would not consider strengths. Some attributes are really strong while others are rather weak. Imagine a scale from 1 to 10 with one being very weak and a 10 being very strong.

Understanding the simple fact that it is just not realistic for all of our attributes to be rated at an 8 or a 9. That frankly the attributes that score an 8 or a 9 don’t really need much attention.

Our attention is focuses instead on strengthening the attributes that we are good at, turning a 5 into into an 8 or a 9 so that they offset our weaker attributes.

It is freeing to take a realistic look at our abilities and accepting the fact that trying to take a weakness or what we are calling a 2, and pull it all the way up to a strength usually results in only mediocre outcomes at best. Not to mention the endless amounts of time, resources, and energy to end up being an average 5 after all of that effort.

From those strength based places, we ask couples to do certain behaviors that build upon the good of a relationship, and in doing so, we restore trust, and put the “liking” back into the “loving” part of a relationship. Then we rebuild on these loving behaviors to restore and replace painful and hurtful behaviors with loving ones.

Story: Most relationships that are in trouble are like rose bushes that have gone wild and nobody has paid attention to them. Their branches have a lot of dead wood, and they are busy dealing with inflexible thorns, unnecessary growth and thorny rotted limbs.

How is it a good idea to try and use your weaknesses or the dead branches, to support all of the other alive parts of your rose bush?

We have found over and over again that couples that are living with concentration issues don’t waste time, energy and critical focus on the dead parts of each other’s rose bush.

Successful  couples are busy pruning and trimming off all the dead weight and instead are focusing their efforts on the alive parts of the relationship that are still alive. In doing so we can conserve vital energy to put into the parts of the relationship that can still grow, and can be trained to support other living and alive parts of the relationship.

Ask yourself the question: “What Do I bring To This Relationship?”- What contributions do I make to this relationship, emotional, financial, physical or other? Our advice to you is forgot about trying to turn your weaknesses intro strengths or as we say “Why spend your whole life trying to turn a 2 into a 5?” Instead why not think about turning a 5 into a 10?”

Resist focusing on what you don’t bring. Let’s face it; it’s easier to turn something good into something great. And that's a lot faster, better, and easier that taking a lifetime, if you are lucky, to turn a real weakness into strength.

We hope you can see why we have seen such great results using this “Strength Based” approach to grow the good parts of relationships, and remodel way couples experience each other.


Actions Speak Louder Than Words



Instead Of Trying Harder, Try Doing Things Differently

Trying harder in a relationship that is affected by  concentration issues) isn’t always going to make things better. When couples feel like they are doing everything in their power to make improvements in their relationships and things stay the same—or get worse—it’s so easy to feel disappointed, hopeless, and even angry. Here is a quick tip to help you get back on the solution track.

Instead of just trying harder at doing what you have always done to try and make your relationship work, realize that if your going see things change, then both you and your partner are going to have to work differently. This means being aware of your particular type or symptoms, and understanding exactly how those symptoms impact each person in the relationship differently. Then using strategies that take those particular symptoms into consideration, both partners can work together in facing every day challenges.

Jan and Bob had been together several years when Jan noticed that no matter how hard they tried, it seemed like they were always half an hour late to wherever they were going. So after working with the couple, we suggested that Jan tell Bob that they had to be places between half an hour to an hour earlier than was actually required to be on time.

Jan also learned to switch up the time differentials for Bob so that when asked the question “what time do we really have to be there” Jan could keep a great poker face. It’s true that Bob never quite knew what time they “really” needed to be places, all he knew is that he was way less stressed about going places and Jan was too.

This is a perfect example of how instead of just turning up the nagging and yelling or pushing harder than you have to, this couple chose a totally different, more friendly approach, which gave them both peace of mind when going places together as a couple.

It’s easy for both partners to accept poor outcomes as a way of life, and then reinforce that helpless feeling with blame and excuses, all the while, never getting around to solving the real issue.

It’s easy for the partner to fall into a pattern of blaming their partner for all of the roadblocks and issues within the relationship. Often, the person with the concentration issues buys right in blaming him or herself, as they drown in a sea of helplessness. Neither of these options improves the relationship.

It’s extremely important that neither partner uses blame as an excuse to not move forward. Instead, stop in that moment and resist blaming and focus on working together to create positive change within the relationship by thinking creatively and differently.

Resist the easy route of just pushing harder against something that has not worked in the past. You don’t have to be like that fly who keeps hitting a closed window over and over again.

A note of caution is wise here: Beware of the “hostile take over”! It is an all too common error for the partner in the relationship to try and “take over” and attempt to teach the other partner how to properly do things in the relationship.

This can leave the partner with the concentration issues feeling unloved or defeated or worse yet they feel like they are an incapable child. As with any relationship, open communication about how to best contribute to the relationship is vital here, and couples living with this in their relationship keeping in mind each other’s capabilities and strengths is the secret to making life work together.

On the other side of things, the partner with the concentration issues may find themselves retreating to a place of blame because of past shortcomings and inconsistencies; which can lead to feeling defeated and afraid to try something new or different for fear of failure. Relationships respond to actions not intentions. Reminding both partners that trying something differently no matter how often can lead to success, stability, and a positive relationship is a very important mental step that needs to be taken.

Remind yourself and your partner that trying something differently is not an all or nothing scenario! Getting 50% or 70% more right than wring is still great progress.  The key here is keep tweaking your new and different solutions until you work out all of the kinks.  Keep the whole process moving by appreciating and congratulating each other every time something goes even just a little better. ‘

Always remember that, no matter how bad things have been, there is hope and a brighter future. Success increases when both partners make an effort to try doing things differently and switching things up, instead of attempting to just work harder at things that haven’t worked in the past.

When I'm Sorry Doesn't work

begging for forgiveness

begging for forgiveness

Made a mistake? Messed up again? Stepped your partner’s toes? If you’re in a relationship, you know how important communication is. Guess what? Apologies are an essential part of good relationship communication.

Every person makes mistakes, and it seems the closer people get, the easier collisions occur. In every relationship there are bound to be occasions for apologies. For some the mere mention of a apology conjures up thoughts of begging and pleading, While for others they seem to believe that just uttering the words “I’m Sorry” or its contemporary evil twin version “Oops, My Bad” will magically right any wrong ever committed.

The truth is that not too long and not too short seems to be the right approach. Couples who learn quickly how to exchange apologies are able to spend more time working together to create solutions and strategies and discover how to do better next time. That’s right less time begging and more time creating a solution is good advice when you make an apology.

For couples where one or both partners have concentration issues, things are no different. There will still be mistakes made, and there will still be a need for apologies. However, concentration issues can affect how to best make an apology.

Don’t make things worse by pouring on a long drawn out apology or begging endlessly for forgiveness. It only makes things worse! Don’t get lost in the million words, and your partner wants fewer words and more action.

If your partner is not ready to work on solutions and strategies right then, that’s O.K. too. Simply agree on another time to begin to work thing through. Remember that sometimes, the right action in an apology is to give your partner some space to process what happened.

***As a couple learn to exchange apologies quickly so that you can spend more time working together to talk it out, correct the mistake, and work out a strategy to do it better next time. ***

As always, communication and honesty are key. If you’re open with your partner about how you feel, and if you allow your partner to be open and genuine with you, the two of you can work through any situation.