Have you ever had these kinds of thought about your partner?

“She used to look forward to seeing me.” 

“He is not the person I married.” 

“I don’t even recognize her anymore.” 

“He is impossible to talk to.”

The alchemy of relationships often seems to bring out the worst in people. What is that about?

Researchers have looked into this “change thing” and the results may surprise you. Your partner is the same person he or she was when you met. Why do they seem so different?

Research suggests you have reinforced the sides of your partner that you least like. It starts with core differences in the way people handle life. Some people plan ahead; others don’t. Some people become emotional quickly while their partner is more stoical. Some people need to address a problem right now; others put disagreement off. Some people are neat; others not so much.

Before you mingled your money, it didn’t matter that she did not plan her finances as carefully as you. Before you lived together, it was amusing that his apartment was usually a mess.

As your relationship became more serious, your partner’s personal peccadillos evolved into serious character flaws, at least in your perception. If this relationship were going to thrive, he or she was going to have to shape up. You took it upon yourself to cure your partner’s egregious behaviors. The usual weapons are criticism and disapproval.

I met a person one time who liked being criticized and disapproved of. He was from another galaxy. Most of us hate it. We hate it so much, we tend to become more of what the critical party doesn’t like. It’s how we maintain our sense of who we are and our personal dignity.

Every time you complained about your husband not picking up his dirty socks, you could bet he’d find more annoying places to leave them. When you smirked at your wife’s poor checkbook management, she managed to run the checkbook through the laundry. 

We don’t change from other people’s disapproval.

Does that mean you have to live with a messy house or never knowing your checkbook balance? No, but it does mean you may need to learn better ways to talk to your partner about annoying things. Research has identified six habits practiced by people who get listened to and treated well by their partners. Here’s the list:

1) Avoid a judgmental attitude (criticism and disapproval)

2) Find the understandable part in your partner’s behavior

3) Understand the logic, underlying needs and worries behind your partner’s position

4) Give, and ask for, equal regard for your position

5) Offer assurance of your esteem for your partner

6) Stand up for yourself without making a big deal of it.

Criticism and disapproval kill respect and esteem; loss of respect and esteem kills everything else.

Charles Hughes is a counselor in Oak Park and blogs about anxiety and depression at www.almondhead.wordpress.com.

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