When Jaylene let herself in after a long day at work, she was surprised to see her boyfriend eating dinner without her.
“Couldn’t you wait for me?” she asked, putting down her purse and coming up behind him. She wrapped her arms around his shoulders and gave him a hug.
He kept eating like she wasn’t even there.
“You okay?” she asked.
He shrugged. He wouldn’t turn to look at her.
Jaylene pulled out the chair next to him and sat down. “What’s up?”
“You always do this,” he said. “You act like it’s my fault when it’s really yours. You’re the one who never bothers to come home. You expect me to wait for you, like I have nothing better to do. Well, I’m done with it. You do what you want; I’ll do what I want. And right now I’m having dinner, so stop crowding me.”
And he wouldn’t talk to her for the rest of the night.
Spot the Signs
When Jaylene came to me, she was fairly certain she knew what was wrong.
They shouldn’t have moved in together. That’s when everything went downhill.
Their schedules didn’t mesh. What he expected wasn’t what she expected. He got irritated so easily these days.
Surely a bit of communication would sort this all out?
I asked Jaylene what she knew about her boyfriend’s previous relationships.
She said that his ex-girlfriend had been horrible. He was still angry about what she had done to him. That’s why he’d been so happy to meet Jaylene: she was nothing like his ex, and she treated him really well.
I wanted to see Jaylene happy.
Not just in the short-term, but in the long-term.
She deserved a happily-ever-after with someone who adored her and wanted to be together forever.
But to do that, she needed the tools to determine whether she was with the right person.
And there was one trait I wanted her to put at the top of her list.
Why Do People Act That Way?
Think of a time when you made plans to meet with someone and they showed up late.
Not just a little late, either, but REALLY late.
As you sit there waiting, checking your watch, feeling embarrassed as the waiter keeps coming by and asking if you’re ready to order, what thoughts cross your mind?
- This person doesn’t care about me enough to bother showing up on time.
- This person is a complete flake.
- Did they think we were meeting up at a different time?
- Something must have happened to make them late.
Your answer matters more than you realize.
It turns out that the way we normally explain other people’s behavior to ourselves says a LOT about how we function in relationships.
We’re always guessing the reasons people do what they do.
Why did this person show up late? Why did our partner not wait for us? Why did they say what they said?
In a healthy relationship, you’re generous with your explanations. Your friend showed up late because there was miscommunication, or they were stuck in traffic.
In a troubled relationship, you assume this person behaved that way because they’re a bad person, they don’t care how you feel, or they meant to make things difficult for you.
Those assumptions create friction.
When we blame our partner’s behavior on who they are as a person, our relationship becomes rockier, conflicts get magnified, and we’re not as happy together.
This is known as negative partner attributions.
People Who Blame May Not Change
Sometimes, it’s true that your partner has negative qualities that make your life difficult. He may not care about how you feel.
It’s a good idea to weigh his positive qualities against his negative qualities and decide whether the relationship is indeed the right fit.
But in general, someone who cares about you is doing the best they can. They’re trying. They don’t always get it right. Circumstances and moods can get in the way.
In good relationships, that’s your starting point. You assume there’s a good explanation, and you don’t jump to conclusions.
Jaylene’s boyfriend had a pattern of blaming other people for his actions, saying they treated him badly. He regularly jumped to conclusions about Jaylene’s motives. He judged her before she could open her mouth to explain.
It’s possible that Jaylene could help her boyfriend see how negative partner attributions were damaging their relationship.
But it’s also possible that he was never going to change, and he would continue this pattern in each and every relationship, no matter how wonderful of a woman he found.
Jaylene deserved a relationship where she wasn’t always on the defense.
She deserved a relationship where her partner assumed she was doing the best she could.
That’s the kind of relationship you deserve, too. One where the good in you is always first on his mind.