Does A Partner Need to See Us the Way We See Ourselves?

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Does A Partner Need to See Us the Way We See Ourselves?

Post by reboundstudent on Fri Apr 29, 2016 10:33 pm

This is one I've been pondering over a lot.

I have a lot of flaws, and I do try my best to learn about them, be honest about them, and deal with them. However, in my relationship, my partner frequently saddles me with a flaw that I... just don't see. Especially during fights, he's always accusing me of "needing to be right", and insisting I feel/think X, Y and Z when I neither feel/think any of those things, nor do I feel like I need to be right. However, if someone is arguing with me, I'd prefer they either let me have my opinion, or provide evidence to persuade me otherwise.

I know that a lot of people have a tendency to be "right", and I figure I'm one of them, so I try very hard to swerve in the other direction. I'm endlessly reading and trying to gather information so that I'm informed about opinions I have strongly; if I run across an opinion I disagree with, I try to find more evidence, because maybe I've misunderstood or been misinformed. This happens to me all the time at work; I'm constantly learning new things and re-learning things I know. My coworkers and boss have frequently said one of my biggest strengths is that I'm willing to hear where I'm wrong (heck, one of the reasons my boss hired me is because he was impressed by how he totally tore apart the code I'd worked on for a week, and I was okay with it.)

I mean, at restaurants, if a waiter gets my order wrong, even if I know I said the order correctly, I figure that maybe I forgot to mention it or I misspoke. If something got shipped to me incorrectly, or I got the wrong item, or someone doesn't answer my questions correctly, my knee-jerk reaction is to over-correct for my "I must be right" tendency and assume I've done something wrong.

So to hear so frequently from a partner, no matter the context of the fight, that I "have" to be right and that I'll crush or destroy him to do so is very.... disheartening. I've tried to lean more into my informational side ("I am not aware of that, could you send me to the place where you got that info?") but apparently that's wrong too, because then I'm sucking up time/forcing him to defend himself unfairly/somehow proving I'm right by.... tricking him?... into not having sources for his opinions.

I don't want to be right, but I do want to be informed, and I do have opinions. It actually really hurts that he has this view of me, when I try so hard in all other areas of my life to correct against it because I'm so terrified of the "Always needs to be right" label. It feels as if one of the core aspects of how I see myself is... a lie. Or like I'm fooling myself (the very worst thing for me; the idea that I'm lying or fooling myself feels like poison.)

Do you guys think our partners need to see us the way we see ourselves? Is it only important in some areas? Can your partner see you one way, and you see yourself a different way, and somehow that can be okay? Am I just being too sensitive?

CONTEXT BUT NOT NECESSARY
The latest fight was me wondering out loud why we decided our dogs were siblings instead of bf/gf. Partner said it's because they're our "kids", and it'd be gross for them to have feelings for each other, like if his nephew and niece (not blood related but growing up together) were into each other. I said it's not that uncommon, and could happen, and is a fairly common trope (step-siblings being kinda into each other in their teenage years.) He took that to mean I support incest, and am passing gross judgments on his family. I said I don't, just that it isn't "gross" if it happens, because teenagers and hormones and all that and kids figuring stuff out, and he got very angry that I was "trying to be right" and "didn't give a damn" about his family.

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Re: Does A Partner Need to See Us the Way We See Ourselves?

Post by Enail on Fri Apr 29, 2016 11:33 pm

No one ever sees you exactly as you see yourself, so I don't think it's realistic to expect that your partner will always see you the way you see yourself - but I also don't think their opinion on a trait invalidates that trait being a part of you. Outside opinions are kind of like mirrors, they let you see yourself from a different angle than you can see yourself from, but they are not more true than the parts of yourself you can see directly, or even than the other glimpses of yourself you've gathered from other peoples' opinions. Who a person is isn't black-and-white, clearly defined traits, there are different ways the same qualities are expressed in different situations and with different people, you are fuzzy edges and overlapping time-lapse images where the closest you can get to 'truth' is just the places where your form overlaps most frequently. You're still you even if someone disagrees.  (But it can still be really annoying or hurtful when someone you care about thinks something about you that you really think you're not, especially if you actively try not to be that way. I can totally see why that would bug you)

On the more pragmatic question, it sounds like maybe he just finds your conflict communication style more aggressive than he's comfortable with. I get the sense that he might just not be very comfortable with conflict and there might be no way of arguing that that he'd find okay that wasn't just peace-making or avoiding conflict altogether, and he maybe gets defensive and critical because of it? I find information-seeking is one of those things that can be either showing you're listening and trying to see their perspective or can feel like being questioned and disbelieved and asked to prove, depending on both how the asker acts and how the askee is feeling. If he's already on the defensive, he could be reading it as an attack regardless of how you intend it.

