In a recent post, I wrote about why people need to make sacrifices in relationships. That when you have a partner, it’s important to be willing to give up some of your autonomy in order to make them happier – and vice versa.
But you do not want to simply give in to behaviors, preferences, and so on that you truly do not like or agree with. This isn’t sacrificing for the good of the relationship – it’s becoming a doormat.
Just as bad: it doesn’t even work in most cases.
This is something I see all the time in my work as a relationship coach. If you “sacrifice” by allowing your partner to engage in some kind of behavior you truly dislike or disagree with, it can cause feelings of frustration, resentment, and even disgust.
These feelings will build and build until you either feel like you need to get away from the person. Or they cause you to explode, railing against your partner for things they didn’t even know were a problem.
You don’t want to be that person – and they certainly don’t want you to be that person either.
So, what do you do?
Talk about it. Be honest. Explain how you feel and why you don’t like the behavior. To the best of your ability, keep your explanation focused on you.
For example, if you wish your partner didn’t leave their dirty clothes all over your shared living space, don’t accuse them of being gross and disgusting. Instead, say it makes you feel like the place is always dirty. You feel embarrassed when people come over. And you feel exhausted because you’re always cleaning up.
Don’t stop there though. Work together to come up with a solution that will help them stop the behavior.
This is where sacrifice comes in. You may have a specific idea of how the problem should be solved. (Your partner should just remember to pick up those dirty clothes, right?) But you should be willing to let that idea go. Take your partner’s perspective into account. Adapt to find a joint solution.
Maybe you need to get an extra laundry basket or two, so they can more easily put their dirty clothes where they belong. Or maybe they pick up other cleaning tasks, so you spend less time feeling like the maid.
Whatever solution you come to together, remember that behaviors typically do not change overnight. If your partner forgets and leaves their dirty clothes on the floor again, gently remind them about the new arrangement. Try to have patience, and actively look for changes in their behavior and celebrate them.
This last step is particularly important for two reasons.
One, even if someone is doing the “right” thing nine times out of ten, we tend to notice the one time this doesn’t happen. Pay close attention, so you recognize positive behavioral changes. This can keep you from calling your partner out when they’ve actually gotten quite a bit better.
And two, the positive reinforcement that comes with celebrating the successful change in their behavior will make them feel encouraged to continue it. It will have a much greater impact than any complaining or nagging response.
Bottom line: if you want to stop behaviors that bother you and enable positive change, it starts by talking about it. Go on, give it a shot. You’ll both be happy you did.
Rooting for you!