It seems to be a constant problem that I see around me, both in my professional world and my personal world that I see people with partners who treat them terrible. There is disrespect, selfishness, a lack of effort, anger, and an overall air of being a jerk. I see people we would consider to be “nice” people, who are kind and genuinely seem to care about this other person. The other person, the designated “jerk,” is usually mean, controlling, and screams a lot if it is a female and sullen or angry, rude, and dismissive if it is a male. The person usually is not open to hearing they are the problem in the relationship and think they are fine. It doesn’t matter if their relationships are littered with dysfunction, they cannot tolerate being the problem. It is not love to be screamed at or controlled or hit and yet I see so many people who stay in those relationships. Some time ago an individual was sitting in our lobby waiting for their partner who was in session. This individual was listening to their phone and it was loud. This individual did not respond well to my requests to turn the phone volume down and ended up storming out of the office. My main thought was how someone picked that individual for a relationship and what that relationship must look like. My assessment is that a person feels that is what they deserve out of a relationship...to be in a relationship with someone with no respect for authority who tantrums when they are told no or don’t get their way. The work with that individual who is dating the loser is really to help that person improve their self-esteem and work on the negative beliefs that lend to putting up with these behaviors. Everyone deserves to be treated with respect and yet so many people put up with so much less. Why? It isn’t because the other person is so amazing, it is about how the person feels internally. How little domestic violence would there be if people really understood how they should be treated. And those “losers?” They, too, don’t understand their value and worth because if they did, they wouldn’t throw tantrums and be abusive and have self-destructive behaviors. This doesn’t mean there are personality disordered people out there who are abusive(the Gottmans call them the “pitbull” and the “cobras.”), but most people are just broken and wounded and operate out of a very immature self.
The question to ask self is how does my relationship reflect how I feel about myself?
Everyone has them. They are good, bad, happy, irritated, sour, angry, etc. I have noticed that we as individuals are okay with being in a bad mood, but when others around us are in a bad mood, we feel bothered by it and often we wonder if it is our fault or if they are mad at us. This is something I have struggled with in the past, but as I have worked with clients and watched relationships and my own personal experience I have come to understanding that is wrong to expect people to only be in positive or happy moods and then when they aren’t, it is also incorrect to assume the negative moods are always about the other person. I remember the first couple years of being a step-mom and feeling worried when my teen step-daughter was in a bad mood, wondering if I was the cause of her mood. I have to chuckle at my egocentric self as teen having different moods in the space of hours or days is as predictable as the setting sun. Teens are going through such developmental and hormonal changes that they have some of the biggest mood ranges. I have heard it said “every teen is a little bipolar” which really just speaks to the range of moods and feelings they have. This worry about the moods of others can extend to partners, family members, siblings, coworkers, etc. Any place there are relationships, there is an opportunity for this.
What I have learned is that I(we) should see a range of moods and emotions as a positive. I want those around me to not be happy all the time, it means they are well-rounded emotionally and I need all them to be human and feel all things, not just the ones that I am comfortable with. This is not to say that we should put up with some actions related to negative moods such as blame or abuse. Everyone is responsible for their own moods and managing them. Everyone has bad days and it doesn’t entitle anyone to make people be receptors for those bad days and moods.
If we can accept when those around us have bad days and moods and continue to act loving, then we probably have the best chance of helping them out of it and being there to listen when they want to talk.
It is so freeing to not personalize the moods of others and just focus on being present and kind and allow other people to have a variety of feelings and moods. This is still the same even when there is conflict between two people, although I have found many worry about the moods of others when there has been no conflict. There is almost a selfish quality when we think; “what did I do? Is that person mad at me?” I tell myself and clients that none of us are that important that all the moods and feelings of another person are about us for the same reason that all our moods and feelings are not about another person, we are too self-focused at our core. We need to allow ourselves and those around us to have a variety of moods and emotions and know that all feelings and moods are okay, it is just what we do with them that matters. We do not want to send the message or teach the next generation that is not okay to have a bad mood, it is absolutely okay to have a bad mood. A bad mood just may mean that there is a separation from being in another person’s presence until they are feeling better or giving them comfort if that is what they need.