Every engaged couple hopes that their relationship will last a lifetime.
Expert Randi Gunther explains in “Relationship Saboteurs,” however, that even people who are acting in good faith “often unknowingly practice certain subtle behaviors that undermine relationships over time.”
Sabotaging behaviors rarely seem like a problem at first; indeed, they often appear to be attractive. Gunther warns that nonetheless they “slowly build toxicity in a partnership” and eventually weaken it beyond repair. When the relationship fails, the saboteur is often left confused, unable to figure out what went wrong.
Gunther lists two sabotaging behavior patterns that are worth special attention. They both demonstrate an attitude that marriage is “all about me,” not about “us.” An all-about-me attitude undermines the couple's ability to develop the strong sense of couplehood, the sense that “We” are more important than “Me,” that is vital for a strong marriage.
All-about-me attitudes tend to appear in two ways. One is the need to control everything, to “run the show.” The other is the need to be the center of attention.
Everyone has the desire to control their own future from the moment they're born. Then we get married. In healthy marriages, each spouse helps the other fulfill their normal control needs.
Gunther explains that, in collaborative relationships, “the rules are mutually created and open to renegotiation.” The problem comes when one spouse needs to always be in complete control. It's nonnegotiable, even when their spouse doesn't agree with the power structure.
Control people can appear attractive. They're self-confident and good at taking charge. They're often charming and have a lot of status. But control people eventually insist they make the rules, and “You can tell me what you want, but I make the final decision.”
The attention-demander gets bored when they aren't getting enough attention. Gunther explains that, “even when they realize that being attentive to others would be to their advantage, they seem unable to relinquish the spotlight.”
Healthy marriages cannot survive one person constantly demanding the spotlight. Gunther warns, “Center-stage behavior and true intimacy are strangers.” Intimacy requires “We,” not just “Me,” at the center stage of marriage. You can't be intimate with someone who is always pushing you offstage.
In many marriages, one spouse is more outgoing than the other. The problem arises when one spouse constantly insists on a disproportionate amount of attention.
Gunther explains that the hardest step in addressing an all-about-me problem is admitting the problem without judgment. Berating yourself, thinking “I'm an idiot!” or “Why can't I ever learn!” only slows down correcting the situation. Denying or rationalizing your behavior won't help, either.
Instead, it's best to use this as “the time to gather as much information as you can without allowing anything to cloud your ability to learn.”
You may have an all-about-me attitude if your spouse or others have commented on your behavior and you view the criticism as unimportant; or if you become defensive; or if “you try to reverse the blame and focus on your spouse's faults instead.”
If you realize you have an all-about-me attitude and your spouse still loves you, Gunther suggests you “tell your spouse that you are aware of what you're doing and determined to change it.” Acknowledging a problem exists is the first step toward a resolution.
All-about-me marriages never have the intimacy and joy of a healthy relationship. People who need to control or demand the center stage end up with only a poor, second rate version of happiness. Letting go of control or relinquishing center stage may feel painful, but the rewards of a good relationship are worth it.