We were both touched by a letter we received describing a marriage where the writer is criticized over many small things by their spouse. They weren’t seeking advice, just sharing, but it reminded us of a couple we have recently spent time with, and this caused us to have several discussions about this style of relating.
We talked about how a relationship can be treated as a dumping ground for negative emotions like anger, grief or depression. Phil thinks he has done this in the past, and he has certainly seen it. The justification is “You have to accept me at my worst. You have to accept all of me.”
It is the security of a committed relationship that makes people feel safe enough to express their deepest emotions, but instead of going all the way down and owning the roots of those feelings, people stop halfway and involve their partner in the replay of their drama. Indeed, they may have subconsciously chosen their partner precisely for that role. For example, the introvert who chooses the extrovert to act as his/her connection to the world, but comes to resent it.
Often people are not aware that they treat their mate in this way. They know they are loved, so they can take out frustration, act disparagingly or irritably without any consequences.
If your partner is bringing drama in, you can’t fix it by trying to change them. How many therapists does it take to change a light-bulb? Only one, but the light-bulb has to want to change. So the change has to come from you. Your partner’s behavior does not exist in a vacuum, but in relation to you, like two people on a trampoline.
Initiate that change by expressing yourself and saying what is happening for you. Don’t talk about causes – you did this – talk about effects – what the consequences are, and how that makes you feel. “I didn’t feel loved when you used that tone of voice with me.” Find ways to speak that aren’t an attack but still honor your feelings.
This changes the balance in several ways.
- Because it’s not an attack, it is less likely to provoke a counter-attack. It might do so if it is taken as an implied criticism, so make sure it isn’t, and tell your partner that.
- It’s a communication. It tells your partner something they may not have known before. This alone can change the balance.
- It’s an act of sharing, of opening up, of being vulnerable, of intimacy, all of which can lead to a closer relationship.
If your partner is bringing drama in, you can’t fix it by trying to change them #relationships Click To TweetSurprise! In this rebalancing, you might need to change as well as your partner. How likely is it that it is all one-sided? Look at yourself as well. Use the insights that come from a loving dialogue about how each of you feels to learn about yourself and to enable you to change habitual behaviors and reactions which don’t actually represent who you are or how you feel.
This is a scary path to take. When you change the balance in a relationship, how do you know a new balance is even possible? Perhaps it will all collapse like the game of Jenga where you have to remove blocks without the tower falling.
Maybe. But in a relationship based on matching core values, you can always find a place of agreement. In our book and in our blogs, we have outlined what we call “Our Process”, which we feel is an ideal way of working toward mutual solutions. This way of addressing each other is conducive to loving honest communication. It is fun and creates an intimate experience.
Being in a relationship can be one of the most spiritual experiences life affords us. Give it your full attention. Give it your deep regard and honor. Treat it as the sacred connection that it is.