What If Your Partner Is Right About You?
What is your reaction when your partner accuses you of something?
By Lesli Doares
What Part of Your Partner’s Opinion of You Will You Own?
What is your reaction when your partner accuses you of something? If you’re like most people, me included, you get defensive. You either point out where they are mistaken about you, or you come back with what they do wrong. And….you’re off to the races. Meanwhile, your marriage is going down the tubes.
No one likes to have their shortcomings pointed out to them. But what if there is some truth underneath all your partner’s complaining? While they may not be correct about everything, what if they are spot on about others? Do you have the courage to face what is true?
Like most people, I want others to think well of me. This is especially true of those I love. But I also know I get the most upset when someone has hit a bull’s eye on a challenging aspect of my personality or behavior. I don’t like it and I don’t react well. But if I am honest, they are, quite frankly, right. For me, that’s just adding insult to injury. I can get honest or I can get angry, but it doesn’t change what’s true.
Terry Real, author of The New Rules of Marriage, talks about the Core Negative Image. This is the vision you have of your partner in their most difficult, irrational, and least loving moments. And they have a corresponding one of you. Accusations of you “always” or you “never” are about this caricatured version of each other. The longer you each are viewing the other through the CNI lens, the more you focus on behaviors that support this distorted perception.
The natural response when confronted with your partner’s CNI view of you is to defend yourself against this unfair and (partially) untrue assault. Unfortunately, this often involves a counterattack based on your Core Negative Image of your spouse. This continues until one of you does the equivalent of “crying Uncle”. The attacks stop but the damage doesn’t. The interaction only reinforces each of your CNIs, making the next go-round both inevitable and destructive.
So, what to do? Drop. Your. Sword. Now. Take a moment and think about what you believe your partner’s CNI of you is. Is it that you’re always angry? Withdrawn? Dismissive? Self-centered? Cold? Needy? Whatever comes after the “always” and “never” are the bull’s eye comments that get under your skin. Now write them all down.
Here comes the brave part. Check in with your partner. Show them the list and see if you’ve missed anything. This isn’t about agreeing with your partner but about getting a clear picture of how they see you when they are most unhappy with you. We can’t begin to change what we first don’t comprehend. Ask about what things you do that confirm their Core Negative Image of you and what behaviors would be or already are opposite of that.
It is really hard to stay open to these perceptions. Breathe through the hurt. It isn’t the truth but it’s your partner’s truth. Arguing with them will never work, so find the part you can acknowledge. It’s like the cartoonists on the boardwalk who enlarge a physical characteristic. It’s an exaggeration of something that is there. But that exaggeration is what your partner sees. So, work to minimize it as you positively enhance other, more loving ones.
Take the lead and your partner will be more likely to follow. The result will be freedom from the CNIs for you both.
The story was previously published on The Good Men Project.