- Ragging on your partner for your unhappiness is not a healthy or productive behavior in a relationship.
- To really be happy in your relationship you need to turn to yourself—not your partner.
- Happier couples have better, more realistic, and healthier ways of thinking about each other.
Blaming your partner for your unhappiness puts you on the Gaslighter Expressway, especially when the reality is that you are unhappy with yourself. The popular saying, "You have to love yourself before you can love anyone else" rings so true.
While it may feel tempting to do so, ragging on your partner for your unhappiness is not a healthy or productive behavior in a relationship. It is important to take responsibility for your own emotions and work together as a team to address any issues that may arise. Here are a few representative soundbites from my counseling practice that illustrate unfairly blaming a partner for personal unhappiness:
Cathy: I'm always miserable because of you! You never support me or make me happy. David: But I can't be responsible for your happiness all the time. You need to find your joy too.
Kim: If you were more attentive and caring, I wouldn't be so unhappy all the time. Susan: I try my best, but I can't be solely responsible for your happiness. We both need to work on our relationship.
Kevin: You never listen to me or understand my needs. It's your fault that I'm always feeling down. Shantell: I want to understand you, but you need to communicate your feelings more clearly. Blaming me won't solve our problems.
Your Happiness Is Best Found in the Mirror
That's right: To really be happy in your relationship, you need to turn to yourself—not your partner. I know this is hard because we all have been conditioned to think that another person is supposed to make us happy. So many of us have been duped into thinking that if he just changed this one thing, or if she could just get a grip about (fill in the blank), then we would finally be happy.
So What Is the Secret to Being Happy in Your Relationship?
Here's what you can learn from those happy, satisfied couples—the ones who beat the odds and don't split up or simply stick it out for the sake of the kids. They do tend to have a strong commitment to each other and communicate effectively. They are able to fight fairly and resolve conflicts. And they know how to be romantic.
Here's their secret, above and beyond anything else: They have a better, more realistic, and healthier way of thinking about each other.
As I describe in my book, Why Can't You Read My Mind? it is this way of thinking that enables couples to improve communication, solve problems, and enhance romance. The true foundation for a happy relationship, this elusive secret can only be found in one place: your own mind.
The couples I've worked with over the past 32 years who have made it together are those who have been able to recognize and address the pervasive, yet little-known, relationship problem I call toxic thinking. Toxic thoughts—"You are totally selfish!" "Everything always has to be about you!"—erode our empathy and destroy our love. Couples who can avoid or overcome toxic thoughts are more satisfied. They remain, against the odds, a unified force. They are the ones who make me think, with great conviction, "If anyone has a chance at lasting happiness, they do."
How To Overcome Those Toxic Thoughts About Your Partner
Overcoming toxic thoughts about your partner can be a challenging process, but with effort and self-reflection, it is possible to improve your mindset and the overall health of your relationship. Here are some steps you can take:
1. Recognize and acknowledge your toxic thoughts: The first step is to become aware of the toxic thoughts you have about your partner. Is it true that he only thinks about himself 24/7? Identify the patterns, triggers, and specific thoughts that contribute to your negativity. Understanding and acknowledging these thoughts is crucial for addressing them effectively.
2. Reflect on your own emotions and triggers: Take some time to reflect on your own emotions and triggers that may be causing these toxic thoughts. It's important to recognize that our reactions often stem from our insecurities, past experiences, or unresolved issues. Explore your feelings and seek to understand the underlying reasons behind your negative thoughts.
3. Communicate openly and honestly: Effective communication is vital for any healthy relationship. Share your concerns and feelings with your partner calmly and respectfully. Expressing your thoughts and emotions can help both of you gain a deeper understanding of each other's perspectives and find ways to work through the issues together.
4. Challenge negative thoughts: Once you've identified toxic thoughts, challenge their validity. Question the evidence and assumptions that support these thoughts. Are those negative thoughts based on facts or personal insecurities? Replace negative thoughts with more positive and realistic ones. For example, even though he gets self-absorbed at times, doesn't it feel good to remember how loyal he is and how he shows up in stressful times? This process takes time and practice, but it can help you reframe your mindset.
5. Practice self-care and self-love: Taking care of your well-being is essential when dealing with toxic thoughts. Engage in activities that bring you joy, practice self-compassion, and prioritize self-care. Cultivating a positive relationship with yourself can improve your overall mindset and, in turn, your relationship with your partner.
6. Seek professional help if needed: If toxic thoughts persist despite your efforts, consider seeking help from a therapist or counselor. They can provide guidance, support, and additional strategies to address these thoughts and improve your relationship dynamics.
Remember, overcoming toxic thoughts takes time and effort from both partners. Open communication, empathy, and a willingness to grow together are crucial for building a healthier and happier relationship.
A Cautionary Note
You did not get into your relationship to be treated poorly, ignored, or abandoned. Being abused or denigrated, subjected to reckless spending, deprived of a sex life, or forced to put up with problematic, immature behavior is not what I'm asking of you. If this is occurring in your relationship, your partner needs to make major changes. Individual and couples counseling may be needed. If your partner will not cooperate with counseling, you need to face the fact that they will probably never change, and then decide to try living with him or her the best you can, or move on to a new and hopefully more satisfying relationship. I am all for trying to save relationships, but in the face of repeated hurts and insensitivity, it may be best to move on.
Remember, blaming your partner for your unhappiness is not a healthy way to work through your own issues or challenges in your relationship. It's essential to be aware of your negative thoughts and challenge them, communicate openly, express your needs, and work together to find solutions that benefit your relationship.
To find a therapist near you, visit the Psychology Today Therapy Directory.
© Jeffrey Bernstein, Ph.D. (All rights reserved)
Bernstein, J. (2003). Why Can't You Read My Mind? Overcoming the 9 Toxic Thought Patterns that Get in the Way of a Loving Relationship, Hatchette Go, Publications, New York, NY.
Cahill, V. A., Malouff, J. M., Little, C. W., & Schutte, N. S. (2020). Trait perspective taking and romantic relationship satisfaction: A meta-analysis. Journal of Family Psychology, 34(8), 1025–1035. https://doi.org/10.1037/fam0000661
Graham, Callie (2022). Demystifying Toxic Romantic Relationships: Identifying Behaviors and Post-breakup Outcomes Arizona State University ProQuest Dissertations Publishing, 2022. 29069416.