Short answer: both. Read on for the long answer.
When couples forego finding out important information about each other during the dating phase, it leaves two people possibly stuck in a relationship they may not belong in. Couples can press on in the ill-found relationship by escaping to work or anything else that gets them out of the house and away from their partner. This tactic, like all others based on issue-avoidance, has an expiration date.
It’s only a matter of time before all the brushed aside problems build up and create a nasty conflict. The pandemic has forced many business’ employees to work from home while shuttering other leisurely escapes for the foreseeable future. The dynamic of leaving our homes has drastically changed forcing more couples to stay home together for longer. Much longer than they ever were used to. As a result, couples are now learning things about each other they may not have known or realized before. This is causing many couples to reassess their relationship altogether, which could deepen the rift between them. But there’s no need to reassess the relationship before we assess ourselves.
Accept then change
Instead of jumping straight to a breakup/divorce, look inward and find out what the relationship means to you. You decided to share your life with someone, a life partner who we should expect dependability from and vice versa. Being willing to abandon a life partner over annoying habits doesn’t inspire confidence in dependability. Especially when they haven’t been addressed in a healthy manner.
Conversely, harmful/toxic behavior from someone uninterested in change regardless of their actions’ effects on others isn’t something we can ignore. This shows that someone values the imagined comfort their habits bring them over the well-being of their partner. When people agree to share a life together, they cannot believe change to be beneath them. Human nature and progress are rooted in change, adaptability, and growth. Sharing your life with someone is inherent to changing who you are. Part of the journey with your life partner is to grow better together, to make each other better versions of one another than you would’ve been without each other. This doesn’t work if one side is insistent on keeping their flaws because they believe they’re above reproach.
What’s a flaw?
When discussing relationship partner flaws, we don’t mean snoring, shedding, or not using the same toilet paper brand as you. We mean profound living habits in how they treat you, themselves, and the space you share.
By definition and in the context of relationships, a flaw is a personality defect. A bad habit they most likely picked up long before entering a relationship. There has been no one bothered or harmed by it, so they’ve never had to think twice about said flaw. When they begin sharing their life with another, who becomes bothered or harmed by their bad habits, the effects may come as quite the surprise to them. No one has ever brought it to their attention before, so they’ve never understood how destructive their action(s) can be.
This is important to keep in mind to keep from coming off critically judgmental. In their mind, no one else has had a problem with it except you. They may view your observation as an attempt to control, leading them to double down on their behavior as a misguided expression of “THIS IS ME! LOVE IT OR LEAVE IT!”
Don’t take it personally
These behaviors most likely began long before you ever entered their life. This means their harmful habits have nothing to do with you. Their origin, their reasoning, all of it contrived before they were aware of your existence. Seeing that, we know that although these behaviors upset you, they’re not meant to upset you. Your partner is not exhibiting these behaviors to hurt you. Once we acknowledge that within ourselves, it’s much easier to constructively move on with fixing the issue.
Of course, we love our partners regardless of their imperfections and we want them to feel that. But we also don’t want to leave harmful behavior unchecked. If you point out harmful behavior by labeling them “immature” or telling them to grow up, you’re shutting down any chance of a healthy resolve. This shortsighted approach won’t compel them to change and drives you further apart.
Instead, start by asking a few questions first. When did they start doing it? What was the reason for why they started? Do they still feel the same benefits now? Asking questions like these shows that you’re more concerned with your partner than about how their action upset you. The nature of the observation isn’t criticism, but inquiry. Your partner is now engaged in an open dialogue absent of feeling criticized and becoming defensive.
After asking all the insightful questions needed until you have the information wanted, consolidate the facts in your head. Present to your partner what you’ve just learned in your own perspective but their words. “If I’m getting this right, you started doing this because…” “Just to make sure I’m understanding you right, you do this for… “ Listen to their responses intently, tweaking your perspective along the way, and keep restating it back to your partner. Restate what they’ve said from your perspective as many times as you need until they finally reply with “Yes! Exactly.”
Restating their words and thoughts back to them makes them feel heard, understood, and cared for. This is a much better precursor to sharing advice than blatantly giving advice out of frustration which comes off condemnatory. Since you took the time to understand them, you can more accurately offer suggestions that speak to their issues. This is an effective way to inspire change in your partner, as opposed to driving them away from you.
Be the change you want
Because how annoying is it REALLY when someone tells you to change your ways while embracing their own junk behavior? In psychology, the term for this is the same as everywhere else: hypocrisy.
Modeling behavior to your partner is incredibly effective at inspiring change. This is showing, not telling, your partner how important something is to you. Our brains are loaded with billions of neurons forever looking to establish connections with anything they can. One of these things is mirroring human interaction. It’s why even before most children can walk, they’re already mimicking their parents.
We socially thrive on mirroring positive actions and feelings in others, even with close friends and family. If your partner genuinely cares for you, they may feel naturally drawn to adopt your positive behavior. They may even be able to notice the importance of concepts simply by watching you apply them.
Example: a couple struggles with obesity. One decides to make some healthy changes in an effort to shed excess weight. They’ve discussed it, but their partner isn’t so sure about taking on such an obstacle right now. Instead of beginning together, one makes up their mind to start however they can as soon as they can. After a few weeks, their mood is noticeably improved, and they have more energy. A few weeks more, physical changes are more noticeable. Their partner may suddenly feel the inspiration they needed to make a change just by watching the progress. The best part is that it’ll feel like their idea, so they’re starting off with a better chance of success.
Establish firm boundaries
In a perfect world, every couple that entered a life partnership with each other could overcome anything to persevere. Unfortunately, we live in our world and have to make the best of it. That includes making clear to your partner what’s absolutely unacceptable to you. There are some behaviors and habits so harmfully toxic for us, there’s no way to reconcile the lack of love and respect that leads to them. Everyone is different and to each their own, but your partner knowing your limits is mostly your responsibility. Be sure they’re communicated clearly and early while understanding what’s at risk (the relationship) should they be violated.
It’s easy to forget while helping someone overcome their flaws that we’re full of flaws ourselves. Be mindful of it and keep yourself open to change. The only way we can initiate growth by establishing change is to first acknowledge that there’s a problem with us. But sometimes, we’re unable to even see our own flaws because of our biased perspective. Invite criticism, encourage discourse from others with an objective perspective. Someone who loves us will point out the harmful effects one of our previously unrealized habits has on them. In that moment, we must be ready to listen and change just as we’d like others to do for us. Remember that although we may strive for perfection, we’re naturally imperfect. Strive for goals, but embrace reality.
National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). Call the HelpLine at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264), Monday-Friday, 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. ET or email email@example.com. If you’re in crisis, text NAMI to 741741.
National Suicide Prevention Hotline. 800-273-TALK (8255)
Self-Injury Outreach and Support. Learn and/or share personal stories while learning coping skills for the urge to self-harm.
If you enjoyed reading about the nature of flaws and how best to handle them for the people we love, you’ll love reading this article from Psychology Today about the dangers and consequences of “testing your partner”.