With this specific fight, it sounds kind of like he had a strong emotional response to the subject and like you were approaching it more as a lighthearted intellectual discussion, and he might have been upset that you were focusing on the topic rather than recognizing his feelings and giving those priority (I have no idea if it would have been reasonable to expect that you'd notice his emotional reaction or not in that situation).

(Also, I'd say your dogs are siblings rather than bf/gf because they're in the same household because their "parents" are in the same household rather than because they've chosen to live together, let alone be in a romantic relationship together Razz)
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Re: Does A Partner Need to See Us the Way We See Ourselves?

Post by reboot on Sat Apr 30, 2016 9:12 am

It kind of sounds like you stuck your finger right in a sore spot for him on the incestual relationships between nonblood siblings. Fair enough, occasionally you uncover topics that cannot be treated in a light hearted manner and one where the conversational partner is not going to be giving two shits how many literary tropes there are that show something they think is wrong is OK. One thing to pay attention to is if he seems to be getting upset on what you find to be a trivial matter, it might be time to turn the conversation in a different direction. You were just having fun debating, but he was feeling that the topic was not fun or debatable.

On the bf/gf vs siblings for pets: Siblings. You are their adoptive parents and they did not choose to be with each other. It would be the same if you adopted 2 babies. Adopted children are siblings, not bf/gf
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Re: Does A Partner Need to See Us the Way We See Ourselves?

Post by Werel on Sat Apr 30, 2016 5:21 pm

Hm... I don't know about the bigger question of whether our partners need to see us the same way as we do, but I will opine on the question of "do our partners need to at least not shove us into the very boxes we diligently work our whole lives to escape" (yes. Ideally, they need to at least not do that.)

I mean, there is certainly a big difference between not being willing to hear about your flaws at all, and not wanting to be permanently chained to some descriptor you are actively working to avoid. It doesn't sound like you cannot hear about your flaws. It sounds like you are totally open to hearing about when you're doing the "must be right" thing, and you have worked hard and successfully at managing it. If the feedback from everybody else in your life is that you keep that quality pretty well under wraps, I can see why it would be really hurtful and reaaaallly annoying if your partner insists that it's not under wraps at all.

I also agree that it sounds like the incestuous-stepsiblings thing is a sore spot for him (or maybe anything around his family at all is eggshell-y?), and agree that gauging whether it's a fun hypothetical point or a sore spot is a good thing to put effort into. If he's just not good with conflict at all, he might have a hard time signalling "okay this is not fun anymore" before he gets to blowup point, so identifying his early "this is starting to not be fun" cues could be handy.

Buuut... I think he should be aware that "needing to be right" is a sore spot for you, and one which you work really hard to improve on. It would be good partnership of him to understand what it does to you when he plays that card, and how it makes you feel to see yourself reflected in his eyes that way. It's not a problem when partners see you differently than you see yourself, but if they see you in some way that feels worse than how you see yourself, or hold opinions of you that feel uncharitable, that can sometimes produce a lot of simmering bad feelings. Would you feel comfortable letting him know that you feel like a funhouse mirror is being held up "frequently," and it makes it feel like all the work you do to improve is for naught? (Assuming I read right that it makes you feel that way?)

(Totally siblings, btw, by adopted-child logic. Razz But dogs, uh, will breed with their siblings if left alone, sooooo if you're going by dog logic, they could be either? Shrug)
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Re: Does A Partner Need to See Us the Way We See Ourselves?

