This is an article I originally contributed to Frame Therapy on the following “Ask a Therapist” question.
Dear Therapist: I’m happy in my relationship but I don’t love everything about him – he treats me really well, but he has fights with friends and never seems to want to be the bigger person (i.e. ignoring them at parties, texting them rude messages). I don’t know how much this bothers me, as I can usually see and agree with his anger, just not how he handles it.
Frame Therapist Erica Basso weighs in…
I’m hearing that you are overall happy in your relationship, although you are noticing a pattern of behavior from your partner that seems to raise some concern for you and you’re not sure the extent to which this bothers you. I’m wondering if you’re also seeing a difference in the level of emotional maturity between you and your partner and how that may bleed into parts of your relationship that directly affects your bond as a couple.
The length of your relationship may be helpful to consider here. I am curious how long you’ve been with your partner or how long you’ve known him for. Is this a new behavior or something that you have witnessed before? If this is a newer relationship, often couples have a period of being on their “best behavior” – treating their partner well, but after some time other parts of their personality that they have kept ‘hidden’ tend to come out. Could this possibly be what you are seeing now? In addition, could your partner be struggling with his mental health and that could explain his behavior towards his friends?
I’d encourage you to reflect on what happens internally when you see your partner responding to situations with friends in this manner. What thoughts or feelings arise for you? Do you experience any physical sensations in the body? Does he remind you of anyone from your past? It would be useful to consider how you as a couple generally hash out disagreements or fights together. Are the conversations effective, where both you and him are heard by each other? If there is no conflict, reflect on why that may be. While conflict is normal and can be a healthy part of relationship building, it’s all about how respectful it is done.
As referred to above, individuals in a couple relationship can have varying degrees of emotional maturity. How have you talked about this with your partner before? We can validate others’ feelings, but not the behaviors they exhibit. Is he able to express more vulnerable feelings in regards to fights with his friends? What do disagreements with his friends signify for him? This may open up dialogue to access more information on his emotional maturity levels and what is leading to his behaviors.
You mentioned he treats you well and you are happy, but you don’t love everything about him. It is normal not to love every part of our partners, yet still be in a healthy relationship. We’re all human and evolving at different rates, afterall. Emotional intelligence is definitely a skill that is learned. I’d encourage you to identify whether or not you both share the same values and what his behavior could possibly mean down the road if it never changed. Would it eventually change how you see him or respect him? These are important questions to identify just how much this is important to you. I hope that helps.