Relationship Boot Camp

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Testing Others Can Sabotage Your Relationships

Testing your partner can cause problems

Michael was upset with Heather. When questioned, he remarked that his birthday had passed, and she had neither baked a cake, gotten him a present, nor even wished him "Happy Birthday!" He thought this meant she did not care about him because according to his rules, you did these things for his friends. When confronted about whether she even knew about his birthday or was in a position to celebrate it with him, he was uncertain. He later discovered that there had been an accident in her family, and she had left town to be with an ailing relative. Because of his inability to communicate his disappointment to her, the damage had been done. He had withdrawn for several months before the new information was ascertained. Both have moved on.

The more insecure you are, the more likely you are to fear rejection, and consequently to be on the lookout for early signs of rejection. It is a human tendency to attack others whom you perceive as hurting you. Unfortunately, many take a disappointment and turn it into feeling rejected.. Troubles can begin if you start thinking that if your partner really cared he/she would not be doing that. Many people live by their own rules, which do not necessarily coincide with their partners'. In fact the rules by which you live may be very discrepant.

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When a conflict occurs, a relationship is taxed. One of the key ingredients that attract many people to one another is a sense of magic and mystery. As you start feeling closer to someone special, there can be an intuitive intimacy between the two of you which is often missing with others. You seem to be reading each other's minds. Unfortunately, this very factor can eventually cause a relationship to deteriorate. You may start believing that if your mate truly cared about you, she/he sould instinctively know what you want; consequently, you may be reluctant to explain your rights and desires. People need to be informed, explicitly told and if they are not, the longevity of the relationship will be threatened.

David became very upset because of what he regarded to be Colleen's poor attitude. They were having a weekend getaway, and after several days, Colleen developed an infection. She was annoyed when David did not accompany her to a local physician, even though she never asked him to do so. She also was peeved when he did not offer to share the cost. These things were important to her and she felt he was an equal partner. She did not communicate this to him, but she remarked later that if he were truly sensitive to her, he would have done these things. Since he had not, this indicated, according to her rules that he did not care. He had failed to meet her expectations, and had never had a hint he was letting her down.

Many partners flunk a relationship test without knowing an examination had been given. It is important to be explicit about the rules, which guide you; do not play guessing games. It is noted in Genesis that God directly informed the humans about what they could and could not do. Apparently, this parameter has been around for a long time. Some think being explicit is unromantic, but if a person knows what to do, when you receive the royal treatment, it will not matter how they learned it.

People who test their partner's devotion may attempt to gain proof that their partner cares about them by seeing whether they can make the grade. For example, Lisa would break dates with men to observe how they reacted. She reasoned that they must care if they were hurt or disappointed. Their taking the setback in stride revealed their lack of interest in her. She saw her behavior as being whimsical, unpredictable, and wild, but she was reluctant to change it, because she admitted it was the one way she could prove others wanted her.

When you test, the basic line is, "If you loved me, then you'd . . .". This blank can be filled in with a host of things; usually it involves the other person's unilaterally changing or giving.

Testing occurs frequently in relationships and usually is destructive. Some examples are: "If I don't text or call her, will she text or call me?" "What will happen if he sees me with another person?" "Will he still care for me if he knew a dark secret from my past?" "Will she do some things that I like even if she doesn't like them?"

The best way to avoid testing is to be aware of your need to test. It is beneficial to admit to your partner that you may have to be reassured at times. You may want to be held, to talk, or even to be left alone. The purpose of most tests is to try to determine that your mate regards you as being important, and cares about you. Because tests are usually manipulations and dishonest communications, frequently they only foster more insecurity. When you have the desire to test, it may be due to something frustrating within your relationship which should be worked through. If you can begin to realize after you have tested someone that you have just done so, you can start to eradicate this tendency. Eventually, you may become aware of testing while you are starting to do it, and then be able to desist. Testing only sets up roadblocks, and the tester usually does not obtain the response they want. They may consistently feel angry, and unless they find someone whose goal is to placate their anger, they will find their partner also becoming more irritated and annoyed. This is because their mate probably will feel helpless and confused; not only may they feel they cannot do anything right, but they may be uncertain about why their lover is so frequently upset.

Testing can occur when you suddenly change important personal habits. There can be weight gain or loss, hair style and color can be altered etc. Some wonder: "Will he still love me if I am not a blonde? Can he still appreciate my essence?" All like to believe that someone will still love us when we get older, even if we lose our body tone, lose our hair, get wrinkles, or no longer maintain the same level of sexuality. There is a difference between aging and engaging in behaviors which you could predict will provoke your partner.

When a person deliberately does something which will jeopardize their relationship, they may be sabotaging intimacy. If your partner has made it clear to you that there are some things they just cannot tolerate, and you do those very things, you are setting yourself up for disharmony. This is also called being passive-aggressive. Some do self-defeating acts because they seemingly cannot stand things going smoothly. Others may begin engaging in these activities because they are depressed and/or angry with their spouses. Most of these drastic changes reflect an inability to deal with stress appropriately. When people begin doing this, they are producing negative momentum, and creating and enlarging the schism in the relationship. They can become more hostile because they not only are not getting support, but they may be receiving additional criticisms.

How do you know if you are running from intimacy and being defensive? A good guide to whether you need to use defenses is to observe how open you are when you relate with others. Are you able to be honest and affectionate with friends? Do you feel good enough about yourself to let yourself be known? Do you have constructive pastimes, which enable you to enjoy yourself? When was the last time you initiated some social activity? Can you be alone? Can you see your mate as a mistake-prone human? Can you be patient? A "no" answer to these, hopefully will start corrective actions.

Dr. Gerry Heisler is a clinical psychologist with 38 years of experience as a clinician and assistant professor who has dealt with relationship issues.

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