So you’ve probably heard people say “stay in your lane” or “worry about yourself” when it comes to relationships. And if you’re anything like me (and most people) we reallllly love focusing on our partner instead. Ever wonder why that is? Let’s talk about it.
Now before we can talk about how to stop this behavior, we have to first understand it.
Let me paint a quick scenario for you
You get into an argument with your partner because he won’t take out the trash (or insert whatever behavior you want to see changed) and while you’re going back and forth you tack on 20 more behaviors you want him to change. And you can’t help it. Even after words have been exchanged you are still focusing on all of the areas that he should improve in and omg why doesn’t he get it?
This is a consistent back and forth between the two of you and it feels like you’re never resolving the issue. And you’re thinking about it all.the.time. So much so that you’ve got lists and ideas aplenty as to how he can modify his behavior and get a gold star from you.
So here’s what’s actually happening under the hood
When we find ourselves in this constant cycle of back and forth and over fixation on our partner we are always avoiding something within ourselves. And the kicker is it’s usually whatever behavior you’re picking at in your partner. This is called projection.
So in our above example, here are a few things you may be projecting onto your partner if he isn’t taking the trash out:
- He’s (I’m) not doing enough around the house.
- He (I) doesn’t follow through with what he said he would do.
- He’s (I’m) lazy.
Now could it be the case that the frustration is actually related to the trash? Of course. I’m speaking to the times when it really feels as though you can’t get back in your lane to save your life.
And the kicker is that it may be none of the above. You could be avoiding something totally unrelated that your subconscious is working really hard to help you avoid.
Ok great, we’ve established that you’re actually avoiding yourself. What do you do with that new information? Well for starters we give ourself some grace. Again, if you have a critical inner voice you may have a response that sounds something like “Oh great, now I’m not treating the right way, it feels like I’m failing at everything.” And while it’s tempting and natural depending on how you were raised, it’s entirely unhelpful.
Instead I want you to take a deep breath in through your nose and say “it’s ok to be human.”
Remember, there will always be work to do and it’s ok to take it one step at a time. Focusing on our partners behavior vs our own is protective and therefore precious because it’s protecting a precious part of ourselves that’s usually in pain.
So let’s get started on 5 ways to stop obsessing about your partner:
- Get clear about the situation. We’ve honestly already hit this one. The first step when you realize you’re all up in your partner’s business and can’t stop thinking about it is to take a deep breath and reflect on what’s happening within yourself. When we pull out of avoidance we can connect more deeply with out body and start to move out of our head. This allows us a chance to deal with what’s actually going on.
- Name what’s happening with your partner. So this can sound something like – “Hey babe, I realize I’ve been all over you about x, y, and z. I just wanted to take a second to apologize and let you know that I think something is actually showing up for me that I don’t want to deal with. I’m sharing with you to take healthy accountability and invite you into my experience.” This share is beautiful because not only does it hold you accountable with grace but it also invites your partner in closer, building healthy intimacy.
- Get moving. When you find yourself spinning out in your head one of the quickest ways to get some relief is to get your body moving. For me this looks like a run or lifting weights. It can also look like dance, martial arts, swimming. If it includes movement then I encourage you to try it. Having a few movement exercises in your tool box is great because you can have a solution ready to go when you find yourself in the red zone. Sometimes this break is all you need to reset and figure out what is actually happening within yourself vs continuing to focus on something you don’t have control over.
- Explore your defenses. This one is best done with a therapist, unless you’re familiar with your own psychology today. The more we can explore and befriend our defenses for what they are, pieces of us that are protecting other pieces of us who are in pain, the easier we can work with them. The more self-knowledge we gain the easier it is to catch them as they show up in life without dropping into shame. If we learn to dance with them we can build intimacy quicker and with more ease as we grow and learn through life.
- Talk it out with a trusted friend. The key here is that the friend should be someone who is comfortable pushing back on you rather than someone who will get caught up in your antics. We’re looking for grace without joining us so that we can feel heard but not spiral deeper in the focus being our partner. This tip is great because it’s another way to get you out of your head and begin to connect with what’s happening for you under the hood.
As with any pattern in your behavior, obsessing over your partner is going to take time to change. It’s important to move through this process with grace while also holding enough curiosity that encourages growth. And even while building new patterns you will slip and this is life. If we can behave “functionally” the majority of the time (60%, not 90% or 95%) this is considered solid recovery work. We’re all looking to put one foot in front of the others.
Cheers to you for doing the work,