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!