‘Why is everyone else so happy with their partner?’
‘Why isn’t he doing what I thought he would?’
‘Why isn’t she the same as she was when we met?’
Most people have been subtly brainwashed from an early age to expect a wondrous romantic adult life, full of the kind of images we are bombarded with by the media – walks along the beach; dinner in fine restaurants; happy, smiling children; oh, and sex – lots of good sex.
But here’s the thing. In the movies and ads, we never see past the honeymoon phase, or if we do, it is only a scripted snapshot with a full production team behind it. Real life is a different type of beautiful, and it certainly isn’t as simple or formulaic. It’s very easy to get disenchanted, fed up, and even angry about what your relationship has become and what it is not… I know you still love your partner, but I wonder how much thought you give to the status quo and the parts you both play in maintaining it.
Firstly, let’s consider judgement (Gottman, 2007). We all do it on some level, but what do you think precedes the judgement, and how helpful is it? When we make judgements, we are effectively precluding the other person from having a say because rather than challenge or engage them by speaking honestly, we retreat into our heads and grumble to ourselves.
The “other” doesn’t hear it and can’t respond. We ruminate and collude with our judgements and it sours our vision of them. And in that period of judgement, I wonder if we are more lovable, more open, more interesting, friendly or engaging, more sexy? Certainly not. I’m not saying that you should just switch off your judgement channel – but I do want you to think about who it impacts most, and try to become more aware of it and the effect that it has on the relationship you share (Harris, 2009).
When judgement is allowed free reign, it will often become criticism, either spoken or unspoken. We all know how it feels when we’re on the receiving end of a scathing comment. Nobody likes it. It hurts when it comes from a stranger, workmate, or friend – so how much more does it hurt when it is directed to or comes from the one we claim we love the most?
Criticism is like rust on steel or plaque on teeth. It eats away at the foundation, the strength, and leaves a wound that slowly gets deeper and harder to fix.
‘He’s just zones out in front of the telly.’ ‘She spends all my hard-earned money on rubbish.’ I know. You are justifiably upset. People are exasperating, annoying and frustrating – especially the ones you know best. But where does the criticism lead you? How does it affect your mood, your attitude, your relationship? Inevitably, both parties feel angry, isolated, and moody. That’s not what you signed up for, is it?
Again, I’m not advocating a complete end to criticism – we’re not saints. But I am asking you to engage with the times you give and receive criticism and think about who is hurting because of it. Potentially there are three victims – the critic is frustrated, the criticised is hurt, and the relationship is dealt another blow.
Most of the issues we have in relationship are based in the fact that we have aspirational ideas of what it should be like (McKay, Fanning & Paleg, 2006). When confronted with a different reality, one that doesn’t measure up, we become fixed on the gap rather than how to bridge it or finding the solution. But here’s the awful truth: you cannot change your partner. You can only change yourself – how you engage, what you choose to offer up and how you react and respond starts and ends with you.
Over the next few days, take note of all the thoughts you have about what is wrong with your relationship or your partner. Each day, take a few minutes to jot some of these thoughts down, and reflect on what happens to your mood, your attitude, and your relationship when you get all caught up in these thoughts.
Please don’t hesitate to get in touch if the above post resonates with you. I work extensively with gay, lesbian and heterosexual couples; indeed, love does not discriminate.
Gottman, J., & Silver, Nan. (2007). Why marriages succeed or fail : And how you can make yours last. London: Bloomsbury.
Harris, R., & Ebrary, Inc. (2009). ACT with love stop struggling, reconcile differences, and strengthen your relationship with acceptance and commitment therapy. Oakland, Calif.: New Harbinger Publications.
McKay, M., Fanning, Patrick, & Paleg, Kim. (2006). Couple skills : Making your relationship work (2nd ed.). Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Pub.