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What Are Microaggressions And How Do They Affect Relationships?

Often, when we think about partners fighting, we imagine the stereotypical arguments full of rage and passion. We picture the criticisms and the name-calling, the idle threats, and the loud voices.

But most relational conflicts aren't nearly as dramatic. In fact, tension is usually far more subtle. Many times, partners can't even describe what's really going on- they just know something feels off, even if they aren't sure what that 'something' is.

A repeated pattern of microaggressions can cause this dynamic. It's important to understand what they are and how they may be affecting your relationships.

What Are Microaggressions?

Microaggressions refer to biased statements that induce a sense of discomfort and frustration. Microaggressions may stem from instances of racism, homophobia, sexism, and other reactions towards marginalized groups. Such statements can occur in any context: within the workplace, out in society, or even in the context of your romantic relationship.

If you have ever been the recipient of a backhanded compliment, then you have probably experienced microaggressions. At first, these statements can be confusing. It sounds like the person wants to praise you, but it feels like a dig. And if you describe how you feel, they might be quick to defend their behavior and tell you why you're wrong for interpreting it that way.

Within a relationship, some common examples of microaggressions include:

  • making assumptions about your partner due to their gender, age, or race.

  • complimenting a partner for an accomplishment in spite of their gender, age, or race.

  • knowingly breaching a partner's trust.

  • making fun of a partner's behavior or quirk in a way that knowingly triggers anger or shame.

  • ignoring or downplaying their efforts in the relationship.

  • frequently forgetting important tasks or responsibilities that matter to your partner.

  • making passive-aggressive comments (I'm fine) instead of sharing your direct thoughts and feelings.

Microaggressions aren't usually intended to be malicious. they are usually subconscious- often, people aren't even aware of what they say or how they say it. That's why people often feel surprised when they are confronted with their behavior.

Why Do People Engage In Microaggressions?

As mentioned, most people aren't intentionally trying to harm others with their words. Microaggressions represent a greater societal issue.

The truth is that most of us hold inherent assumptions about other people and their behaviors. When something doesn't align within that category, we may feel surprised, angry, or happy about the discrepancy. The microaggression acts as a way to express this emotion.

We carry many expectations within our romantic relationships. For example, we may assume that a loving partner is more than happy to cook and clean after us. Or, we might expect that a loving partner naturally wants to earn a lot of money to support the family. Sometimes we don't even realize these expectations until our partner doesn't meet them.

In the context of a relationship, microaggressions are a subtle attempt to restore some power and control. One partner may feel unfulfilled, and these comments are a bid to improve the status quo. But this pattern isn't an effective one. Rather than connecting people together, microaggressions can breed resentment, fear, and disgust.

How Should You Deal With Microaggressions In Your Relationship?

It's not always easy to respond to microaggressions. You may worry that you're being overdramatic or sensitive. You might also worry that your partner is right and that you need to work or change a certain part of yourself.

However, it's crucial that you feel respected in your relationships. A love and secure foundation require trust and kindness. If you don't feel like your partner truly has your back, you're likely to feel insecure and uncertain.

The first step is considering if you and your partner are guilty of microaggressions. There's a good chance if one person does it, the other person does it as well. Try to take an honest inventory of how you both respond to one another during times of conflict.

Do you practice healthy communication, or do you say things that you don't mean? Do you make mean-spirited comments to prove a point, or do you express your feelings calmly?

Try to make a more conscious effort to be honest with your partner. Be sensitive to their needs. Think about how your communication could affect them.

Look at how you can tackle problems together instead of acting like enemies. If you two struggle to figure this out together, consider trying couples therapy for additional support. Therapy can help you both learn new ways to relate to one another.

Final Thoughts

Microaggressions can sever the trust and satisfaction in a relationship. These comments can result in long-lasting consequences rooted in anger and betrayal.

At The Resurface Group, we work with couples to help improve their communication, trust, and relational satisfaction. Contact us to learn more about our unique approach.

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