Are You Doing These 9 Things Wrong in Your Relationship?


Thursday posts are always links to other articles and while I tend to lean on first-person stories or scientific reports written up in mainstream publications, every once in awhile, I’ll stumble upon a listicle that has some really good advice.

This one, called “9 Toxic Behaviors That Could Be Ruining Your Relationship” could probably have been written by listening to me on the phone for one afternoon. These behaviors are so commonplace and yet so deleterious to a healthy partnership that it’s pretty amazing that people engage in them routinely. Just goes to show how good people are all a little bit messed up and can get in their own way, even when it comes to something as basic as kindness and compassion for a loved one.

Forthwith, here the 9 things, with some editorial commentary seen through the prism of my relationship and my coaching:

Stop Nagging Them or Being Overcritical – This is literally the #1 reason I married my wife. She was the only person I’d met (after 300 dates) who fundamentally accepted me as I was instead of constantly telling me all the ways I was disappointing her.

Stop Expecting That They Know What You’re Thinking – The old joke about men having to be mind readers to please their wives is a real one. Women, if you’re reading this now, there is nothing wrong with disliking or disagreeing with your boyfriend’s behavior. The answer isn’t to swallow everything or keep your mouth shut; it’s in expressing your feelings in a way that are positive and constructive.

Stop Letting Distractions Get in The Way When You’re Together – Guilty as charged. I’m an iPhone addict and it’s my default way of escaping when my kids aren’t listening to me and my wife is divulging every single detail of her day. Still, it’s disrespectful and not conducive to maintaining intimate connections if you’re more fixated on the news or your Facebook feed than your own partner.

Stop Avoiding Difficult Conversations – I know it sounds like an impossible dance: stop nagging, express your feelings so he knows what you’re thinking, don’t avoid difficult conversations, but it’s always about timing and tone. If you make a big deal about EVERYTHING, you’re probably nagging him or “crying wolf” as my wife wrote in Why He Disappeared. But if you’re letting this boil inside out of fear of expressing yourself, you have to learn how to have a relationship discussion that lets your feelings out without making him feel attacked.

“If you make a big deal about EVERYTHING, you’re probably nagging him or “crying wolf.”

Stop Letting Your Insecurities Get in the Way – Pretty much every reader question on this blog is the result of someone’s insecurities getting in the way. Staying with a man who never wants to get married? Unhappy with how he treats you but unwilling to leave? Afraid that he’s going to cheat on you because someone did in the past? All are signs that you’re letting insecurity run the show instead of carrying yourself with confidence and trusting that you deserve a good man.

Stop Getting So Defensive – You’re not perfect. Your partner’s not perfect. The best way to handle your respective imperfections is to own them, laugh about them and try to improve them, instead of denying that they exist. My wife jokes about my impatience, my inability to find anything that’s lost in the house, my refusal to try to fix anything with my hands, and my fragile body, which is 45 going on 95. She’s 100% right. Why get upset if something is true?

Stop Stonewalling – As a man who happens to be a dating coach for women, I wouldn’t say I make any fewer mistakes than other guys. If there’s anything I do that allows my relationship to thrive, it’s that I am quick to apologize when I screw up. So while other couples may have simmering anger that lasts for days, any disagreement in our household is usually resolved within 30 seconds with my apology. With my big mouth, it’s inevitable that I’ll ruffle some feathers, but I never let an issue simmer beyond the moment than it happens.

“If there’s anything I do that allows my relationship to thrive, it’s that I am quick to apologize when I screw up.”

Stop Looking at Things as Competitions – I think one of the best parts of being in a “traditional” marriage (where I’m the breadwinner and my wife is a stay-at-home-mom) is that there’s great appreciation for what we each bring to the table and no competition. The only competition in our household are when we play boardgames – we’re pretty even at Seequence and Taboo, she kicks my ass in any memory game, and I dominate at Trivial Pursuit. And even then, we laugh about it.

Stop Letting Your Needs Fall By the Wayside – My job ends at 5:30 each day. My wife’s never stops. Which is why I always encourage her to take care of herself. In March, she spent a weekend all by herself at the Four Seasons, sleeping in late, reading magazines and doing spa treatments. As I write this now, she’s in San Diego, visiting her high school friends for a 3 day weekend while I do the single dad thing. It’s not always easy or fun for me to fly solo, but I know it’s necessary to keep my wife happy and replenished, since she has the more demanding job between us.

