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How to Ruin a Perfectly Good Relationship Using Self-Justification

I yam what I yam.
Popeye the Sailor Man

Your relationship started out great. You were crazy in love, wanting to spend as much time together as possible. Your partner was perfect, couldn’t do anything wrong, made you feel terrific! And now? They drive you crazy! At some point, the reality of your partner set in. You noticed some things that didn’t sit well with you and you mentioned them to your partner. All you got back were justifications for why they were right and (even worse) why you were wrong. Now, they don’t listen anymore. They don’t care what you think. How did you get here? What happened? Can we please go back to the way we were (you say)? Let’s look at what happened and whether your relationship can return to it’s former glory.

In the beginning, if you can even remember way back then, various hormonal activity in your brain (the subject of a future article) caused you to have only one thought about your partner:

I love you!”

Then, over time there was a shift in brain chemistry that allowed some of the realities of your partner’s behaviors, feelings, and looks to leak into your attention. Depending on your perspective on these leakages, you formed additional thoughts about your partner, such as:

“I don’t like that.”

“I really don’t like that!”

“I hate that!”

“That drives me crazy!”

You drive me crazy!”

Now you have two opposing viewpoints in your mind, the “love you” viewpoint and the “don’t like” viewpoint. These viewpoints don’t play well together, causing lots of discomfort. So, you want to get relief. To do this, you have to resolve this situation. Let me suggest some options.

One option involves essentially getting rid of the “love you” viewpoint and thinking “I don’t love you anymore.” Ah, the sweet relief of thinking two thoughts that do play well together so you have only one viewpoint: “don’t like.” Furthermore, it’s not you that’s the problem! After all, you also hold the thought “I’m perfectly fine.” Any thought that you might be contributing to the problem (for example, needing something to be exactly the way you want it to be) would create another set of opposing viewpoints: “I’m fine” vs. “I’m not perfect.” So, “You’re crazy. I’m fine. I’m not in love with you anymore” works great to relieve or avoid all that nasty discomfort.

But wait! Now what? Do you dump the relationship? Maybe you don’t want to do that. Isn’t there another option that will help you save the relationship? Well, let’s see. You could try mentioning something to your partner about what you don’t like about them in hopes that they’ll change. Wouldn’t that be ideal? Wow! Then you could return to only having the “love you” viewpoint. If your partner is willing to listen to your concern and address it somehow, you’ve got it made. And, you’re very lucky. This one’s a keeper! Our work here is done.

Well, it’s done until the next bit of your partner’s reality leaks out. But then you can just use this option again. And again. And again. Until you bump up against your partner’s version of the thought “I’m fine” and they start justifying themselves. This is also called “being defensive.” After all, now they have two opposing viewpoints: “I’m fine” vs. “You say I’m not fine.” They feel a similar discomfort as you felt and want to find relief, just as you did.

It’s possible this will happen the very first time you do the mentioning thing described above. In any case, your luck just ran out. You’ll most likely start to hear something like this:

“You’re being too sensitive.”

“You’re wrong and I’m right.”

“I have changed! You just don’t see it.”

“There’s always something with you. It’s never enough.”

And then there’s the ever-popular: “That’s just the way I am,” known as the “Popeye defense.” Popeye was a cartoon character back in the day. His favorite line was, “I yam what I yam.” At this, his girlfriend, Olive Oyl, would roll her eyes. You may also find yourself doing the same.

Since all of your partner’s statements stand in opposition with your thought “I’m fine,” you’ll probably find yourself back in the discomfort zone, wanting relief. You may feel the impulse to fire back something justifying how you’re fine and they are the not-fine one. Any guesses as to what will happen then? Yes, exactly! You and your partner will enter a cycle of self-justifications that just goes round and round and goes nowhere good.

In fact, things could escalate such that all you or your partner ever seem to see or hear confirms your or their thoughts and statements. These might include:

“You always/never do that!”

“There you go again! You’re just like your mother/father!”

“See the good thing I did? See the bad thing you did?”

“Do you remember what you did 25 years ago?”

If any of this sounds familiar to you, it’s time to take some drastic action. First, try your best not to get on the self-justification merry-go-round. It only takes one of you to stay off. Next, try to address this situation with your partner, perhaps asking them to read this article. Making them aware of what’s going on may help them adjust their thoughts and style of behavior so that both of you can find relief from opposing viewpoints. Be sure to acknowledge your own contributions to the situation. That may open up the lines of communication.

If that goes nowhere or you get a particularly disrespectful response, it might be time to get some advice from “a professional.” You may want to talk to a knowledgeable therapist individually at first so they can advise whether you can address this on your own, whether couples counseling is a good idea or not, or whether other methods might be warranted. In all cases, I wish you the best!

Copyright 2018 Daniel J. Metevier

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