THOU SHALT NOT PUBLICLY TRASH YOUR PARTNER.
Ok, there may be about 97 more, but honestly? Those are negotiations, not rules. Who gets the 3AM baby-feeding? Cat-vomit duty? Decides if the toilet paper roll hangs under or over? That’s all part of the relational dance that we have to navigate. But those aren’t the real rules.
I’ve seen a lot of relationships which had a great shot at forever-ness torn to pieces. And every time it happened there was a common theme. The relationship either became public fodder or was public fodder all along. Either way, the relationship wasn’t protected as the special entity that it is meant to be.
I am a relationally trained therapist, which means (in part) that I believe that each relationship has three entities. The individuals in the relationship, and the relationship itself. When you view relationships as something concrete (instead of as an abstract construct), you give it the weight in your life that it deserves.
Your relationship is a living, breathing thing. This isn’t the latest ridiculous bill Ted Cruz proposed or a video of kittens falling asleep … it’s the connection between you and your chosen partner. And you shouldn’t piss all over it in your Facebook status update.
Let’s talk about why.
As someone who has witnessed frequent partner-trashing, both in conversations and on social media, I can tell you my response is always to be deeply uncomfortable. Even if I don’t know your partner, I feel awful for them. I perceive it as disrespectful. It feels very much a public shaming.
I also worry for the person who is making the complaint, not just the person they complained about. It feels as if they’re looking for validation of their anger and are trying desperately to hold on to it by having it fueled by the feedback of others.
That shit is gonna fuck you up. You know that, right?
If one person, three people, or 677 people agree with you that your partner did a Heinous Thing … you have accomplished … what, exactly?
Let’s try this instead:
- If you want to talk to someone about a relationship issue, talk to someone you trust. Someone who knows you well, isn’t going to automatically take your side or your partner’s. If you are talking through an issue, actually talk through it. Try to gain perspective to help your decision-making process. Ranting in circles is an ugly business. This is where I point out that these discussions are what therapy is about. No, not every issue has to be drug into a therapist’s office. But therapy done right gives you the skills and tools to NOT need continuous discussions. If you are realizing the skills and tools aren’t there, it may be the time to learn some new ones. There is zero shame in counseling, and HIPPA laws make it way more private than a Twitter feed.
- Get off the hamster wheel. If you are experiencing the same issue over and over, you are choosing that pattern. That’s OK. You’re grown, and it is your relationship. But it isn’t fair to others to continue to complain about the same behaviors and circumstances over and over with no changes or movement taking place. You may also want to consider my favorite definition of insanity: Doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. It’s unfair to ask others to run that hamster wheel with you.
- When all else fails? You could try something really out of the box. You could talk to your actual partner about the issue. And I don’t mean in a “You are such an asshole! You make me so mad!” kind of way. But in an “I was really angry yesterday when you did [the thing]. I would really appreciate [different thing] instead. Is that doable?” Because whatever it is you are feeling? It’s completely your feeling and only you are responsible for it in the end. Something that may roll off you may be very upsetting for someone else. Something that makes you anxious may not even be a blip on someone else’s radar. Emotions are just information from your body. There is nothing wrong with asking for different behaviors, but you are also way more likely to get what you ask for by owning your response to the behavior. “I feel anxious when you say [the thing]. Could you express that a different way?” Instead of “You are SUCH an asshole! Why are you always so MEAN about [the thing]????”
It should be you and your partner against the world. When facing outward, you do it together with the solid grounding of this other person at your side. This is what will keep your kids from triangulating the two of you, prevent your mother from thinking you are breaking up every time you rant about the electric bill, and your friends avoiding you because all you ever do is bitch about each other. As open as I am about my life, very few people know the real inner workings of my intimate relationship. And no one but my partner knows everything, because that is our sacred space. That’s the secret glitter glue that holds things together when all else is failing.
And for fuck’s sake. The toilet paper always hangs OVER.