Post by reboundstudent on Mon May 02, 2016 9:57 pm

Noticing when the debate has turned into something sensitive is a good suggestion, but I admit, I've REALLY struggled with that; the difficulty I'm running into is that his sense of humor means I often don't know I've just wadded into a landmine field until it's too late.

His sense of humor is vaguely... devil's advocate. He really loves saying outlandish, obnoxious things that he thinks are an obvious joke with an absolutely straight face, and will sometimes continue on in that same vein of thought. He can frequently switch from his own actual thought to these "obvious" obnoxious thoughts without breaking stride. For example:

Me: I wonder if we'll become a country like Canada, where both French and English are accepted as native languages, or India, where English is the language of business/education but there are lots of individual dialects.
Him: Well, English should be the official language; it's what the Bible is written in.
Me: What? The... the Bible wasn't in English originally.
Him: It absolutely was. I've read several hotel Bibles; all in English.
Me: Those are translated copies...
Him: Can't be, the Bible is the word of God, so it can't be translated.
Me: AAARRGGGH

However, I have a really hard time recognizing the thing he's saying as "obviously" obnoxious. Usually I assume it is (and am usually annoyed because, well, that isn't my particular brand of humor and I'm usually having a genuine conversation on my side), but there have been times where I've been like "Oh ha, ha, what a stupid idea", and SURPRISE, turns out that was his actual belief that I just called stupid.

I asked if he could say right beforehand that he's joking/being obnoxious on purpose, but he says it "ruins" the joke and takes away the entertainment value; the uneasy compromise right now is that he'll say "I'm kidding!" right after, but I'm still really afraid I'll accidentally wander into sensitive territory accidentally.

Adding to all of this is that growing up in his family meant that to have an opinion, any opinion, you had to "prove" yourself... which usually means shouting down everyone else. His family encouraged intellectual debating, but in a very combative, aggressive, and competitive way. It's actually kind of interesting to observe as an outsider-it's like, even when all of them (3 sons, dad, mom) pretty much agree on a topic, somehow everybody is still talking really loudly and over each other.*

So when my partner and I are debating, sometimes he starts getting very passionate and shout-y, but isn't actually upset... until he is. The difference between "healthy debate" and "YOU ARE FULL OF SHIT" is hair-trigger thin, and yet, he loves intellectual discussion and debating (as do I), so... :/

I think sometimes I struggle with... how to put this? Following someone's example when I shouldn't. Werel, you're absolutely right that his family can be a VERY eggshell topic; but what's confusing is that it's not always. Sometimes it's mined as a source of humor between us until suddenly, it isn't. It's kind of the same theme as the "obvious obnoxious"; that I shouldn't frequently (ever?) take him at his word. That even when he's joking about his family, or our dogs, just because he's making obnoxious comments about it doesn't mean I can treat the subject matter lightly. (Further illustration: In my younger years, I was totally one of those who labeled myself a "fag hag" or gay guys "fags", because well, gay guys said it, so I could say it, right?... Headsmack )

So, how do you... figure out that hair-trigger? What are some ways you guys have found to tell when it suddenly shifts between "Ha I'm totally joking about being upset" to "I am actually upset"? I am probably just really dense, but I admit I struggle a lot with social dynamics and body language anyway, and I'm not quite sure how to suss it out.

As far as my sore spot.... yeah, he's well aware. We've been in therapy for about a year now, and for a few months I've been really focusing on the fact that during fights, he frequently labels me things that are, well, not fully complimentary; selfish, demanding, cruel, "always need to be right", dismissive of his feelings to the point of callousness. The word "abusive" hasn't exactly popped up, but it sure feels like a "you quack like one and look like one..."

But that's only when he's angry. When he's calm, he says I'm fine. But he also only brings up things that are bothering him/annoy him when I've already opened a conversation/fight about my feelings. Getting him to "start" a fight is like pulling teeth, even when something is clearly bothering him. So, I just don't know if his negative labels are what he always thinks of me (and just won't say when he's not upset), or just the result of angry haze brain.

It has really gotten to me, though. Again, I know I have flaws.... but I never knew I had that many flaws, and in such intensity, especially when I frequently, legitimately can't understand where the conclusion comes from. Like it'd be one thing if it was a flaw I could fix. But these are flaws I can't make myself aware of, no matter how many times I try to examine them.

It's made me start to seriously question if maybe I just have a personality that isn't suited to intimate romantic relationships. I mean, those aren't "little" flaws, or annoying quirks. Those are "You are an awful person to someone you love." Like, if I can be apparently so cruel without even realizing it, am I really safe to be around? I've started leaning towards acknowledging that maybe I'm just not capable of handling this stuff.


(Regarding dog-siblings: I actually kinda... don't dig the adopted kid logic. Long story short, but I have eggshell soft spots around my partner "co-opting" my dog while taking on none of the financial or time-intensity burdens. And, I mean... the dogs hump one another. It just feels weird to me to call humping dogs "siblings" Razz )



*My family is like the literal opposite. All four of us have pretty different opinions on a lot of topics, so during "debates" we tend to focus on what points of view we have in common. Plus/minus to both styles; his family treats debating much more like sport, and doesn't seem to take comments too personally. They can shout at each other at the dinner table and then be like "Hey, try this beer, it's awesome." My family, when we actually have exchanged differences of opinion, can really wound and get ugly fast.
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Re: Does A Partner Need to See Us the Way We See Ourselves?

Post by Werel on Mon May 02, 2016 11:13 pm

Oh man, that Bible thing is just hilarious to me, but hearing your side of it also made me feel bad for the people around me who are like you, and do not get when I am kidding about whatever awful thing I'm saying with a straight face. Because teasing the boundary between lies and truth for humor's sake is like the number one most fun way to kill time, but must be infuriating for people who are not good at reading it. So, uh, on behalf of all the recreational deadpanners out there, sorry you have to put up with us. Razz

HOWEVER:
reboundstudent wrote:I think sometimes I struggle with... how to put this? Following someone's example when I shouldn't. Werel, you're absolutely right that his family can be a VERY eggshell topic; but what's confusing is that it's not always. Sometimes it's mined as a source of humor between us until suddenly, it isn't. It's kind of the same theme as the "obvious obnoxious"; that I shouldn't frequently (ever?) take him at his word. That even when he's joking about his family, or our dogs, just because he's making obnoxious comments about it doesn't mean I can treat the subject matter lightly.
Fairness in what's off-limits for jokes is important. It sounds like he is making unilateral decisions about what's Not Cool, constantly moving the goalposts, and not informing you that the goalposts exist or where they are. If he wants to make jokes about his own family but requests that you not do so, that's fine. If he tells you that certain aspects of his family life are things he doesn't want you to joke about, that's fine. But if it is SOMETIMES okay for you to joke about his family, and SOMETIMES it is not, and you can't discern the difference no matter how hard you try? It's on him to give you an assist, and let you know the parameters for what's okay. Maybe that's something he could do some introspection on, and develop some basic guidelines to help you avoid surprise landmines?

(Also, you have equal veto rights when things are not funny. I don't know if I'm reading this wrong, but if he is always the one playing the Not Cool card, while you react to jokes you find "obnoxious" with beleaguered silence, maybe you'd feel a little better if you occasionally said "that's a dumb shitty thing to joke about" when you felt that way?)

reboundstudent wrote:So, how do you... figure out that hair-trigger? What are some ways you guys have found to tell when it suddenly shifts between "Ha I'm totally joking about being upset" to "I am actually upset"? I am probably just really dense, but I admit I struggle a lot with social dynamics and body language anyway, and I'm not quite sure how to suss it out.
Unfortunately, the main way I do it is "watch face and body language." I can tell by my partner's face, breathing, etc. when a conversation has gone from Fun Jokes to Not Fun Not Jokes, but if you struggle with that... hm. The simplest solution seems like him just telling you, or developing a signal. If he's unwilling* to overtly say "okay we are nearing the Gettin' Mad threshold," could he come up with some nonverbal cue, like a hand gesture, or...?  

*It's conceivable, given your description of his family, that he'd be really resistant to even admitting that a conversation is getting under his skin, because that means he's "lost." A nonverbal cue might alleviate that feeling a little. Family dynamics as internet U MAD culture... what a thing to grow up with Uh-oh

reboundstudent wrote:It's made me start to seriously question if maybe I just have a personality that isn't suited to intimate romantic relationships. I mean, those aren't "little" flaws, or annoying quirks. Those are "You are an awful person to someone you love." Like, if I can be apparently so cruel without even realizing it, am I really safe to be around? I've started leaning towards acknowledging that maybe I'm just not capable of handling this stuff.

I don't know if you watch Girls, but regardless, let me throw you a little superb wisdom from the series' true moral center, Adam: "When you love someone, you don't have to be nice all the time." This I believe. We can be really awful to the people we love most, because we know their buttons intimately well, and they know ours. I have behaved unspeakably awfully towards people I love very much, and never been anywhere NEAR that awful to people I don't care about, because the latter group doesn't stir up my emotions or push my buttons. But that's okay, because when you love somebody, you forgive them for falling prey to their bad feelings once in a while (once in a while!) instead of just being "nice" all the time. So... I don't think it's a problem unique to you. I think that's just how most people work. It doesn't make you unsuited to romantic relationships, or an unsafe person to be around (unless someone is seriously so fragile that they cannot handle somebody being abrasive to them once in a while, but don't date intensely fragile people anyway).
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Re: Does A Partner Need to See Us the Way We See Ourselves?

Post by Enail on Mon May 02, 2016 11:18 pm

Ough, the hidden hair triggers thing is tough. I don't have any advice, but much sympathy to you, that sounds really stressful.

About his way of labeling you in anger, I'm a bit reluctant to focus on your reaction over his action because to to be honest, it comes across as fighting pretty dirty to me, but that's where I seem to have a thought and maybe it would be useful to you, so...

I think you're approaching it in a really absolute way, where people just aren't always that absolute. I think most people actually have some pretty awful bad qualities - but in small degrees. A person can be prone to being a little selfish or demanding or even a little cruel, really terrible traits, and if it's not how they are most of the time and it's not that intense even at their worst when that does come out, they aren't necessarily overall a selfish or demanding or cruel person. I don't think it's the case that nice, non-abusive people have "nicer" flaws, they just have them/act on them in smaller degrees. For example, I don't think I'm an uncaring or callous person, and I'm pretty confident that if my wife were to describe me she'd say I'm kind and caring to her, but in fights, she's called me uncaring before, because the way I was acting felt uncaring to her.

As you note, people focus on those bad traits when they're in an angry haze, and it might be true, but they're blowing up one piece of the picture out of proportion and you can't really tell how prominent it really is based only on their evaluation when angry. Everyone is dismissive or cruel or manipulative or selfish or whatever terrible thing sometimes and to some degree, and except at the extreme far end there isn't a clear and objective line between 'ordinary flawed person' and 'terrible person.' I think you're looking for a hard-and-fast guideline, and I don't think there is one (again, unless it's getting into the really bad end of the scale)

And someone can be a bad person to be in a relationship with a particular person without being a bad person to be in a relationship with for anyone. Some people are, of course, outright terrible people, and some more people might not be terrible people on some grand scale but are terrible for anyone to be in a relationship with, but I think many people can be better or worse partners to different people.
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Re: Does A Partner Need to See Us the Way We See Ourselves?

Post by reboot on Mon May 02, 2016 11:27 pm

Maybe dogs are siblings, pharonic style? Grin

And that is pretty much all I have to contribute other than to say that the whole situation sounds tough
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Re: Does A Partner Need to See Us the Way We See Ourselves?

Post by Thanos6 on Tue May 10, 2016 7:53 am

I have sort of the opposite problem with my girlfriend. She combats depression, has very low self-esteem--growing up in an abusive household will do that to you--and tends to always think the worst of herself.

Like, right now I make more money than she does, so sometimes I help her out with her bills. She worries that this means she's a "mooch," no matter how much I reassure her that no, she's not. She thinks she's unlovable and that the world would be better off without her, even though we're in a poly relationship with two other guys, meaning there's at least three people who love her romantically, plus all of her platonic friends (some of whom I suspect harbor their own crushes on her).

It's really hard to get her to accept even the slightest compliment or praise.
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Re: Does A Partner Need to See Us the Way We See Ourselves?

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