Hello folks, greetings to all! Summer begins in this nook of the world, what a joy! I hope you are living joyfully in your own nook of the world whatever the season, and to increase those chances, I’d like to shine a light on how 2 questions can springboard your partner/spouse) relationship from (irrelevant) self-description to true understanding of how your actions affect each other and your bond.
Lately I have become keenly aware of how immensely damaging to relationships it can be, when one partner affirms, despite evidence to the contrary, “being” a certain way: “I am reasonable” or, “I am the kind of guy who would always stand up for you” or, “I am a good listener”, etc.
HOW SELF-DESCRIPTION CAN BE FLAWED AND POTENTIALLY DANGEROUS TO YOUR MARRIAGE,
and the 2 questions that will help you rescue it and reveal a riper “you”.
Self-description of one’s character is perceived through biased lenses: our own. Despite having highly evolved brains (compared to other species), some of us have myopic vision when it comes to accurately describing ourselves.
As a couple’s therapist, I often times witness the unsuccessful attempts of partners eagerly hoping to “convince” their counterpart of who they “REALLY are”. I am no stranger to this; over our 20 years of marriage, my husband and I have attempted our share of –futile, mind-you, attempts to “persuade” the other of who we “really” were.
Years of practice, both through personal development and through human behavioral training taught me this: nobody cares. Actually, more accurately, nobody cares to hear it. During a long-term committed relationship, your version of you is dictated by your history of actions, not your character’s self-description. In that way, who we ARE is what we DO or DON’T DO onto others AND how it gets perceived. (Psst, this is good news! We have complete control of our behavior).
Individuals present differently to different people and there are particular reasons for that, thus, the discrepancies between how one sees him or herself in general and how one gets perceived by one’s spouse specifically. In marriage, as “behavior-filters” wear off and patterns take root, a self-description such as: “I am the most patient woman in the world” has little weight if your have lost your temper at critical times (even a few times!)
Gem: Avoid statements such as “I am…” or “you are…” as a way to prove a point about yourself or to make a point about your partner; they are (unsuccessful) hidden ways to discharge blame or claim a need.
Some people have a keen sense of themselves and can be objective about their actions, receptive to hear how they come across and how their behaviors affect their partners and eagerly extinguish or at the very least, consider altering damaging ones. Others, not so much and in marriage it translates into the everlasting crusade to convince our partners of who we are, regardless of what we do: “I am so generous! How can you call me selfish?!” Sounds familiar? This discrepancy of views, triggers fury (in both) and erodes loving feelings towards one another. Partners begin to defend who they think they “are”, usually at the expense of the other.
What leads us to both, resist considering our partners perception of us while hoping to coerce them otherwise? Over the years working with couples, 4 top themes surface consistently:
1) We have an (subconscious) imprinted skewed version of ourselves.
Oftentimes we carry the “old story”, the original (skewed) family version of us: “Jimmy? He is so kind…always available to everyone in need…so considerate…” and so on. Meantime, Jimmy’s wife is scratching her chin (pulling her hair, more like it) wondering why Jimmy, despite her many requests, hasn’t spoken to her in over 2 years about his lack of sexual interest towards her, yet, he sees no point in discussing it.
Hint: This category speaks to those whom, to feel worthy of approval, latch onto the idealistic, unrealistic and infantile version of the unconditional (blind) parental story generated in childhood, dismissing any other.
2) We deliberately want to portray an idealistic (better) version of ourselves.
When we feel or see ourselves as inadequate in certain (or all) areas of our lives, we tend to overreach. This leads us to behave like a “chameleon”, a survival adaptation technique to “blend in”. If you consistently hear your spouse saying things like:” There you were again, fake-laughing all evening, or, you always act like a child when…” and you reject it without a second thought and/or get enraged at the mere comment, you may be deliberately wanting to portray a different version of you, one that seems to help you feel accepted, liked or included by others.
Hint: This category speaks to those whom fear rejection; behavior aims at attempting to compensate for feelings of inadequacy and at the same time, subliminally avoiding them.
3) We are blind to our behavior.
This “blindness” sets in as an automatic response to maintain a pseudo sense of righteousness. An example of this would be a partner that pretends to hear your concerns about something you consistently do or say about him/her, seems perpetually shocked to hear them and justifies them or minimizes them with some version of a reactive response like: “I was just being nice”… or, “that is not what I did or say”…or, “you don’t know me”.
Hint: This category speaks to those whom fear or desire traits that are too threatening to acknowledge.
4) We fear changing.
Even though on an intellectual level we all know we can change our behaviors, we may be driven by another force or belief that challenges it. This belief leads the person to have low expectations of self and to hold no accountability for his/her actions: “Well, you should have known when you married me, this is what you would get” or, “I have been doing this all my life, people don’t change”.
Hint: This category speaks to those whom have grown chronologically but find emotional maturity a threat to their independence, developing an almost frozen panic state over the idea that one change may lead to many others, including emotional growth.
Self-description often becomes dangerous to your marriage when you or your partner begin to seek “mirrors” (a.k.a., affairs) that will support the preferred version of “you” rather than seeking to understand what makes your partner “see” you differently than you “see” yourself.
Gem: The way your spouse “sees” you is specifically related to how what you do affects him or her directly or indirectly.
When your partner comes at you with a “you are…” or “you do…” or “you did…” statement, put your ego and defensiveness aside, take a deep breath or 3, remember this is an opportunity for growth and with a sincere, curious and soft approach:
- What have I done or said that gives you that impression?
Expand your view towards how you affect your partner and your relationship:
- What do you think or feel might happen to you or us when I say or do that?
These 2 questions will spark a candid conversation, which will help you both, personally and relationally, “ripen” and bond.
We get married for many reasons, and one essential one it to help each other grow into mature adults. We can embrace that concept and grow, or resist it and “lock horns”, so to speak. One way to evolve in marriage personally and relationally is to get curious about how we come across to our partners and more importantly what our behavior means to them. So, when approached by your spouse with a different version of how you see yourself or have a disagreement about any given behavior, rather than getting defensive or avoidant, gift yourself and your marriage and choose to “grow”.
To intimate chats,