What do you do when the person you are with is not behaving in a manner you find acceptable?

This can be a tough situation, especially given the fact that if there is any substantial time invested, there will obviously be feelings attached. I had an interesting talk with a student who is having a really tough time in his relationship right now. To sum it up, his girlfriend is doing some things that make him uncomfortable. He has a tendency to be a jealous person, so he felt that he had sacrificed the “moral high ground” and forfeited his right to say anything when her behavior was objectively unreasonable. In other words, by over-reacting to trivial matters, he’d given up his right to have a say in matters that were non-trivial.

There is a lesson there.

Perhaps by being more mindful and masters of our actions, rather than prisoners of our reactions (i.e. meditate and know yourself), we can more efficiently and effectively choose our battles.

In any event, we’ve probably all been in similar situations, so this isn’t unique to him. It’s a real problem and dealing with it can determine the trajectory, success or failure of your relationships (and this is, in no way, limited to romantic relationships). Any relationship (romantic, familial or even with a coworker) can be difficult.

You are two people with completely different life experiences and things you are bringing to the table.

These things affect how we perceive the world and how we interact with it. In light of this, no relationship worth having is going to be easy, so we should probably get that out of our minds as a goal.

If we are being honest, then there are going to be trying and difficult times. With that being said and from the perspective that you should be your authentic self and not “change” too much for anyone, we shouldn’t expect others to do more than we would. What you see is what you get, for the most part. Remember, people reveal who they are by what they do…not what they say.

Since the “doing” is so important and honesty and communication are so vital to any relationship, you can’t let the person you are with do things you don’t like. Similarly, if you are invested in the relationship and want the best for it (if you don’t then you owe your partner the respect of leaving), you cannot do anything that intentionally irritates or bothers your partner.

Why is not allowing disliked behavior important?

In short, arguments about doing the dishes are rarely about the dishes. What is actually happening is that you are taking some pent-up frustration out on the person. How did you get to this spot? You ignored behavior that did not sit well with you, in a misguided attempt to avoid conflict. Now you’re screaming and fighting about a plate that was left out.

Existing in this cognitively dissonant state is painful and untenable. We can ignore things for only so long. The problem, as it relates to your relationship, is that your frustration will manifest itself in subtle ways. None of us are evolved enough to avoid this. Be perfectly honest and reflect for a minute. Have you ever been more forceful than necessary, even when you know it is unnecessary, simply because you are annoyed with a person? You’ve probably done it with even pets. It’s natural and why it is so important to be honest and open about things you will and will not tolerate.

You are not doing your relationship or partner a service by ignoring things you don’t like. If these things are too much, then you shouldn’t be with that person. But if they are fixable, as most are, then the time to correct the behavior is right when you notice it. It is not once it’s built up to a boiling point that has you behaving unreasonably. Your partner doesn’t deserve that any more than you deserve to live constantly unhappy. Further, how is it fair to “come down” on someone for something you have tolerated and been complicit in, in your silence? You don’t like the tone they take with you? Say something NOW. Don’t wait until a month goes by and blow up. There is a good chance that he or she honestly didn’t know you were so bothered after all. Similarly, if there is a particular thing that you want and your partner refuses to do it, believe me, you will make them pay at a later date. You can’t help it.

Honesty is not easy. It’s often the scariest and hardest path. But it is the right one.

Do not lie. A lie of omission is still a lie and it isn’t obvious that it does any less damage than one of commission. Healthy relationships are subjugated to the relationship itself…not to any one partner. You each have the right to be your authentic selves and have the relationship that you need.

Many times, the hardest conversations are the most important.

Ignoring a minor inconvenience can turn that thing into hell very quickly. If you are the type of person who needs to be told, “good morning” every day or needs a certain level of affection, you can grit your teeth for only so long. Give your partner and your relationship a chance by being honest about what you need, want and expect out of it. You may be surprised that these little things can be handled before they turn into insurmountable obstacles. Do not lie. Be truthful and authentic. You deserve what you want and need, and your partner deserves your honesty. If you will not accommodate each other’s needs, then perhaps it is worth reevaluating the relationship as a whole. It is better to determine this early on. Don’t torture yourself and your partner because of your silent grudges caused by unfulfilled needs and desires. If you do, you may end up like my friend who has waited too long to say what he needs. If they stay together, a fight is coming…and it won’t really be about the dishes.

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