Now be honest, have you ever had a thought like this run through your head? Or maybe you’ve even said something like this (or worse) out loud to him or someone else: “why does he have to act like such a _______ ?”
Today I’m going to continue my series of posts of the most common relationship issues I see come up in therapy. This discussion is closely related to my last post about the ways in which couples sometimes assume that their partner knows what they are thinking. In this post I am focusing on the ways in which people take things personally, and also typically occurs when assumptions are being made.
The angry name-calling examples I gave above are obviously not how people always behave when they take things personally (though I do believe that these types of thoughts occur much more frequently than most people might care to admit!). Reactions to taking things personally range from feeling hurt to sad to irritated to angry to worried and all sorts of emotions in between.
The most important thing about the issue of taking things personally, however, is the fact that one person in a couple is feeling hurt/blamed/angry/responsible for something that has NOTHING to do with him. He is making an assumption that it is all about him, when really it is not. This becomes complicated, however, because generally as soon as he reacts with anger or hurt feelings, then his partner will become hurt/defensive in response. At that point it IS about him because the couple has entered into a conflict! But the initial fact that it was not about him typically has been lost.
Ideally, we would never take things personally – it is very inconvenient and typically just leads to problems. This is not realistic, however, especially in long-term relationships. This is again due to assumptions and expectations. We expect our partners will think about or do things in a certain way (usually our way!), and when they don’t it is upsetting. Basically what I’m saying is that ALL couples experience misunderstandings that lead to one or both partners taking things personally. This cannot be helped – but you can change how you deal with these situations.
There are three main steps:
One of the most important factors is to recognize that the vast majority of those things that FEEL personal from your partner actually aren’t. You need to start recognizing that your partner, JUST LIKE YOU, is a person who has stresses, worries, and problems outside of your relationship. However, because she has to uphold appearances with almost everyone else (eg, bosses, coworkers, friends), you tend to get the brunt of the stress. You are safe, and so it is easier to snap or yell at you. Is it fair? No. But in a warped way, it’s kind of a compliment. You’re the only one who she can be her true self with!
Obviously, however, it still doesn’t feel good to be treated poorly, even if your partner has had a bad day. The second thing that can help you deal better with taking things personally is trying to have empathy for your partner’s situation. Is she feeling stressed about work? Did he just have an argument with one of the kids? How smoothly have things been running in the household in general recently? Basically, ask yourself the question: what else could be happening right now that could lead my partner to be having problems? And if you don’t know the answer to this question (or even if you think you do), ask your partner: “is there something going on that you’re feeling stressed about? That you’re feeling upset about?” The point is to try to start a dialogue rather than to enter into a conflict due to feeling hurt by your partner’s behavior.
The third and last thing that helps with taking things personally is to communicate clearly. As I noted above, you want to clarify how your partner is feeling and what might be impacting him to do something that feels hurtful. In addition, it is also important to talk clearly and in a non-critical way about how you were feeling in this situation. Speaking NON-CRITICALLY is essential because this is what allows your partner to hear without defensiveness what behaviors feel hurtful. This gives you a better chance of these behaviors changing in the future! In addition, it is important to remember that you have a role in these behaviors being problematic, as you are the one who has taken things personally. Another way to look at this is that someone else may not have any type of reaction at all to those same behaviors – it is the INTERACTION between the two of you that becomes problematic.
While the steps above seem simple, in my experience it can actually be quite complicated to change. This is because most of us take things personally on a regular basis, and really we just want the other person to stop what they are doing without having to change ourselves! So sorting out these patterns is not always an easy task and usually takes a lot of practice. It’s worth it though, as some of the happiest couples are those that are able to allow each other to have negative feelings without taking them personally.
If you need help to not take things so personally or support with any other relationship or individual issues please contact us or click here to schedule an appointment. It’s time to take steps toward changing your relationship patterns today!