There are no rules in love. Sure, as a therapist, I often talk about the things we should do and not do in relationships, but even these are not concrete laws.
The danger in learning more about relationship dynamics is that we become experts in how to make love work. We become very aware and vigilant of any mistakes we are making or that our partner is making. In general, this is a very good thing. It is essential in fact. However, armed with this knowledge, we can sometimes use it as a weapon to create distance with our partner.
Let me give an example that might help explain my point. Let’s say your partner is feeling uneasy about something. You don’t know what it is. They themselves don’t know what it is. As a loving partner, you’ll likely want to help. You want to figure out why they feel uneasy and make them feel better. So, you encourage them to talk about their feelings.
Remember however that, in this situation, you also feel insecure. Their uneasiness makes you feel insecure. This is the essential thing to realize.
So, your partner opens up and starts to talk. As they share, they begin to get in touch with a sense of uneasiness and are now verbalizing it. As they talk, they mention how isolated they feel. However, they make one tiny mistake. They say that their situation is worse than yours. They’ve broken one of the ‘rules’ of relationships:
“Don’t compare your emotions to those of your partner”
Technically, they should not do this. They should not compare their emotions to yours. No arguments there. This can potentially make you feel unrecognized or unsupported. It is indeed a mistake.
However, this is the point where you need to become very self-aware. What do you do with this tiny mistake? Do you allow them to continue sharing, or do you correct them for breaking one of the sacred ‘healthy relationship rules’? Wouldn’t it be easily justified, even appropriate?
If you do, you may very well use this mistake to create a much bigger argument than is necessary. Why? Because, remember, you were feeling insecure and frustrated before they even started to share their feelings. This frustration is then projected onto them. They are blamed as the source of your initial frustration. Their tiny mistake is seen as justification for your feeling of insecurity or frustration. The ‘rule book’ now becomes a rationalization for your frustration.
Remember, when you ask your partner to share, do not hold unrealistic expectations for them to be the ‘perfect partner’. They won’t be perfect. They won’t always express themselves in a healthy way. Perfection is always the enemy of the good.
If you are bothered by how they express themselves, the time to bring this up is not when they are vulnerable and trying to share something sensitive. Allow them to express themselves as they wish. Understanding them rather than correcting them will get you much further. Be patient. Rather than jumping on their mistakes, welcome them. They will be made. This is a certainty.
Relationship theory and understanding of dynamics is no substitute for patience with your partner. Show me a partner who knows the theory inside out yet has no patience for error and I’ll show you someone soon to be miserable or even single.
When your partner is venting their own frustration, it is so easy to interpret it as an attack. It is tempting even; it means we don’t have to look within ourselves and acknowledge our own feelings of helplessness or insecurity. We can easily interpret their unhappiness as their blaming us. Ask yourself if you are really open to hearing their frustration. Frustration is almost always irrational. Are you open to hearing your partner’s irrationality?
Remember that what you demand from them, you are secretly demanding of yourself. Would you demand that you yourself always be rational? That’s a heavy responsibility to carry. Maybe consider going easy on your partner and on yourself.