One of the great challenges of long-term relationships is how we deal with things we simply don’t like about our partner. In the early courtship days those were the things that we could overlook amidst the bliss of a budding romance. But as time goes on and the early excitement slowly wears off, we are confronted with those recurring habits and behaviors of our partner that cause us anything from minor irritation to explosive anger.
If you are clear that you are not completely happy with how you are experiencing your relationship, and you are open to any and all possibilities that have the potential to bring back greater intimacy, vitality and connectedness, it’s important to understand that all the power you need is within you. And I will explain that to you right here.
The first key tenet here is accepting the notion that you are 100% responsible for your experience in your relationship. That can be a very difficult concept for people to accept, since one of the reasons many are in a relationship is to be with someone who will ‘make them happy.’ Yet, paradoxically, if you are truly going to be happy in a relationship, especially one that you hope will last, you need to stop believing that the other person has a responsibility to do things that will make you happy. Not only does this give your power away, but it sets you up to be able to blame your partner if they are not doing the things you ‘need’ them to do to make you happy. And herein lie your grievances. And a lot of your unhappiness.
A grievance is not just something we don’t like about what our partner says or does; it’s something we hold in our minds as ‘wrong’, often subconsciously. When our partner does something that we don’t like, we may just bite our lip and try to ignore it. However, it is important that we don’t just bury our feelings about it–we need to admit to those feelings and then we need to forgive them for having done that thing.
But here’s where it gets subtle. Even if you forgive your partner in one particular instance, if you still hold what they did as bad and wrong, you will continue to hold a grievance about that kind of behavior. If your forgiveness is predicated on the belief that your partner should never do it again, then you are setting yourself up for disappointment, blame, even rage. Beyond your decision to forgive any particular action or behavior on the part of your partner, you have to be willing to let go of your judgment that said behavior is wrong.
If you want to free yourself from the misery of blame and judgment, and in the process free your relationship from suppressed anger from the past, then you will endeavor to get over your pride and truly accept your partner as they are, and accept the things they do. True acceptance means that your underlying belief is that their behavior is not wrong–it just ‘is’, like a rainy day or the color blue. And there is no need to get them to change that behavior.
Now–stay with me here–this is not to say that you need to condone behavior that you feel is clearly harmful to you. What you consider ‘harmful’ is really up to you, but verbal and certainly physical abuse falls into this category. What is imperative in this case, if you do not condone certain behavior, is to be fully willing to leave the relationship if that behavior continues. So don’t condone what is not acceptable to you, and fully accept the rest.
Note that tolerance is not full acceptance. Tolerance plays out in behaviors that you often don’t bother to comment about, but inside you find them annoying, frustrating, and essentially wrong. If you ever find yourself saying ‘Why do you always–?’ then you are dealing with a grievance based on past behaviors that you haven’t truly accepted although you may have tolerated. The frustration behind your complaints about your partner’s habitual behavior will be a good clue about how deep your grievance is in that matter. And it’s important to recognize that it is your grievance, not your partner’s behavior, that is the true source of your frustration. This is the way of thinking of people who are self-responsible.
If you are truly willing to examine your grievances, with a clear intention of letting go of them, self-honesty and awareness are the key. If you happen to have a partner who is of the same mind, and you are ready to work together in bringing back freshness and intimacy to your relationship that has been stolen away by grievances, here is something you can do.
Working Together On Your Grievances
1) Make a list of ALL the things that bother you about your partner, all the things that you feel have caused you pain in the past, all the things that you put up with but you don’t like, are annoyed with, angry about, even things that seem minor to you. Take your time, even if it takes a few days, and make a serious, comprehensive list, scouring your mind for all signs of resentment, bitterness, and disappointment. And of course, have your partner do the same thing.
2) Set some significant time aside to sit privately with your partner, at least two hours, even if it doesn’t end up taking that long. Let your partner list all their grievances they have against you; allow them to explain in as much detail as they want, and allow them to experience any emotions associated with those grievances. Listen carefully and don’t interrupt. When the person is finished, tell them “I heard you.” Then switch roles.
3) Now you can have a discussion on it. But that discussion will only be fruitful if you and your partner both have the desire to let go of your grievances against each other. You must be prepared to forgive each other for each grievance you have against them, and furthermore, let go of the judgment that any particular habit or behavior is wrong. In other words, you have to demonstrate that you are willing to love what you don’t like about your partner.
In this type of conversation, you are likely to find yourself much more inclined to listen to your partner’s grievances against you rather than resisting them, and you may even feel the desire to commit to your partner that you plan to stop doing some of those things or at least be more aware of them. This can be a nice byproduct of the conversation, just remember not to go into the conversation with the intention of getting your partner to change the behaviors you have grievances about.
Working By Yourself On Your Grievances
Now, in many cases, you may not have a partner who is willing or ready to go through the exercise described above. No matter. In realizing that you are 100% responsible for your experience in your relationship, you realize that letting go of grievances is really an internal process, even when you work on it together. And you know that in letting go of your judgments about what’s ‘wrong’ with your partner, you will get out of the habit of complaining and blaming your partner, and liberate yourself from the anger and frustration attached to some of your partner’s habits.
You may work on it in a formal way, making a full list of your grievances, and then reading them over, one by one, making an effort first to forgive your partner’s past behaviors, understanding they are human like you, accepting that they were doing the best they could at the time. And then, remind yourself that there is nothing wrong about this behavior, it just ‘is’, and you will endeavor to meet it with compassion the next time it happens.
A less formal way to practice is to notice your grievances as they arise, and try to step back from the judgments behind them after you notice a buildup of anger or resentment towards your partner for habitual behaviors you may have already told them you don’t like. At first, this will often happen only after you have complained (i.e. ‘Why do you always leave the lights on?’), but reminding yourself that you no longer hold this behavior to be ‘wrong’ will help dissipate your negative feelings and move you back into harmony with your partner. Eventually, you will remember that you don’t believe these behaviors are wrong even before you utter a word of complaint, and will experience more flow and peace in your relationship in general.
Now it must be said, that even if you let go of all your grievances against your partner, you may find yourself feeling unhappy, unsatisfied, or unfulfilled in the relationship. In this case, it may become clear to you that it is time to end the relationship. Having let go of your grievances, you are able to make a clear choice, not based on a buildup of anger and frustration that has become intolerable, but based on a deeply grounded perception of your relationship that tells you whether or not you want this partner to continue to be a part of your journey.
Having grievances about some of your partner’s habitual behaviors is ultimately a prison of your own mind, and can be detrimental to your personal happiness and damaging to your relationship. If you are able to take the big leap–and indeed your ego will resist this every step of the way–to fully let go of the perceived ‘wrongness’ of any and all of your partner’s habits and behaviors, you are paving the way to greater inner joy, as well as providing the relationship with its best opportunity not only to survive but to thrive.