Sorry, I know that was a little personal and self-indulgent. More importantly, check out the article, look at that list, and ask if your relationship is burdened by any of these toxic behaviors. What can you do to stop right now? (He says, putting away his phone…)

 

Join our conversation (44 Comments).
Click Here To Leave Your Comment Below.

Comments:

  1. 1
    Jeremy

    All of these are good.  I’d add a couple more.

    – When having an argument, stop seeking validation from your friends or from society.  Female friends are socialized to offer their unconditional support to your viewpoint and validate your feelings – and while that might be what you want, it is ultimately counterproductive to your ultimate goal of reaching accord with your significant other.  Reaching accord requires that you understand the other person’s POV, not further entrenching your own – regardless of what your friends/family might think, and regardless of what you believe “everybody” does.

     

     

    – Be sure to communicate with your partner in his/her love language, and be sure to take the time to learn what that language is.  I recently had a double failure at this, in spite of the fact that I should have known better.  This past Mother’s Day, I was chewed out by both my wife and my mother.  For my wife, I planned a lovely dinner at a fancy restaurant with the two of us, the kids, her parents and her brother, all my treat – a gift in the love language “acts of service.”  Problem is, her language is “words of affirmation.”  When it was all said and done, she thanked me for the dinner, but wondered why no card and why I didn’t mention her performance in the marathon that morning.  No words – she likes words.  For my mother, I phoned her and offered to arrange brunch to spend time together and have her visit with the kids.  In other words, I spoke the language of “quality time.”  Problem is, her love language is “gifts.”  After she accepted the brunch invitation, she reamed me out for not sending any flowers or any sort of gift for Mother’s Day, and told me she’d accept a raincheck.   I had a rueful laugh at the end of the day, and poured myself a shot of scotch.  The whole thing was hilarious…..and predictable, had I given it any proper thought.  Learn love languages – that’s the lesson.  Or maybe there’s a deeper lesson that’s even more critical to relationship success – be forgiving of the irrational behaviour of others, and learn to laugh at yourself.

    1. 1.1
      Karl S

      I don’t buy the whole love language thing to be honest. It reeks of transactional relationships, where people only feel satisfied when they “get” what they want rather than appreciating you for what you “give”. Besides, in any relationship people need all those things to varying degrees rather than just one prevailing all the time.

      Some quick googling suggests a lack of empirical evidence in support of love languages being an important factor happy relationships. Besides which, part of being in a secure relationship means you don’t get all huffy when your partner isn’t catering to your every whim.

      1. 1.1.1
        Yet Another Guy

        @Karl S

        I don’t buy the whole love language thing to be honest. It reeks of transactional relationships, where people only feel satisfied when they “get” what they want rather than appreciating you for what you “give”.

        I consider the love languages to be one of the best things that gleaned from this blog.  Dating became much more pleasant after I stopped meeting women who had very different love language profiles (I added a love language check to my 2/2/2 rule-like screening process).

      2. 1.1.2
        Jeremy

        All relationships are transactional.  Everyone only feels satisfied when they get what they want, and only appreciate what their partner gives when what the partner gives is what they want.  Hence the extensive vetting process involved in courtship.  And while it is true that in any relationship all of the 5 love languages – quality time, acts of service, words of affirmation, physical touch, and gifts – will be needed to some degree, it is a fallacy to believe that all are equally perceived as expressions of love by any particular individual.

         

        My wife might appreciate a gift, but without verbal expression of love, she does not perceive the gift to be an expression of love.  It’s just a gift.  Like the coffee mug you get for your kid’s teacher on the last day of school.  I might appreciate words of affirmation, but without action to corroborate them, the words are as meaningless as an expression of love as the wind that carries them.  My wife knows not to get me cards on special occasions.  I throw them away.

         

        It isn’t about getting huffy when you don’t get what you want.  It’s about knowing how to express your love in a way that speaks to the person you’re with, and not expecting them to intuitively appreciate the emotion behind your action as you intended it.  Secure relationship or not, everyone receives and gives love differently.

        1. AndyK

          I fully agree with the love language looking back at my marriage. I bent over backwards to take care of my wife through years of health issues. Yet it was incredibly important that I give cards for all the usual occasions. The gifts were also incredibly important. They didn’t need to be expensive but there needed to be thought behind them. The fact that I usually got things last minute was negative, regardless of how “perfect” the gift was.

