Acting tough and not taking shit is popular advice among amateur relationship experts and friends who mean well. Unfortunately, it isn’t usually good advice.
Let’s be clear: Bad behavior is not good, and chances are strong that our partner is making some mistakes because we all make mistakes. We’re human, so bad behavior happens. We shouldn’t just ignore our partner’s behavior and blindly accept everything they do or say. When acceptance is not coupled with realism, we get abuse.
But relationships are not about proving who is failing more; all that matters is having a healthy relationship. And what gets ignored with this “don’t take shit” advice is that we play a role in the relationship failures, too. Sometimes we play a big role, even if we like to think that everything is our partner’s fault.
“Anything that happens in a relationship, you have to think about it as if you’re handing your partner the script,” Jungian relationship coach Debi Maldonado told me recently during a chat for my show, Talking Love. “You’re unconsciously handing them the script, and they’re playing a role that your mind is actually projecting out onto them.”
Seek and you shall find. That’s what Debi means when she says we hand our partner the script they will play in the relationship.
Through our beliefs or past experience, we’ve learned that love is not forever, or bad fights are normal, or the sexes cannot understand each other, or cheating is likely. Because this is what we expect, we look for it in our partner. We interpret their words and actions with these understandings in mind, and we subtly push our partner toward what we expect.
I’ve seen people who didn’t know how to yell at their partner until their spouse indirectly encouraged it by setting the scene. I’ve seen faithful men with no secrets start acting suspicious because they were backed into a corner and not allowed to interact with the opposite sex. I’ve even seen these things lead to actual cheating.
We don’t act out our partner’s bad behavior, but we often give the script and set the scene.
“The conditioning that we have, it is like a glass that the mind gets poured into and creates the reality that we expect to see,” stressed Debi during our chat. “So, we tend to only see the partner through that experience, and every little thing the mind will make up.”
When we are expecting infidelity, every message on Facebook Messenger becomes suspicious, every late night at the office a cause for alarm. This creates distrust and a breakdown in communication, and that pushes the partner away and makes them start actually acting suspicious.
The good news is that we control the script we hand our partner. We can help our partner fail us, or we can help them be wonderful.
The responsibility ultimately rests with our partner, but we play a big role. When we start treating the relationship as two people who have come together as one, we understand this connection and take responsibility not only for our actions, but also for the actions of our partner. We’re part of the problem and also the solution.
Watch my video with Debi Maldonado for more on projection and how you can write the script for a stronger relationship. And if you need help writing a positive relationship script or even figuring out how, give me a call. That’s my job, and that’s my passion: Helping you have a stronger relationship.
Peter is founder of Kowalke Coaching. He also is founding director of the Philia Mission, a small charitable organization. Contact Peter.