Have you begun to notice that your partner is more selfish than you ever thought? Does it seem like she will never understand you. Does it feel like he’s being inconsiderate and even treating you poorly?
It’s not uncommon for us to see our beloved partner in a less favorable light after we get married or move in together. When we are courting, we not only try to show our partner our best side but we also don’t really notice the “down side” of our partner. But as the relationship progresses and we become more intimate, the negative aspects of our partner become more apparent. In addition, we can become convinced that our partner is the one who really has the problem with some sort of dysfunction. We clearly know that we do not have that dysfunction. We don’t notice our own dysfunction which may be causing even more problems than what our partner is doing. So both partners begin to feel like their partner is selfish, immature and at fault. The other person needs to shape up, grow up and measure up. We become more and more intolerant of our partner’s selfishness, inability to understand us, and seeming rigidity.
So we start looking at our relationship in a negative light. We begin to think that we made a bad choice. We think we are stuck because we’ve tried everything we can think of to get the other person to see it our way and make a few changes.
In his book, Emotional Intelligence in Couples Therapy, 2005, Brent Atkinson says that people who want to succeed at love need certain interpersonal abilities. Researchers have discovered that the way people respond when they feel misunderstood or mistreated by their partners dramatically influences the odds that their partners will treat them better or worse in the future. These studies further suggest that people can drastically shape the way their partners treat them by making sure that they are responding well to the things their partners do or say that are upsetting them right now. So you need to be able to treat your partner with respect precisely at those times that she/he is making it most difficult. In addition, if you want your partner to treat you better, you need to think and act like a person who usually gets treated well by a partner.
We all have the ability to do this on some occasions. The challenge is to be successful at getting respect and admiration from your partner even when you feel really misunderstood or mistreated. Atkinson further states: “If people can’t stay on track in these times, they are probably not going to be among those who end up with partners who understand, respect, and care about them.” Therefore, marital success has more to do with responding well when one’s partner seems selfish or inconsiderate than it has to do with avoiding actually being selfish or inconsiderate in the first place.
You need to become more concerned about how you respond to the upsetting things that your partner says or does than the actual behaviors that you find upsetting in your partner.
So, the next time you see your partner do a selfish act or misunderstand you, notice your reaction. Are you reacting in a manner of respect and calm? When your partner is doing or saying something that is upsetting, can you stand up for what you want without putting the other person down?
Research on intimate relationships tells us that the time we spend focusing on our own behavior is more important than focusing on getting our spouse to see the error of their ways. When your partner is at his/her worst, can you be at your best? Try this for a few days or weeks. Observe yourself when your partner is acting in that selfish or obtuse way you so dislike. Act like a person who deserves respect, admiration and consideration. Try it; you’ll like.
Pamela Lipe,MS is a Licensed Psychologist in Minnesota since 1989 and is the owner of Relationship Therapy St Paul. Hurting couples come to her to help them resolve problems that have brought them pain and distress. She has been trained by Drs. John & Julie Gottman at the University of Washington in Seattle, Washington. She uses the Gottman’s 30 years of research to teach couples the skills and attitudes that will make their marriage the best it can be. She and her husband, Don Johnson, provide classes for couples to increase their skills. They teach couples how to communicate better, resolve conflicts, avoid unhealthy relationship patterns, and build intimacy. From there, couples can create the sound relationship they have always wanted.
Pam Lipe earned her MS in Clinical Psychology from Illinois State University. Don Johnson has a Theology Degree from Bethel Theological Seminary.