          I on the other hand couldn’t care less for cards or even gifts beyond the usual socks for Christmas yet she would put lots of thought into those. In essence we had drastically different ways of showing how we cared for each other, and both of us were left feeling neglected.

        2. Yet Another Guy

          @AndyK

          Do yourself a favor and only date women who share your top-two love languages in the same order.  You will thank me later. The women I am currently dating shares my top-two love languages and so did the one before her.  It makes a world of difference.

        3. AndyK

          @Yet Another Guy

          Yes, this forum has taught me to think of it in a different way. Had never heard of the concept of love languages before. I’m having a dating hiatus at the moment but fully plan to take your advise when I’m starting again!

      3. 1.1.3
        Henriette

        I don’t believe that Love Languages is an exact science.  However, I do think that it is an excellent idea to try to understand how one’s partner best shows and receives love.

        Most of my girlfriends and I have “Quality Time” and “Words of Affirmation” as our top two, and most of the men I’ve asked prefer “Physical Touch” and “Acts of Service.”  I’m glad it’s worked out for YAG to only date women with the same preferences but I don’t notice that as a trend among the happier couples I know. Being aware of and sensitive to the other’s preferences, however, is.

    2. 1.2
      Yet Another Guy

      @Jeremy

      When having an argument, stop seeking validation from your friends or from society.  Female friends are socialized to offer their unconditional support to your viewpoint and validate your feelings
      – and while that might be what you want, it is ultimately counterproductive to your ultimate goal of reaching accord with your significant other.

      This toxic behavior should be added to the list.

  2. 2
    Karl S

    The single best thing my partner does to avoid being defensive or critical is to ask me questions about what’s going on, how I feel or how I want to go about solving something. She always listens first and tries to work through things from my perspective before offering her own. Of course, hers is usually the correct one, but she lets me realize I’m wrong on my own first. 😛

    She’s a highly skilled communicator.

    1. 2.1
      kharly Aiden

      Hey Karl S. People are different in a situation maybe your partner, doesn’t respond whatsoever to any questions you ask him about what’s going on. Even after a long period of silence you decide to introduce him to your perspective of solving things, he still doesn’t show response and willingness of getting out of the cacoon. What do you do to such a partner…?it is really frustrating and draining to have a partner that is less interested with the basic things that make marriage work.

      1. 2.1.1
        Karl S

        That’s called Stonewalling and there might be a few reasons for it. Maybe you’re still doing something, either through your tone or your choice of words that makes him close off. People can be unconsciously critical in all sorts of subtle ways.

        On the other hand, it might just be him. He could be projecting his own insecurities and previous hurts onto everything you bring up, exacerbating the problem.

        You can google stonewalling to get some ideas for different strategies to alleviate the problem, but if it persists despite your best efforts and your partner isn’t willing to meet you half way, then you ultimately have to consider whether you work as a couple at all.

  3. 3
    John

    Evan said:

    Stop Nagging Them or Being Overcritical – This is literally the #1 reason I married my wife. She was the only person I’d met (after 300 dates) who fundamentally accepted me as I was instead of constantly telling me all the ways I was disappointing her.

    This is the most important of all of the things listed. If I could only have one of the 9 things listed, this would be it.

    1. 3.1
      Clare

      John,

      Yes 🙂 🙂 🙂

      This is something I have finally learned after years of dating. Finally the penny dropped that if I wanted to be accepted just as I was and didn’t want to be criticised, the guy I was with probably wanted that also 🙂

      1. 3.1.1
        Yet Another Guy

        @Clare

        Why do you think it is so difficult for women to refrain from attempting to change a man?  If a woman cannot accept a guy exactly as he is when she meets him without the need to tweak, then she needs to take a pass.

        1. Clare

          YAG,

          Isn’t that what I just said?

        2. Mrs Happy

          Dear YAG,

          to answer Clare’s q, I think it is so difficult for women to refrain from attempting to change a man,

          because women’s lives are better and easier if their man changes (e.g. earns more, does more housework, engages with the kids), and most people want their lives to be better and easier.

          I think it’s interesting that men don’t want women to change as much.  Maybe that is because men’s lives aren’t so dependent on the female in their life?  Wanting a man to change is almost universal and it’s interesting that should be so.  Women have to work to stop themselves verbalising it, as Clare said.

        3. Yet Another Guy

          @Clare

          I know that you acknowledged seeing the light.  I am just asking for your opinion.

