Have you ever noticed that your worst self tends to come out in your romantic relationship?

I know it happens to me. Recently I was feeling mad at my mom, but was having trouble talking to her about it. So what did I do? I took it out on my wife! I was grumpy, irritable, and reactive to everything she said – even though she didn’t do anything wrong.

What was I thinking????

We should be able to treat our partners with more kindness and respect. These are the people we LOVE, after all. But this is not what happens.

Instead, our partners see the very worst of us:

  • Anger
  • Bitterness
  • Resentment
  • Pettiness
  • Laziness
  • Defensiveness
  • Criticism

We don’t treat our coworkers this way. We don’t usually treat our friends this way. We don’t treat the grocery store clerk this way!

So why do we treat our husbands, wives, girlfriends, and boyfriends like this?

When You Care, You Feel Safe to Show Your True Self, Warts and All

The answer is actually a result of how MUCH you care about each other. Though it seems contradictory, the more you care about someone, the more likely you are to treat them poorly. This is because you feel safe with you partner. You already know deep down that they accept you and love you. You know they are not going to reject you when you let off a little steam.

  • A coworker or boss? You could be judged or even fired.
  • A friend? Who knows how they’ll react – maybe they won’t want to be your friend any longer.
  • The grocery store clerk? You may not care what they think, but it’s just rude and socially unacceptable.

However, just because it is normal to express negative emotions more openly in your relationship, it is still important to recognize how this impacts your interactions. You don’t have a free pass to destructively express anger, resentment, and criticism toward your partner.

One of the best parts of being in a romantic relationship is you can still be loved even when you act poorly. However, if you take love and acceptance for granted, it won’t last. Your partner can only be accepting of your “bad moods” up to a point.

Take Responsibility for Your Own Feelings

Instead you need to take responsibility for what is really bothering you and learn to talk in a non-blaming and respectful way. For example, in my interactions with my wife, I ideally would have been able to recognize that I was actually mad at my mom and been able to see how that was leading me to feel “on edge” in general. Then I would have communicated those feelings, making it very clear to my wife that my irritation was not about her.

This process I am describing is actually extremely difficult. It is so much easier just to get mad at our spouses, to not think about our own feelings (or theirs!). This is why we all take things out on our partners so often. It is hard because much of the time we don’t even recognize we are upset. Even if we do sense something is wrong, we are SURE it is because of our spouse!

With my wife, I was sure she was using a tone with me, accusing me of not taking care of the kids the “right” way. But it turns out I was wrong – she was just asking me a question. These types of interactions unfortunately happen all the time for all of us. The hard part is being able to back up and say, “wait, I’m not upset with you, this is actually more about me and my own issues.” But if you do, it can make all the difference in your relationship.

I’m challenging you today to take steps to treat your partner better. Make him/her the one you treat the BEST! Take responsibility for your own emotional reactions. Sort out what feelings are yours and what is the result of your partner doing something to you. If this feels like an overwhelming prospect, consider seeking help. Here at the Salt Lake Relationship Center our couples counselors can support you in having a relationship where you and your partner feel loved and respected. Schedule an appointment today or contact us with further questions.