You have had another relationship, unbeknownst to your partner, and he/she/they just found out. You feel your heart beat quicken and that moment of panic sets in. You are in hot water. What do you say? How do you fix this? End this uncomfortable moment? Then it comes out— “that person didn’t mean anything to me!”
Adding fuel to the fire
You look at your partner and instead of those words making he/she/they feel better you quickly notice they seem more upset. I have spoken to many couples about this very sentence. It is upsetting. It is hurtful. No one has ever said, “oh since that person doesn’t mean anything to you, I am ok now.” If anything it makes the whole situation much worse. But why? Why does this single phrase anger people so much?
It is because when you say those words, what your partner is really thinking is: what does that make me? If you can cheat on your supposedly important partner with someone that is meaningless, then this meaningless person trumps your partner. This just makes your partner feel even smaller. Because you made the choice to harm your relationship with your partner by having relations with this other person, you are telling your partner that they do not mean as much as this person. Therefore, making the statement “they didn’t mean anything” is you telling your partner they are meaningless. It is just another way to add insult to injury.
Therefore, making the statement “he/she/they didn’t mean anything” may get you deeper into hot water. Rather than digging through your brain to say something when the tension is high, own up to it instead. Saying “I am sorry” is a good start. Consider seeking the help of a licensed counselor individually, or as a couple, to help you through this.
There is a difference between accepting and just “tolerating” your partner. Relationships are hard. You are each your own person, you have your own personalities, your own similarities and differences.
Love and Kindness
When you accept your partner you are wholeheartedly loving and receiving him/her. Acceptance comes from love and kindness. It comes from the heart. When you accept someone you have tolerance built-in. You are accepting your partner as they are and tolerating their imperfections because you love them and appreciate them. If you agreed 100 percent with everything your partner did it wouldn’t really be much of a relationship. No one is perfect. Everyone does things we don’t like/agree with but when you really love someone you learn how to tolerate those things. At least when they aren’t detrimental to the relationship as a whole.
On its own tolerance doesn’t come from love or kindness. It is not stopping the other person’s behavior. It comes from external motivation — whether it be to not get into trouble or receive judgment. Tolerating another person often has resentment. It does not come from the heart. It does not come from a genuine concern or care for the other person. It comes from personal fear or gain. If you just “tolerate” your partner or their behavior you don’t really care about the backbone of the relationship, which is acceptance.
In situations where I see a partner is just “tolerating” his/her partner’s actions, I encourage them to talk about it. To try to work towards acceptance. To minimize resentment, which can overtime build and ultimately destroy a relationship.
Frequently I have clients ask me how to be in a happy relationship. Usually, after much discussion, we come up with the solution to a happy relationship as not being “obliviously comfortable.” The idea is you need to be your authentic self, comfortable in your skin, having the freedom to truly and deeply be you, but you also need to tune-in to your partner.
A relationship is typically composed of two people, not just one. So you can’t be happy if you are not thinking about the other person. It is just not possible. That means being mindful, not oblivious, to their thoughts, feelings, likes, dislikes, and who they are as an authentic self. You can’t expect them to change to conform to you, although some of being in-tuned to your partner is making sacrifices. There is a difference between sacrificing and making adjustments for your significant other, and changing who you are.
Being in-tune with your partner
You need to be comfortable to be happy, but that does not mean you will never be uncomfortable…if you get my drift. You need to be able to be you, to feel safe to be you, to not have to hide your inner being, but that does not mean never adjusting to please your significant other. It takes work from both sides to be happy. For example, a wife dislikes sports and a husband dislikes going to concerts but the two of them would like to start doing things together more often. They aren’t getting the quality time they need. So, they make a deal. The wife will go to a sports game or watch a game on TV with her spouse so they can have time together, and the husband will agree to attend a concert with the wife. It is a small sacrifice for the good of the relationship.
Another example might be the wife gets up early every day to run while the husband chooses to hit the snooze button a 1000 times before rolling out of bed. Instead of making a lot of racket when getting out of bed, the wife gets out quietly and is respectful of the husband. It is about being in-tune with her husband’s need to get more sleep. There are many many examples, but the bottom line is you can’t be happy in a relationship without effort from both sides. You need to open your eyes, your ears, and your senses. No one is the exact same, we all do things a little differently.