        4. Yet Another Guy

          @Mrs Happy

          because women’s lives are better and easier if their man changes (e.g. earns more, does more housework, engages with the kids)

          However, if a man is not doing all of these things to a level a woman desires from the start, it is better to take a pass than drive him crazy after the fact.  Any woman who goes into a relationship thinking that a man is great except for A, B, and C should move on.  If man is not what a woman desires from day one, he is not the right man.  I do not care how kind or generous he is or how great he is in bed.  A woman who attempts to change a man is setting herself up for heartache.

        5. Clare

          Mrs Happy,

          It’s an interesting point that you raise, because you’re right, I and just about every woman I know have experienced these urges.

          And I think you are extremely close to being correct about the motives. I think women think their lives would be easier if their men changed.

          Having said this, I do not think this is a uniquely female characteristic. I would have thought so a few years ago, but some relationships I have had with some very insecure men in the last couple of years have shown me that many men do this also. I could not believe the amount of “tweaking” and twisting of my own behaviour that I had to do in these relationships in order to make these men feel comfortable.

          Having said this, I believe very firmly that this need to try to change other people comes from fear and insecurity. The truth is, all of us are capable of being self-sufficient (barring disability, illness, or some other affliction), and we were able to care for ourselves just fine before the other person came along. But when we get into a relationship, it stirs up our old fears and insecurities. We think of all our past experiences and relationships which didn’t work out, and we try to get the new person to provide us with a “safety net” guaranteeing us of a happy and secure relationship. This safety net comes in the form of all kinds of changes which we ask them to make to their lives in order to prove how much they love us and that they are willing to meet our “needs.” Of course, on the side of the person being asked to make the changes, this seems like a tremendous sacrifice. On the side of the person asking for the changes, it seems reasonable and fair to make them feel comfortable. What they don’t realise is how much of this is motivated by insecurity.

          Most people are not aware of their fears and insecurities, and they are unaware of just how much they are motivated and run by their insecurities. When their partner does something they don’t like, it is easier to externalise it and ask the other person to stop what they are doing than to examine the reason behind why you don’t like it. Likewise, if someone finds that their partner’s behaviour really is unacceptable to them, most people are too insecure and afraid to leave. So they stay… trying to change the other person, rather than exercising their empowered right as an adult to walk away.

        6. Jeremy

          Mrs Happy, you wrote, “I think it’s interesting that men don’t want women to change as much.  Maybe that is because men’s lives aren’t so dependent on the female in their life?”   I don’t think the issue is that men aren’t as dependent on women – we certainly are, especially in marriages with children.  Rather, I think the issue is that men’s perception of the role they want their women to play does not change over time, whereas women’s perception of roles changes considerably.

           

          I don’t want my wife to make more money.  I mean, if she did it would be fine by me, but I don’t need her to change in that way.  That’s MY job.  I don’t need her to be more ambitious or to suddenly develop an interest in lawn care or automotive repair to service our garden and cars.  That isn’t what I married her for.  The things she does that I need her to do – the role I want her to play – she already does, and did when I married her.  My desires have not changed – so she doesn’t need to change.

           

          Women want men to change because their desires change – predictably.  They marry men on spec.  Men who are fun, funny, handsome – now they need to develop some ambition and make more money because their wives’ roles have changed and they expect their husbands roles to change alongside.

           

          It’s funny – your statement that women want men to change in order to make the women’s lives easier seems intuitively correct, but the more I think about it the more I disagree.  There are many things men could potentially do to make women’s lives easier…..but the ways that women tend to nag men are fairly systematic and defined.  It’s about roles.  After all, my wife doesn’t nag me to bake dessert when we are going to another family’s house for lunch – she does it herself, even though I’m better at it. She perceives it as her role.  She nags me to take out the garbage.  Not her role.

           

          So I agree with Clare that women should try not to verbalize the nagging that comes naturally to them, but I’d take it a step further – realize that your nagging comes from a sense of what your husband’s role “should” be, and realize that such might not be his perception.

           

           

        7. Mrs Happy

          Women want their partner to change over the years, and it’s odd that men not want this. That’s the perplexing thing. Why WOULDN’T you want your partner to alter over the years as life throws different things at you?
          It’s normal to want fun and parties at age 20 but a partner with a steady job by age 30. It’s normal to change and want movement. How can men not want change? The party girl you date at 20 has to change to be the calm mother of your child in a decade, no?

