It was a surprise. To be honest, as I sat there listening to him speak about his assumptions and concerns and I worried. Are we all full of this junk? Do we listen to ourselves? “I felt unappreciated. I’ve been so successful this year and it’s like all the things I did weren’t seen,” he said. This sort of blew my mind. Sort of. I had given so much, and true, he hadn’t asked for all that, but most of my support he gladly accepted. So was that my fault? How could he possibly feel unappreciated? I’m the one that should feel unappreciated, but my thoughts and experience are a mirror of his, at some level.
Many thoughts swirl in our head as the relationship we exist in enters a crossroads or turbulent times. Transgressions are made, words are yelled, and people’s kindness can so easily be taken for granted. No relationship is perfect so don’t act as if you’ve never done it. I’ve seen you, even when I haven’t seen you.
He sat there on our white couch with a glass of wine in hand and spoke to me about his success and part of me wanted to remind him of all the support I gave in that journey, but I knew better than that. Keeping score is easy, not keeping score is vital to our relational success. I also understand the weight a man carries in American society, the uneven expectations from them to make money and provide for others. To some extent as a woman, I’ve played that part of the breadwinner in past relationships too. Been there, felt that.
But what about me? To be honest, his complaints felt like a slap in the face. How could a man I supported for years emotionally and financially tell me that he feels unappreciated? You? Me, dude. Me. The first step in listening to our partner’s complaints is realizing we cannot internalize them or take a selfish lens. In a moment our partner is complaining (most of the time) they are trying to teach us how to love them. Most of the time, the struggles of your partner were never about you, they were lessons for them to walk through. You’re just here for it, experiences are shared, memories made, and moments passed long ago will come up. We must go through the mud together sometimes, but it can feel hard to hear our partners talk about what they don’t get from us. To be honest, it is hard to listen when someone vents about you to you. However, feedback is the best thing relationships have to offer. Relationships help us to grow, but we must remember that growing pains come with expansion. Listening to our partner share what they are feeling is a test, can we sit in the discomfort and hear their experience? Can we accept their truth without making it about us? Yes, we can.
So I’m on this couch listening to this man, that for only six months has supported me in the way I supported him for almost two years, and I tried not to lose my patience. I’m sure my eyes wandered and my hands lingered toward a crossed position over my chest. I caught myself physically crossing and closing and unraveled my arms to try staying open to my lover’s feedback. There are moments when we know they are wrong, which is why the importance of agreeing to disagree is a skill couples must build collectively. As couples, according to Gottman Institute, “The happiest couples disagree on about 69% of issues.” So chill, you are normal for not agreeing on whatever it is that is bothering you but disagreeing in our minds doesn’t mean we get to selfishly yell, like I wanted to, “It feels like I do everything!”
Look, I love my partner. I enjoy acts of service as a way to show love, but to be honest, sometimes I just give too much. I know that is my burden. I am a healer by nature, a lover, a giver, and people that gravitate toward me tend to be the takers, the achievers, the doers. I know the good, the bad, and the ugly when it comes to my relationship and so do you about yours. The thing we must remember is that in moments, we will want space to complain or our partner will want to voice their concerns. We must allow this space to exist, even when it is hard. We must breathe and not internalize these tensions. We must allow room for disagreement and seek resolve in our heart of hearts. To love is to build and to build is to expand. So while in a moment, I couldn’t understand where my partner was coming from, I could relate. We all want to feel heard and accepted. We all want our expressed concerns to be honored and addressed. So while listening to our partner complain, what we will realize, if we don’t get triggered, is that it usually isn’t about us, it is something much deeper within. Love is just the mirror and those complaints are relationship pimples, they will pass, with better routines. Don’t freak out, just listen and accept their perception and try to empathize with a moment you may have felt the same. Find a way to relate versus making it about you. Easier said than done.
This post was previously published on Medium.com.
If you believe in the work we are doing here at The Good Men Project and want a deeper connection with our community, please join us as a Premium Member today.
Premium Members get to view The Good Men Project with NO ADS. Need more info? A complete list of benefits is here.