My mother imparted her most valuable relationship wisdom in seven words.
When I was a little girl growing up in Brooklyn, I learned a lesson of great value from my mother. If someone said or did something unkind (a nasty person at the supermarket checkout counter, for example) my mother would say, “She must be a very unhappy person.”
She didn’t say this to make excuses; it was simply a calm observation that I translated into this advice: “Don’t take things quite so personally; unhappiness or insecurity can make people say stupid things. When other people act badly, it has to do with them, not with you.”
My mother’s words helped me to be less reactive, to pass on less intensity than I receive, to see people as more complex than their worst behaviors, to develop empathy, and be curious about why people do what they do.
It’s a perspective that serves me well in my work as a psychotherapist. Away from my consulting room, however, I do not always operate at this high level of maturity. It remains something to aim for.
My mother’s words are so important because we do tend to take things personally. We also misread people’s motives all the time (We think it’s snobbery or disinterest when it’s shyness).
In the absence of facts, we are left with our fantasies (“I’m boring,” or “He doesn’t think I’m important enough to say hello to me.”) We engage in mind-reading which, in contrast to intuition, humans have no talent for.
Remember this: Often the other person’s bad, insensitive, or hurtful behavior boils down to what my mother would say: “She must be a very unhappy person.“
Curated by Erbe
How to stop letting your doubts ruin your relationships.
I do this thing where I bring old relationships, fears, insecurities and past traumas into current relationships which I should absolutely not do – no one should. My boyfriend is nothing like guys I’ve dated in the past yet I still become fearful of the same things.
My current relationship is the healthiest relationship I’ve ever been in yet I find myself having worries that he will just decide to up and leave one day because I’m used to being left or having things not work out. I tend to be a lot, it’s no secret, I want constant attention and can be needy, and that scares me because I know that can easily be a turn-off. I fear that there are times when I am too much even when he assures that I am not. It’s a personal insecurity that no one has ever said to me but one I’ve built up in my mind.
I begin defining myself by the bad instead of the good. I look at the areas I lack instead of the areas that I thrive. I don’t see all the good I do for him, only the bad. It’s what sticks in my mind.
Seeing the bad is an insecurity of mine and there are times I let it consume me. I think this tends to be a common theme in life – to let the bad outweigh the good. We easily forget about the good and hang on to the bad things that happen.
You can easily forget that your partner loves you if they miss an important event in your life because you’re so focused on the sad emotion you’re feeling (which is valid).
It can also be easy to blame them and feel unloved when they fall short of uncommunicated expectations. We can hang on to these bad and negative emotions and bring them up long after the exact situation has been resolved because the negative feelings outlast the good.
The same goes for friendships. If your friends promised she’d go to dinner with you on Tuesday at 7 and texted you at 6 and said she wasn’t feeling it anymore you’d be disappointed. You’d harbor that disappointment and in the future, you will be wary of making plans with her and having her cancel.
We harbor the bad, in ourselves and in our relationships. We often see where others fall short and hang on to that because we tell ourselves that we wouldn’t do that.
There are some ways that I’ve found helpful to stop defining yourself and your relationships by the bad instead of the good.
- Start writing down the moments that make you happy. Maybe your boyfriend surprised you with flowers. Maybe your friend paid for your coffee. Maybe a stranger complimented you. Everything that made you feel good is something that you should write down and look back when you don’t feel loved and you’re feeling insecure. Those specific instances will remind you just how much love you have in your life.
- Don’t self-sabotage relationships. I was dating a guy once who lived in a different town than I did. I was going on a camping trip that he couldn’t come to because of work and stopped to see him on my way and planned to stop on my way back through his town. I was extremely hurt and disappointed because I texted him that Sunday morning and said I was excited to see him in a few hours. He replied back that he couldn’t hang out anymore because he got called into work. I was pissed, very sad and hurt that he didn’t text me to let me know he got called in before I texted him. I was being short with him, as you do when you’re petty, and my friend looked at me and told me not to self-sabotage this relationship because maybe he just got called in and forgot to text me. At the time I couldn’t see that all I could see was that he didn’t text me to let me know and I was upset I wouldn’t get to see him. Don’t let your emotions or doubts ruin things for you. Give people the benefit of the doubt.
- Don’t get in your own head. Like I said above, I feel needy and too much in relationships but no one has ever actually said that to me. It’s a way I’ve labeled myself. My boyfriend often asks me why I say those things and I reply that I’m not actually sure, it just feels that way. It could have been something he never noticed but now there’s a chance he could associate me that way. It’s a good habit to get in to break the negative thoughts associated with yourself. We tend to be our own worst critics.
- Express gratitude. It sounds so simple but it’s often forgotten. It can be easier to complain and start to take the people in our life for granted. Gratitude helps us recognize the good in people and appreciate their actions. If your partner cooked you dinner and that is something they rarely do let them know you’re thankful, even if it’s not good and you could have done it better. Don’t make them feel bad because you wouldn’t like if roles were reversed.
- Work on yourself and your happiness. Happiness starts with you. Of course, your emotions are often swayed by others but it has to start within. Find what works for you to find peace inside and practice self-love. For me, it was working with a life coach. It’s something I’ve done for over a year and throughout the year I’ve tremendously changed my mindset and become happier. I had to put in work and work on adjusting my mindset but it’s made worlds of difference.
- Realize you do deserve good things and love. I think part of the reason I still am fearful of my boyfriend leaving is that I’ve never felt good enough because nothing else has worked out for the past six years. I’ve felt like I must be unloveable so I had a difficult time accepting that he’s here because he loves me for me and wants to be here. You deserve good love, as do I. The biggest struggle is actually believing that but you should because it’s true.
- Accept that you can’t be everything for your partner and acknowledge why you shouldn’t try to be. I have a lot of friends who try to be everything for their partner – their golf partner, their hiking partner, their caretaker, their best friend, their personal chef, their accountant, and so on. You can’t be everything for your partner and you shouldn’t try to be. You should let them have their own outlets that don’t involve you. You have to realize this doesn’t mean they don’t love you or appreciate what you do for them but they also need other outlets. You should not be everything to them and they should not be everything to you. No one should be your everything, it’s not healthy.
- Learn to appreciate the stability and OK moments of life. Part of life is learning to be okay with moments that are boring. Things at the beginning of relationships are all butterflies and fun. When those things wear off and it becomes more real I think it’s important to focus on the long-lasting connection. Don’t think that just because those tingles are gone that they’re not your soulmate, it’s important to accept those boring moments are more so about being content with each other.
Check out this related article: How I Came to Peace With My Jealousy of Others’ Relationships