Caught in a Lovetrap? Clearing Up Blind Spots in Your Marriage or Love Relationship

What Are "Lovetraps," and How Can They Get You Stuck in Your Marriage or Love Relationship?

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Have you ever interpreted something your partner or spouse did in a negative way, only later to find out you were either blowing things out of proportion, or simply wrong? If you're like most humans, that is easy to answer. Our past experiences define how we see what is happening in the moment, even when our perceptions doesn't actually fit the reality. These perceptions, or mental filters, are referred to as “schemas,” beliefs that filter how you see the world. Schemas that influence you to feel like your partner will leave you, cheat on you, or lie to you most likely stem from key experiences in your past when you were hurt or betrayed. We call schemas "Lovetraps," because they can create huge blind spots that get in the way of safety and closeness in our marriage or love relationships.

Closely linked to these mental filters of schemas are emotions, such as anger, sadness, fear, and shame, followed by behavioral urges that may include anger (fight), withdrawal (flight), or paralysis (freeze).  The most common primary schemas that lead to "love traps" relate to how you see yourself (self-esteem) and relationships (with caregivers, romantic partners, and peers). 

The Most Common Schemas in Marriages or Love Relaitonships

  • Abandonment: you expect instability, unreliability, or loss of anyone you are close to
  • Mistrust and Abuse: you expect significant others will hurt, abuse, humiliate, cheat, lie, manipulate, betray, or take advantage of you
  • Emotional Deprivation: you believe that significant others, including your partner or spouse and caregivers, will never meet your primary needs for nurturance, empathy, affection, and protection 
  • Defectiveness or Shame: you feel you are bad, unwanted, undesired, inferior, or invalid
  • Social Exclusion: you feel different or not part of any group or community; you minimize similarities with other people and maximize differences, usually with peers and groups

Your parents gave you a basic template for loving relationships. Sensitivities may also originate from wounding relationships with your siblings, members of your family, mentors or caregiving authorities, and your past and present romantic relationships.

How Do You Know When You're Stuck in a "Lovetrap"?

When your schema is perceiving something with your partner or spouse in a negative way, you’ll either detach from him or her and go numb to "protect" yourself, or experience an intense emotional reaction that you’re aware of, such as anger, fear, sadness or shame. Emotion moves fast, as a protective response to help you survive the potential of danger or threat. If you want to recognize what is occurring in a situation with your partner or spouse, you’ll have to regulate your central nervous system by breathing while doing muscle relaxation or focused attention exercises to help you connect your emotional brain (usually your right hemisphere unless you’re left-handed) with your logical, linguistic and linear brain in your left-hemisphere (unless you are left-handed). If you are able to successfully slow your central nervous system down from a hyper-aroused state through regulation, you will then be able to use your left-hemisphere brain to assess the situation in a more logical, rational way. 

When your schema is triggered, you’ll most likely notice that you’re feeling off-balance, disoriented, disorganized, angry, or numb. The urges that come up for you in the situation may puzzle or startle your partner or spouse in the situation, as they often don’t seem to relate to the degree of severity the experience or situation warrants. For instance, if you have an abandonment schema, where you are afraid that relationships don’t last and expect instability, your coping strategy of anger that protests against a disconnection with your partner or spouse ends up causing more distance and disconnection in your marriage or love relationship.

Your Brain is an Anticipation Machine: Your Past Shapes How You See the Now

Your brain responds to cues in your current marriage or love relationship with associations from past caregivers, unless your past hurts have been resolved. For instance, if you have a “Mistrust” schema, your partner or spouse arriving home an hour late may easily be interpreted as a “cue” that he or she is having an affair, and will most likely hurt or betray you like a significant past caregiver or partner did. As you’re waiting for him or her to arrive home, your body responds from your brain with alarm, as the danger of getting hurt is linked with your past hurts. You may get angry when your partner or spouse arrives home, accusing him or her of misleading or lying to you. Your anger pushes your partner or spouse away from you, and you most likely feel distance instead of closeness and reassurance. It’s hard for any partner or spouse to respond effectively to the emotion of anger. In reality, your partner or spouse may simply have been running late from work, instead of having an affair.

Many of us are afraid to express our sensitivities or vulnerabilities to other people, especially our partner or spouse. More than anyone else, your partner or spouse may hurt you, and you may fear that he or she may see you as weak, try to control you, or ignore your sensitivities so that you feel even worse. However, your partner or spouse can’t respond to your schemas if you don’t regulate yourself when you’re activated, and reflect on what theme is interfering with your ability to see what is happening in your current situation. Courage and a leap of faith are needed to help you express your sensitivities to your partner or spouse so that he or she can respond in a way that helps you feel better.

Resources to Help: Reinventing Your Life & Mindsight

Schema therapy, developed by Dr. Jeffrey E. Young, is an empirically validated approach that combines the best methods from cognitive behavioral therapy, emotion-focused therapy, and behavioral therapy. You can read more about schemas and how they may impact you and your relationships in the self-help book, Reinventing Your Life, by Jeffrey Young and Janet Klosko. The Loving at Your Best Plan uses schema therapy as a foundation for our approach to improving marriages and love relationships.

Mindsight, developed by Dr. Daniel J. Siegel, is at the forefront of brain science, using interpersonal neurobiology to help change your brain. At the Loving at Your Best Plan, we use advanced techniques from the Mindsight approach to help you in your marriage or love relationship. 

Share Your Experiences from Your Marriage or Love Relationship

Do you recognize times when you become very upset, or go numb, when your partner or spouse does or says something? Do you recognize what upsets your partner or spouse? Share your experiences of getting caught in your "lovetraps," and help others in our community to learn from your wisdom. Have a question about how to help your marriage or love relationship? Complete the space below, and join the conversation about how to help your marriage or love relationship thrive.

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