It’s bad enough when our partners give us grief and guilt trips for the things we do or fail or to do. But what about when we do it to ourselves?
While discussing relationship dynamics with a male associate, “James,” we veered into territory where he judged himself as “wrong” in his dealings with his current lady. He noted that for the most part, she calls him. While he wants to talk to her, and usually accepts her calls and carries out extended conversations, he rarely initiates the phone interaction. “I average approximately 3,000 minutes a month on my cell phone for work,” he explained. “At the end of my day, I don’t have a great deal of motivation to make more calls.” And though his mate has not complained about the situation or asked him to change, he seemed to believe that he was being unfair to her.
“So, why is this wrong?” I asked. “You’re just being yourself.” After all, many people don’t enjoy talking on the phone, and if this is something James already spends much of his time doing, it’s completely understandable that he wouldn’t choose to call anyone he didn’t have to call – even someone he enjoys talking to. Generally speaking, initiating fewer phone calls to one’s partner is not unhealthy or problematic in a relationship, particularly when one’s partner does not have a problem with it. But James insisted that his behavior was selfish and something he should change.
There is a fine line between self-imposed guilt and a desire to better ourselves, whatever that “better self” looks like to each individual. Having the willingness and ability to improve our behavior or tendencies is certainly admirable and often healthy. But we can do so without judging our current self or behavior as “wrong” or “unfair.” These judgments cause undue stress and negativity – and can even hurt the relationships we’re trying to improve.
In any relationship, we have the opportunity to be heavy and guilt-laden or light and joyous. And it is certainly each individual’s choice where to fall within that spectrum. However, the way we choose to see ourselves is reflective of how we see others. While it may appear that James is simply judging himself harshly (and, in my opinion, he is), if there were aspects of his mate’s behavior that he judged “wrong” or “unfair,” he would probably be just as hard on her. In fact, if his mate was aware that he was beating himself up about something she didn’t consider a big deal, she might have said to herself, “Wow, if he does that to himself, he will deal with me the same way.”
We all judge ourselves and others. What is uncommon is the ability to digest the self-conversation, and change it (if you believe it to be harsh). If you wish to make a change in your life or in your relationship, consider making it because you think it’s better or more effective for you, or because you will be happier. That’s all it takes. No guilt or self-beatings necessary.