        8. Jeremy

          If a man marries a party girl, it’s usually because he wants a party girl.  If she changes, that would be a negative to him.  Other men (like me) would never marry a party girl, and if we dated girls like that in our 20s we quickly learned that such were not the type we wanted to marry.  We married women who were the way we wanted wives to be.  I married my wife because she was intelligent, had a sense of values similar to my own, wanted the same sort of life that I wanted, wanted to adopt the role I wanted my wife to adopt and wanted a husband who would adopt the role I wanted to adopt.  She was beautiful, kind, calm and steady.  Why on earth would I want her to change?  I married her BECAUSE she would be a great wife and mother.

           

          I would strongly advise any person considering marriage, male or female, not to marry a person whom they need to change.  If you don’t love them exactly as they are, don’t marry them.  If the role you want them to adopt is not the role they want to adopt, don’t marry them.  If the role you want to adopt is not the role they want their spouse to adopt, don’t marry them.  But don’t marry a person hoping they will change for you.  And try not to change too much yourself from the person your spouse fell in love with.

        9. Clare

          Mrs Happy & Jeremy,

          It seems as if you are talking about two different types of changing: The first type is where someone marries someone because they fulfill a certain role at one period in their life (like Mrs Happy’s example of the party girl) but then hopes that person changes as your respective stages of life and needs change (again, Mrs Happy’s example of the college sweethearts who go out partying together and one hopes that the other matures and settles down as they both get older).

          The second type of changing is where someone wishes their partner was different from the get-go. For instance, a woman marries a man who is a hardcore computer gamer; it may be a quality she’s never liked about him, but she’s sure it’ll improve if she can just get him to see how much it bugs her.

          With the first type of changing, I’m afraid I have to disagree with Mrs Happy and agree with Jeremy. If someone doesn’t have the qualities of a good husband/father or wife/mother in their early 20s, it’s no good marrying them and hoping they suddenly sprout these qualities in their 30s.

          The second type of changing tends to speak more to a person’s personality, and these qualities are even more intractable and less likely to change. In both cases, the answer is the same: don’t marry someone who doesn’t make you happy right now, as they are.

          Of course people do grow and change; they can mature and work on their issues and turn into much better partners. I know I have – I think I’m a wonderful girlfriend now, and I couldn’t have said this about myself 10 years ago. But this is never a guarantee, and is entirely up to the individual. Another person cannot make or even encourage another person to grow and change by nagging them into it.

        10. Yet Another Guy

          @Jeremy

          I concur with your assessment.  What I and other men have discovered the hard way is that many women are willing to do whatever it takes to land a man when they are ready to settle down.  A guy believes that he is getting one woman only to discover that she is a completely different woman after she receives a ring. How many times have you heard a man say, “She changed after we said our vows?” I have yet to hear a woman make this comment about her husband. The most common comment I hear is that a woman’s husband refuses to grow up.  We talking about the same man who was grown up enough for her to marry.  What she really means that her husband refuses to change into the person that fits her desired lifestyle.  For example, if woman desires a man who help with housework, she should select a man who keeps a clean house without employing the services of a house cleaner.  If she desires a man who will help with children, she should look for a man who is good with kids (that is a much more difficult task than finding a man who is clean).  A woman who marries a man who has neither trait and expects him to morph into the perfect husband and father is foolish.  That is a clear-cut case of one cannot fix stupid.

        11. Evan Marc Katz

          “She changed after we said our vows?” I have yet to hear a woman make this comment about her husband.”

          YAG, your confirmation bias is showing. I have heard this every single day since I started doing this. Men put on a good face, are seduced by chemistry, pull out all stops to please her, and then get complacent. They stop with compliments and date nights and grooming and quality time and affection and generally take their partners for granted – the very same ones they worked so hard for a year or two to earn. So yeah, I’m not saying that men are always at fault, but your intimation that men don’t change after marriage is false

