- Our beliefs and experiences affect how we show up in a relationship.
- There are multiple reasons why we may slip into unhealthy patterns.
- Parenting a partner can negatively impact your sex life.
It starts innocently enough. You meet someone through a mutual friend, or on a dating app, and after a few dates, there’s a funny feeling in your stomach, an indicator that this person is different. Special. There’s something about them, you think. Time seems to fly by and after a few months, you’re convinced your soul mate has arrived because the emotion you feel is strong enough to power a city. I’m in love, you think, as you re-read old text messages and scroll through their Instagram feed.
You ride a wave of bliss and cannot for one second imagine the feeling coming to an end, and with that kind of optimism, you pack up your stuff and move in together. When you know, you know, you tell your friends and family.
And then you wake up one morning and realize that your soul mate, your one and only, your forever and ever love, is actually doing things that to you seem illogical and if you're honest with yourself, kind of stupid.
They wait until the last minute to get things done. They don’t seem at all concerned that they're always late to social gatherings or to work. They don't wash their fruit before they eat it, and they don't seem to know how to drive. They spend money with no budget in mind, and they never seem to be worried about the future. They have no sense of organization, and you are always cleaning up after them.
You’ve always been the planner, the organizer, the mothership of proactive measures, and as you see their terrible habits playing out, you worry that your relationship won’t go the distance. Having always been told that you are a generous, kind-hearted, and compassionate person, you embark on a mission to help your partner become a better version of themselves: to coach them into perfection.
With patience, you encourage them to make different choices. “Maybe you should try getting up earlier,” you say. “Maybe we can sit down and look at your finances and help you budget.”
Soon enough, most of your sentences begin with “Don’t forget to…” or “Remember that you need to…” and although you started off with a great deal of patience, you see that none of your efforts are working. Your partner’s still doing the same annoying things, and now you’re annoyed, angry, and frustrated because they don’t appreciate how much you’re trying to help them. After all, isn’t that what love is all about? Coaching our partners and helping them to be better versions of themselves?
Why are you raising your partner?
All of us arrive in relationships with a particular set of beliefs, perspectives, and values that are born from our own experiences and upbringing. No two people are ever the same, and how you show up in a relationship is likely a product of what you experienced long before your partner looked into your eyes and made the world spin a little faster.
If you always slip into a pattern of “raising” your partner, consider that maybe you saw the same dynamic playing out in the relationship between your parents. Having been modeled for you for all of your childhood, it may have registered as the normal, healthy dynamic between two people who love each other.
Perhaps you got well-intentioned advice over and over again from friends and family members. I remember talking to a friend of mine about some of my frustrations early on in my marriage. “Don’t worry,” she said. “You just need to train him.” Train him? I thought. I married a human being, not a Labrador retriever.
Another reason might be that your partner’s way of existing in the world actually causes you a great deal of distress, because it is wildly different from how you have chosen to live your own life. So when you endeavor to “help” your partner, to mold them, train them, and change them to fit your own beliefs and worldview, perhaps you're trying to mitigate your own discomfort with things being contrary to what you believe.
Maybe it’s just easier and safer to focus on someone else rather than on yourself. There’s a part of you that recognizes there’s some stuff you haven’t processed, some hard truths about yourself you don’t want to face; turning your attention on your partner seems like a sound strategy to avoid feeling uncomfortable. After all, if you were conditioned to believe that being anything less than perfect is unacceptable, it’s not logical that you would then grow up to be an adult who can embrace your vulnerabilities. It makes more sense to avoid them altogether.
If you experienced a great deal of uncertainty, instability, or traumatic losses throughout your childhood, this may have impacted how you manage your day-to-day now. Your way of establishing safety and stability in the world may have manifested as an emphasis on controlling every area of your life; you plan every step and do everything in your power to avoid feeling the same fear, sadness, and hurt that you may have felt as a child. Your partner forging their own path may trigger an alarm that things are not safe, which means you need to control every aspect of your life, and also theirs.
How it impacts your sex life
If you have noticed that your sex life has dropped off, if you no longer reach for each other the moment you’re in the same room, it may be that the interactions between you have become too parental, which is not the sexiest dynamic in the world.
When you channel all of your energy toward making sure your partner is improving, changing, progressing, and growing, you run the risk of forgetting two important factors: They never asked you for help, and they managed to survive before they met you. Rather than change and grow, they remain firmly entrenched in their ways, and you end up feeling exhausted, frustrated, resentful, and worst of all, unappreciated. This is not a recipe for an active sex life.
If you are the person being parented, you might be feeling like a 5-year-old who's constantly getting in trouble or trying to get things right so that your partner doesn’t get upset with you. This too may kill any desire for intimacy you may have had when you first met, because you’re starting to feel like you moved in with a younger version of your parent. Again, not sexy.
So what do you do?
Make a decision as to whether or not you really want to stay in your relationship. You may have to explore what drew you to them in the first place and ask yourself some tough questions: Do I really love them? What, exactly, do I love? If you are hyper-focused on the things that bother you, it’s easy to forget the important stuff: Maybe you share the same values, maybe you both want the same things, maybe you share the same faith. Remembering these things can help you determine whether or not you want to stay or throw in the towel.
Focus on yourself. Rather than focusing on your partner’s habits, make a conscious effort to turn inward and explore your own relationship expectations and perspectives. Working with a therapist can help you identify and understand stubborn patterns that perhaps you want to change, and help you challenge old beliefs about yourself and/or relationships that have never really served you.
Relinquish control. I would be lying if I said this was easy, because having control may have always been your way of feeling safe and secure, or maybe this was how you learned to express love. Whatever the reason, when you endeavor to explore other paths that are outside of your comfort zone, it might feel terrifying, or it may seem like entirely too much work.
But if you’ve realized that you do love the person, and you want the relationship to work, remind yourself constantly that the only thing over which you have real agency is you. No amount of well-intentioned effort on your part will ever change someone who hasn’t first recognized the changes they’d like to make for themselves.
Be a team, not adversaries. If your partner’s up for it, seek a couple’s therapist. Sometimes you can fall into the trap of thinking that your partner is the problem, or perhaps they think you’re the problem. A therapist may help you see that neither you nor they are the problem, but that there is a problem, and it can be resolved by working together, not independently.
Talking to someone doesn’t have to mean that your relationship is coming to an end. I’ve worked with couples that simply want to work on understanding each other better, and to improve how they resolve conflicts and challenges.
No matter how you show up in relationships, know that it is not something to be judged, but to be explored, understood, and appreciated because there's value and purpose to be found in all of our experiences. The more you understand yourself, the better you can do what might seem impossible: accept your partner for who they are, and not for who you want them to be.
To find a therapist, please visit the Psychology Today Therapy Directory.
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