Ahhhh. We do love a quiz that promises to reveal ourselves to our, well, ourselves. And big business loves to to see how well you might fit into their organizational team. That we love personality tests is the why that drives their proliferation. But I wonder if you might like to understand why many of them are junk, clickbait, and rather useless. And how to pick one that gives useful information about your personality. I am going to help you do that!
So what is clean pain vs. dirty pain? Recently I ran across this description of the ways couples typically interact that just rang true. This concept of pain describes both the perils and the possibilities that exist within our relationships.
If you can agree that pain is a given at times with our partners, this will make a lot of sense to you. Obviously pain, like most things, is by degrees and has wide variations in its expression. You could be miffed that your lover failed to pick up milk OTW home from work as requested, or you could be caught in the devastation that follows when an affair is revealed. There is a wide variation—in both clean and dirty pain.
The truth is that once you and your partner start moving past the initial stage of a relationship where everything is new and shiny, pain may begin. That is not a bad thing. I repeat, that is not a bad thing. You could substitute the word conflict for pain if that helps broaden your understanding.
The truth is that once you and your partner start moving past the initial stage of a relationship where everything is new and shiny, pain may begin.
As I lay the groundwork for why this is true, please understand that your relationship acts as a crucible where each person has the opportunity to become the best version of themselves that they wish to become. That is the primary function of a healthy relationship.
Naturally over time as you learn each other and your differences more deeply, conflicts will arise. In those conflicts you will find yourself choosing clean pain or dirty pain time and time again. None of us is immune from these choices, but true growth both individually and as a couple will only come from choosing clean pain.
So What Is Clean Pain vs. Dirty Pain?
Clean pain comes from a place of accepting the conflict vs shrinking from it. In clean pain you use the best parts of yourself to engage productively in the conflict. It includes discomfort, and sometimes leaning into the parts of yourself that may need work. All of that is conducted in the best interests of the overall relationship, and is not “I’m right and you’re wrong”—even if it’s true!
When a person chooses dirty pain, they are coming from their most wounded parts. This looks any number of ways. It includes sarcasm, gaslighting, manipulation, contempt, capitulation, betrayal (there are many ways to betray), possibly name-calling, and for many, avoidance. It may even lead to violence. Dirty pain will always prolong and deepen conflict.
Sadly, people will most often choose dirty pain. Perhaps this knee jerk response means for them that cruelty or avoidance will hurt less than considering the possibilities of transforming themselves, or engaging in (healthy) compromise. Sometimes they are simply missing the self awareness needed to see they have work to do.
Engaging in either choice will lead you to one of two cycles. The clean pain will lead you both to a new cycle of growth and will deepen your own personal growth towards being the best you possible.
The dirty pain choice will also lead to a cycle: one of common cruelty. That may be heightened conflict, or create conditions for the even worse path of contempt. Over time, contempt leads to the dissolution of the relationship.
There is no “promise” inherent in choosing clean pain that your coupledom will survive as the result. This choice could also mean that the honesty and reflection you undergo may lead to a choice to leave your partner. That also provides a possibility for growth.
Submerging the things that matter to you will override your integrity, and cause you to live a life that does not align with your values.
Sometimes compromise and better efforts at communication work, but if those choices are made only in the effort to soothe rough waters, and they tend to repeat themselves, then you have not actually acted out of authenticity for yourself. Submerging the things that matter to you will override your integrity, and cause you to live a life that does not align with your values. Over time, that will result in unhappiness for you both.
If you need help with parsing this out, contact me here. I love helping couples figure these issues out. It is especially gratifying when couples choose to work on these issues before they are already steeped in pain.
I believe it is truly worth it to experience the pain of growth to have the richness that can happen with a loving partner that you can walk through this thing called life, with all of its joys and sorrows.
Resource: Monsters In Love by Resmaa Menakem. Many thanks to Menakem for the language to help couples understand themselves more deeply.
In addition to my degree in clinical social work, I have a masters degree in public health. One important goal of public health is to prevent disease from spreading. I want to help you see the costs to you of broken (or non-existent) boundaries by using the analogy of vaccines. First you need to understand that prevention is often invisible unless you look at the prevented costs. Here’s an example of that.
The worry box technique is a simple skill used to help you manage when and how you worry. This sounds simplistic, and on its face it is. However, the results can truly help you place and pace worry better than simply allowing the random worries to crawl around in your head in the unending, unresolved circular pattern they tend to create.
Why Bother Using Coping Skills?
If you aren’t practicing coping skills you learn in therapy regularly while calm, there’s a good chance a skill such as deep belly breathing won’t be as effective as you’d like. When the nervous system dysregulates quickly to fight or flight, instantly really, that lets me know you may need to work on stretching the threshold for your fight or flight response, which requires practicing coping skills when calm.
Your OCD thoughts (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) are false alarms, and you have to treat them as such. What research from Dr. Jeffrey M. Schwartz, UCLA School of Medicine shows: Bio-behavioral treatment works for retraining the brain that is stuck in OCD thought patterns. It’s not easy, but it is longer lasting and more permanently effective than relying on what he calls the “water wings” approach to treatment—that is meds only. There is no medication on the planet that will retrain your brain. Schwartz describes doing this training in the four steps below.
There is no medication on the planet that will retrain your brain.
How often do you dump your spam? If I asked you how often you get spam, I bet there would be a different answer. I could go to my spam folder daily and see dozens of useless offers, from site SEO “experts” to weirdo names like “instrut” or “esiff”, and many foreign language offers to do who knows what. I don’t know, and I don’t care. I never look at the content.
Not looking at the content is a normal behavior for those who receive a lot of spam emails. But what about those of you who receive lots of unwanted spammy thoughts, intrusive thoughts that make you cringe, or ones where you genuinely fear that you might carry out some heinous deed? Frequent, frightening, obsessive, or disturbing thoughts are the hallmark of obsessive compulsive disorder of the thought variety, aka OCD. I’m going to name some frequent fliers that occur for people with OCD, and give examples, because so much shame permeates this disorder. It needs to be said out loud to remove the stigma. You are not alone. Good, kind people have these tormenting thoughts, and I want to help them, possibly you.
Solo travel lets you wander. There is no schedule, other people’s expectations, or anything keeping you from a nap. It’s just you and time.
And even though I’m happily married, we let each other have this freedom, for many reasons.
Sooo many times, we need to complete a task, and the first thought is “I don’t feel like it!” Thinking in opposites is a strategy I want to offer you to challenge this thought. Here’s why.
Have you ever wondered why your partner triggers such an immediate response in you? Would you like to get curious not furious? Understanding your attachment style, or the way you related growing up to your primary caregiver, can provide a clue to the immediate, visceral reactions you have at times in your current relationships. Instead of getting furious, you can get curious!
PAGE RUTLEDGE, LCSW, CHt | Couples Counseling
5006 Randall Parkway (close to UNCW)
Wilmington, NC 28403
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