        12. Nissa

          @YAG, My husband changed after I started having sex with him and moved in with him. As soon as he got what he wanted, the subtle shift began. He no longer was willing to listen to the radio station I chose. He no longer was willing to come pick me up, but wanted me to drive to him. He no longer was willing to inform me about his choices, leaving me to either be in ignorance of his activities or begging him to tell me what he’d been doing. He began to criticize me over small things – telling me I shouldn’t bring my special diet food to parties,  demanding that I not wear certain things, like a wide brimmed hat or telling me that I didn’t clean the house well, because I didn’t wipe the baseboards, the top of the fridge or the top of the shower wall. (Granted, I do hate to deep clean). He would agree to do things for me, and then ‘forget’ or never get around to them. When I would ask him to do activities with me, he would tell me that it would be better for me to do it alone or with my mom – essentially, refusing anything he didn’t like.And those are just the things that come to mind off the top of my head. Both genders tend to make less effort when they ‘achieve a goal’, whatever it is. I had a ring that meant nothing (especially since I paid for the ring myself).Even he knew this was true. His words to me were: You have done more for me and changed more for me than I ever would have changed for you. And it’s not enough. That was when I realized that my marriage was, and always had been, one sided. Where I think you are right is that he was always like that on the inside – he just was able to hide his true self long enough for me to be fooled into thinking that’s who he was, and who he wanted to be. It wasn’t.

        13. Yet Another Guy

          @Evan

          YAG, your confirmation bias is showing.

          It would be confirmation bias if I what I wrote was reversed for the genders, but it is the man who is complaining about his partner changing.  If the man stopped doing what he did at first, then it would be the woman who stated that the man changed.  However, more often than not, the comment is the result of the woman taking the reigns away from the man after vows are said.

          There is another common saying that if man wants to practice abstinence, he should get married.  We can argue the merits of lack of effort on this one, but many women do lose the desire to have sex with their husbands within a few years of being married.

          I would argue that chemistry affects women more than men when it comes to mate selection and marriage. Most men just want to get laid. If something more happens, that is great, but a long-term relationship is rarely the immediate goal of dating for most men.  I have a fake female profile, so that I can scope out my competition.  I have yet to encounter a male profile that includes the word “chemistry.”  I am certain that it appears on at least one male profile, but I would be willing to bet dollars to donuts that these men are players who are just regurgitating what they read on female profiles, kind of like including the phrase “friends first” (sirens should be blaring in a woman’s head when she encounters this phrase on a man’s profile). I cannot read more two or three female profiles without encountering the word “chemistry.” Most women refuse a second date without chemistry.  Most men could care less if they feel chemistry if a woman is acceptable enough to be worthy of conquering as a sex partner.  It goes without saying that men will have sex with women to whom they are barely attracted.

          In the end, men and women have different immediate goals with women being the gender that is usually seeking a long-term relationship.  That difference in goals makes them more likely to shape shift into what a man desires in order to obtain commitment.  Men with options usually break pursuit if it looks like they are going to have to change too much or work too hard to obtain sex.

        14. sylvana

          I never understood why a woman would want to change a man either. I’m with YAG. If you don’t like what you see, take a pass. Way too much effort otherwise, and you’re obviously not a good fit.

          Then again, I’ve had that happen with men in my life as well. You tell them straight up how and who you are, and they claim they are fine with it. Next thing you know, they want you to be the total opposite.

          It always annoyed the crap out of me, since that was the reason I specifically pointed out how/who I was to begin with. So we don’t waste our time.

      2. 3.1.2
        Nissa

        @Clare, I so agree with your entire last paragraph. Absolutely it is about externalizing power & failing to look inside for the needed changes instead. You said this very well.

        1. Clare

          Thanks Nissa.

          It’s astonishing to me how few people are willing to look inside for the answers, even though this is where 100% of the power to change one’s situation lies.

        2. Nissa

          I really believe that this (the unwillingness to look within) truly comes from not having had success with passing through that particular developmental milestone with one’s parents. I can look at my own family and see several instances of parents that failed to validate the child’s experiences, failed to mirror back thoughts or feelings as accepted and valued, failed to value anything other than the parent’s wants and needs. This leads to always looking outside the self for that validation, since the child’s initial efforts were so cruelly crushed. I learned a lot from Susan Forward’s books, particularly Toxic Parents and Will I Ever Be Good Enough? The positive part, ironically, is the most puzzling and frustrating. The person looking outside the self, in my experience, has almost zero awareness that she/he is doing so, even if it is directly pointed out to them, they will deny any intent to do so. It’s true that they don’t have the intent to do so, but they are in fact doing so – they just lack the awareness. It’s because they have literally almost no experience with positive self sourcing – they never learned that feedback cycle. They will tell you that all needs get met through others, because that is all they have experienced, and cannot conceive of getting needs met via the self. If you can get through that barrier, they can learn – it’s how I did it.

        3. Nissa

          Oopsie. Will I Ever Be Good Enough? is actually by Karyl McBride.

