In doing this, you think you’re stabilizing the situation and returning it to equilibrium. But you’re actually having the opposite effect. By trying to change the way your partner feels, you are denying the real feelings your partner is experiencing, and in doing so, invalidating them.
Invalidation is one of the worst relationship sins, because it makes your partner feel unimportant, crazy for having those feelings, and not heard or understood. It’s the equivalent of saying, “I don’t want you to feel.”
The key here is to take a deep breath and accept your partner’s mood instead of trying to re engineer it. Remember, there’s a good chance that mood has nothing to do with you, even if you’re being accused of causing it. Once you realize your partner’s emotions are not your fault, you’re free to see them as not your problem to solve.
And by allowing space for your partner’s unpleasant emotions, you enable their healthy flow instead of demanding they be stuffed in, which only leads to an eventual explosion.
2. Stop preserving peace at any price.
We have two natural instincts when faced with anger—fight or flight, attack or retreat.
Most of us don’t like fighting, though in some relationships constant fighting actually substitutes for a lack of real intimacy. But most of the time, we try to avoid confrontation, either by stifling our feelings or simply giving in to our partner’s demands.
The first response is emotional suicide. The second is called appeasement.
You give a little more and a little more and a little more of your territory to preserve peace. And with each successive slice you cede, your resentment grows larger. You convince yourself that you’re being compassionate and understanding, that relationships are about compromise and accommodation, that we have to pick our battles, and that this one just isn’t worth it. But your losses keep accumulating.
What’s really happening is that you’re training your partner to disregard your boundaries, because you’ve made them permeable and irrelevant. It’s unlikely (except in abusive situations) that your partner wants to make you unhappy. But if you don’t complain, your unhappiness, which remains unspoken, isn’t an issue.
Speak up for what you care about. Say no if you don’t like it. Know your deal-breakers, and never give in on them.
Strong boundaries for both partners make your relationship stronger, not weaker, because there’s less trampling all around.
A peace purchased with self-sacrifice is not a peace at all. It’s the slow death of the soul masquerading as tranquility.
3. Stop projecting causality and intent on your partner.
This is perhaps the hardest of the three behaviors to stifle, because it comes so naturally and feels so damn good.
Your partner says or does something you don’t like. You immediately jump to your own explanation, which proves you’re right and conveniently gets you off the hook. His stress. Her childhood. Something you’ve already been blamed for. But let’s face it. You don’t know. You don’t know the reason.
Assuming you do is a delusion, and throwing that assumption at your partner is a sure-fire way to piss him or her off. Because even if you’re right, your partner will resist your explanation and think less of you, because your words feel intrusive, controlling, condescending, and wrong. In the angry moment, your partner is already feeling misunderstood.
While you think you’re coming forward with insight, wisdom, and understanding, what you’re offering feels more like judgment, labeling, and blame.
To avoid this trap, deal with your partner’s feelings instead of trying to explain or justify them in a way that makes you look better.