So we stood up in front of God and man and promised to love and cherish each other, right? Then why does the person we’re married to sometimes have the ability to hurt us more than anybody else on the planet?

The answer is that they are hurt themselves. They have what I like to call “emotional broken arms.”

I often explain it like this: When one walks around in the world in the perfect state of health, nothing hurts--everything is fine. When someone brushes up against them or accidentally steps on their toe, they respond with a somewhat calm, proportionate response like “Hey, careful, you brushed up against me.” or “Ouch, you stepped on my toe. Please try not to do that again.”

However, when one has a broken arm and someone brushes up against them, they feel unbearable pain and often times explode with “Aargh! How could you? I can’t believe you did that!” or even worse, they attack back with something like “You did that on purpose. What the heck is wrong with you? Get away from me!”

Many people are walking around in their marriages with “emotional broken arms.” Therefore, when he forgot to pick up the dry cleaning again, or she ignored him when he walked in the door again - for all intents and purposes, minor “brushes,” - the emotional pain is excruciating and the response is extreme and oftentimes ends up sounding something like, “You (awful person!) I can’t believe you did that again! You obviously don’t love me. I’ve had it!”

But how did these “emotional arms” get broken? They can exist for many different reasons including but not limited to: the environment in which one grew up, past transgressions within the relationship, or even fear of the future and, in particular, of being abandoned.

When “brushed up against,” these emotional broken arms have led people to say things and do things out of pain that have significantly injured their partner’s feelings, doing damage to the relationship. Understanding that there may have been painful circumstances or suffering that contributed to the person’s actions and having compassion for what drove the person to their transgression can go a long way toward healing the “broken arm” and ensuring that the minor “brushes” stay just that, minor.

Further, understanding that it may be your arm that is broken, will help you take responsibility for your own pain and not take it out on your partner. Exploring and being aware of your own “emotional broken arms” allows you to control your reactions and stop the hurt before it starts.

Does any of this apply to you? Do you have any further questions. Please comment below.

To learn more about the complicated emotional dynamics in your marriage, check out our StrongMarriageNow System.

Dr. Dana Fillmore and Amy Barnhart,