        4. Clare

          Nissa,

          It’s true what you say. My parents were (and still are to a large extent) self-absorbed and full of their own issues which make them incapable of validating someone else’s experience. So growing up I had one experience after the other which told me to invalidate my own feelings and to try to fix my life by looking externally. My parents taught and reinforced massive people-pleasing tendencies in me, sending the message over and over that I was not good enough unless other people approved of my behaviour.

          Anyway, with lots of dedication, introspection and awareness, I was able to reverse a lot of that, and it is something I am committed to to this day. Of course I, like most other people, tried for years to find happiness and get my needs met externally. But it didn’t work, and never seemed like a satisfying answer. And it eventually did click (and continues to do so) that when I’m not happy or not getting my needs met, I have to look inside for the reason. 100% of the time.

  4. 4
    Noquay

    The number one thing is: Be quiet and listen

  5. 5
    Henriette

    Thanks for mentioning quickly-given, sincere apologies, @Evan.  Many people ~ both men and women ~ seem to see it as a great blow to their personal pride to acknowledge any wrong-doing on their own part.  I guess it would chafe if one were in a relationship where the expectation was of dozens of apologies/day for even the slightest mis-steps… but in that case, I’d suggest that the problem isn’t with apologies themselves but rather with an over-demanding partner.

    I’m grateful that I grew up witnessing my parents frequently offering genuine, completely un-dramatic apologies to each other, that were accepted with a kiss and a smile.  In my own relationships, a well-placed apology can go a long way towards creating a sense of feeling safe, heard and understood.

    1. 5.1
      Jeremy

      Hi Henriette.  The topic of apology is near and dear to my heart because it’s something I’ve had many arguments about.  I’ve come to realize that Deborah Tannen is correct in her books, that men and women tend to view apology through different lenses.  She claims that women tend to value harmony in social hierarchies, and when harmony is disrupted due to someone’s actions, the appropriate and necessary course of action is apology – restoration of harmony.  Whereas, she writes, men tend to view themselves in terms of their place in the social hierarchy – are they one-up, one-down, or level?  Apologizing to someone puts them one-down.  Having someone demand an apology from them is tantamount to a demand for status-reduction – and is an act of aggression – especially when men don’t see reason for the apology.

       

       

      A story to illustrate the point:  A while back, we were having company for lunch and my wife asked me to bring up the folding table to the dining room.  I foolishly tried to do this by myself, and as I tried to unfold the table’s legs I dropped it and scratched the wood floor.  My wife saw this, got upset, and started berating me for not asking for help and telling me I should apologize.  Freeze frame:  Her perspective: I had done something stupid, damaged her house, and triggered her anger.  In her mind, I could resolve the dis-harmony by apologizing and resolving to ask for help next time.  Freeze frame: My perspective: She had asked me to do something, I did it, and ended up scratching the floor.  Oh well, I guess I’ll either have to accept the scratch or repair it.  Now she’s angry?  Why on earth?  Does she not see that I did what she asked?  To whom should I apologize, the floor?  To the person who will have to repair the scratch? – Oh wait, that’s me.  Apologize to her?  Why on earth?  Her demanding an apology is an act of aggression to further shame me after doing her a favour.

       

      This situation resulted in an argument, and as I often do, I removed myself from the heat of the argument to think over how I should respond.  When my blood had cooled, I told my wife that although I made a mistake, the mistake did not warrant an apology to her, since I had neither harmed nor wronged her in my attempt to accomplish her request.  I informed her that her demand for apology made me upset, and that prior to any such demands in the future, she should consider whether or not apology to her is actually warranted – as will I.

       

       

      The only reason I bring up this story, Henriette, is to address your statement that “a well-placed apology can go a long way towards creating a sense of feeling safe, heard and understood.”  I agree with this statement, and it will be very intuitive for most of the women on this site.  But I’ll add something that will be less intuitive for the women – sometimes your expectation of apology is perceived as an act of aggression by your partner.  And that is not a mis-perception, it is simply a differing (male) world-view.  Before demanding an apology, consider whether one is warranted.

       

       

      1. 5.1.1
        Henriette

        I’m curious.  Guys: when your woman does something (big or small) that upsets you, and she realises and regrets it, do you care to receive an apology?  Or do you simply want her to refrain from doing so in the future?

        Growing up witnessing parents who frequently and painlessly apologized to each other in equal measure, I hadn’t seen this issue through a gendered lens so thank you for this insight, @Jeremy.

