It sounds easy. Only a few words. “Don’t take it personally.” However, it can feel nearly impossible not to get offended by some of your partner’s thoughts, emotions, and behaviors!
Why Do We Take Things So Personally?
You aren’t crazy or too sensitive. You are human if you care about what those around you think. In intimate relationships, where your partner often feels like an extension of yourself, their every decision, sigh, word, or facial expression can seem deeply personal. Recognizing when we take things personally is crucial, as it sheds light on our triggers and how we affect each other. However, consistently interpreting our partner’s behavior as a personal attack or a reflection on us can become problematic in long-term romantic relationships because we have so many interactions to navigate. The ability to separate your thoughts, emotions, and behaviors from your partners is vital and allows for a healthy space to discuss differences and manage difficult situations effectively.
Here are five strategies to help you that can help you take things less personally in your relationship:
- Give the benefit of the doubt.
One option you have is to ignore the big sigh your partner just made. Not every movement your partner makes must mean something to you. Extending the benefit of the doubt is easier when you are not in a conflict, yet you still have the power to decide what to perceive as a personal attack. You can continue doing whatever you are doing. That takes less energy than hooking onto whatever your partner did or said that seemed like an offensive strike.
- Ask a clarifying question.
Sometimes, moving forward and ignoring your partner’s scoff is impossible. So, you should verify what your partner meant by it. Rather than immediately jumping down their throat, it might be helpful to ask, “Hey cutie, what did you mean when you said?” or “That was a big deep breath. Is there anything you hope I take from that?” Put the ball in their court rather than leaping full throttle into an assumption that ends up riling you up and starting an unnecessary argument.
- Check in with compassion.
Taking a clarifying question further, you can check with your partner to see if they are doing alright. They could say something snappy, and instead of automatically deciding that they are out to get you, it can help to see if they are having a tough time. That might sound like, “You sound a bit annoyed with me. Is it me, or was there something about your day that felt tough that you’d like to talk about?” You sought clarification in just a straightforward sentence and inclusively engaged your partner.
- Manage your own internal experience.
Another option is to deal with the moment through self-soothing, self-validation, and perspective-taking. You may seek a more compassionate view. You might know your partner has been dealing with a challenging work project, which can help you extend some grace. Sometimes, you might not be able to let go of the belief that it was an intentional dig from your partner. In such instances, it’s essential to recognize and address your frustration. Try saying, “I found what my partner said hurtful, yet I don’t believe it’s significant enough to discuss further or seek additional reassurance.” Learning to value and comfort yourself when hurt is crucial for nurturing relationships.
- Let them know that they impacted you.
Understandably, you will experience moments when it does feel important to let your partner know they’ve hurt you or that you feel misunderstood. However, it isn’t helpful to go into either defense mode or launch a counter-attack that will likely put them on the defensive. Instead, it can help to address the issue promptly (not five weeks later) by expressing how their actions affected you. Think of those “I-statements” that take the format of “I felt X (specific emotion) when you did Y (specific action) in Z situation (specific context).” Your partner may not respond ideally, but you increase your chances of being heard if you share that way rather than hurling back, “What the hell was that look for?!?”
These strategies won’t immediately erase your natural tendency to take things personally. However, they can help slow your reactions, promoting greater understanding and effectiveness as a partner. We often perceive events as centered around us due to our immersion in personal experiences. However, recognizing that our partners have their own unique lives, influenced by many factors not related to us, can significantly improve our relationships.