Sonya and Martin (not their real names) have been dating for six months, and Martin has shown himself to be a loving and thoughtful partner.
Sonya wants to register the two of them for a Wednesday night salsa class, but she knows that Martin plays poker with his friends on Wednesdays.
Sonya is nervous about asking Martin to skip Poker Night, but she tells herself that if the relationship is important to him, he’ll want to make the sacrifice.
When she gets up the courage to mention the class, Martin predictably balks at the Wednesday night time slot. Sonya hears herself accuse him of being immature and selfish, and their first serious argument ensues.
What’s really going on here?
Why is the salsa class so important to Sonya?
It’s a Setup
Sonya knows that Wednesday nights are the only time that Martin spends with his friends. Why is she disgruntled when he doesn’t immediately agree to drop poker for salsa (read: for her)?
Whether she recognizes it or not, Sonya feels insecure. She’s testing Martin: If he had to choose, would he choose her over his friends?
If she pushes him and he agrees to spend Wednesday nights with her, then she thinks she’ll feel more confident in his love and commitment. If not, she’ll continue to feel insecure in the relationship.
In forcing him to make this choice, Sonya has set them both up for failure.
Testing Creates What We Fear
Martin is unlikely to agree that spending time with his friends on Wednesdays has anything to do with his love for her.
He could also view Sonya’s request as proof of Sonya’s lack of love for him. Why would someone who loves him begrudge him one weeknight to see his friends?
By setting up this bogus test of his affection, Sonya alienates Martin. She creates the very distance in the relationship that she fears.
If you find yourself testing your partner like this, recognize the behavior for what it is. You’re trying to find more security in your relationship. There’s nothing wrong with that.
But setting up tests creates unnecessary conflict. Even if your partner goes along with everything you want him or her to do, slavish obedience is not ultimately what you’re seeking.
Those who test, just want to know they matter. Talk to your therapist about feelings of low self-esteem and insecurity. Don’t let your relationship become a canvas on which you paint your worst fears.
Keep your relationship healthy and positive by taking responsibility. Talk to your partner if you have a tendency to test in relationships. Perhaps your partner can help you get a handle on testing by gently checking in with you if they feel they’re being put in a compromising position.
Testers are not bad people. They are simply people who need understanding and support. Asking your partner to help you notice testing behavior sets your relationship on a collaborative footing, rather than a combative one.
It takes courage to trade testing for an honest reckoning of your own fears. But ultimately, it’s a better way to win in the game of love.
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