        @Jeremy, in the case of your scratched floor story, I can understand why you felt an apology was unnecessary; I agree.  However, I see it as a problem with your wife’s expectations, rather than with the nature of apologies (vs other forms of social niceties) themselves.  Were your wife demanding a “thank you” for something that didn’t warrant it, I would consider that equally aggressive and status-reducing.  Is there something inherent in giving apologies that make them different and particularly upsetting for men?  I think *demands* of any kind are tricky and, in an ideal world, should only be made after careful consideration.

        1. Jeremy

          I don’t need apologies.  I don’t need to make someone grovel when they’ve made a mistake. If you’ve done something to wrong me and you resolve to never do it again, that resolution and its follow-up are what matters to me.  But it’s much like the issue of love languages, is it not?  Words matter to my wife, so when I do something that wrongs her, I apologize verbally.  It’s what she needs in order to move on and feel better about me and the situation.  She needs it to feel that harmony has been restored.  I assume harmony unless otherwise indicated.  Which is a very gendered perception, indeed.

           

        2. Henriette

          Hmm.  I’m not sure how grovelling was brought into the conversation.  I expect brief, sincere apologies when someone does something that warrants it, “I know I said I’d pick you up from the train station but it totally slipped my mind. I’m sorry, sweetie.”  I would be disturbed by grovelling.  Also, I never demand apologies (except that my young child make them when necessary: in the interest of teaching correct behaviour. “Sorry I hit you and stole your pencil, YinLing.”)

        3. Jeremy

          Grovelling is giving an apology in such a way as to lower one’s status.  What a given individual views as status-lowering will heavily depend on that person’s socialization (and likely, gender).  The reason so many men don’t like to apologize is that, in their minds, it is no different than grovelling – an act that serves to lower status.  The reason so many women don’t view it that way is that they view is as a way to restore mutual status to the status-quo of equality after an imbalance.

        4. John

          Henriette

           

          I do not need an apology. If she sees that she is wrong and corrects course, that is enough for me.

      2. 5.1.2
        Nissa

        @Jeremy,I also am surprised that your wife would see that as an occasion for you to apologize. For an example, my husband got mad at me and punched a hole in the wall. My thought? He’s an idiot. But I did not expect or anticipate an apology. He made a choice that resulted in the house being broken, that he had to fix. In my mind, that was all about him. It was basically his handling a situation badly – it had nothing to do with me. In my mind, the fact that he would have to fix it himself was recourse enough (if he had asked me to fix it, I would have refused, saying: you broke it, you fix it).In your example, I think you are correct – you neither harmed her nor wronged her. Yes, you did something stupid (sorry). Yes, you damaged her and YOUR house. No, you did not trigger her anger – she allowed herself to be angry about something that happened. She failed to appreciate the effort that was there. I’m assuming here that you typically learn from your mistakes and probably won’t do that again. She failed to acknowledge that you didn’t drop the table on purpose. She framed this as an act against her, when it was nothing of the sort.Would it have been nice for you to recognize that it bothered her and upset her that the floor was scratched? Yes. But only as a recognition of her feelings about the event, not as evidence of wrongdoing on your part. It would also have been nice for her to recognize that you were being accountable for your actions, by being responsible for repairing the floor (or getting it repaired).

  6. 6
    Bunny

    Stop Avoiding Difficult Conversations – I know it sounds like an impossible dance: stop nagging, express your feelings so he knows what you’re thinking, don’t avoid difficult conversations, but it’s always about timing and tone.

    So, when is the appropriate time or tone?

    After dinner, you settle into the couch and say, “Sweetie, I’ve been feeling a little neglected lately.”  He say, “Oh man, don’t start this now, the game’s gonna be on in 20 min. Why do you always start this right before a game?”

    After a bath, you settle into bed and say, “Sugar, I know your reading, but I’d like a little of your time and attention right now.”  He says, “Can’t you see that I’m really into this book. Go entertain yourself for a while.”

    In the morning over breakfast you say, “I’ve got something I’d really like to discuss.”  He says, “Why won’t you just let this drop.  You used to be fun, now all you do is look sad and nag.”

    After three rejections, she builds up the courage for a final attempt and sends the following text, “Can we talk after work?”  He relies, “Can’t, I’m going out with the guys.”

    You show me the appropriate time and tone, and I’ll gladly reserve all speaking for that time and place.  Unfortunately, I don’t think there is an appropriate time and place.  That’s just something guys say to make you feel guilty while putting off discussions indefinitely.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *