One common characteristic of marriages that are floundering is the seemingly unavoidable obsession to classify, characterize and otherwise categorize your spouse. This can come in the form of assigning a character trait or giving your spouse a mental health diagnosis. Does this sound familiar?
- I think they have ADD they can’t get anything done!
- My spouse definitely has OCD – they are obsessed with doing certain things only one way
- They are a narcissist – they always want it their own way!
Or sometimes we put on them a label because they did something once.
- You didn’t tell me the whole truth so you’re a liar
- You’re late … you’re always late
- You forgot … you never remember anything
It is easy for us to fall into this trap. One human characteristic that has proven to be extraordinarily successful is our ability to look at something and to analyze it – this ability helps us to understand the world around us and make sense of how to relate to it. But when it comes to relationships it doesn’t work very well.
The simple reason for this is when we put a label on our spouse we cease to see them as a person and start relating to them by that label. We begin to look at everything they do as a confirmation of our label and create a filter through which we only see our spouse by that particular character flaw.
Nobody likes labels! When we put them on people (especially our spouse) it keeps us from asking sincere questions and connecting on deeper levels. It also triggers a defense mechanism in our partner that causes them to withdraw, attack or even worse put a label on you. They start thinking like this …
- You’re always critical
- You never listen
- You’re putting me in a box
- You never forgive
So what can be done? Here are four suggestions:
- Resist the labeling: Step back and ask the question; “what is causing this behavior – what do they want or need that they are trying to get through acting like this?”
- Look at yourself: Am I doing anything that is creating this behavior? What part am I responsible for?
- Consider your standards: Have I set the bar of performance too high? We are all flawed human beings. Relationships need grace, mercy and a heavy dose of forgiveness to grow. If your standards are too high then you will become the relationship police in your home and that relationship is never satisfying.
- Talk openly and honestly with your spouse about what is bothering you. Ask them to help you understand why they are the way they are and really listen with your heart to their response. It could be that they are wounded in this area and really need your love and understanding to help them heal. Wouldn’t that be a beautiful thing if we became part of the healing process rather than deepening the wound?