Behave Yourself

Behave Yourself

Is Your Bad Behavior Ruining Your Marriage?

This article originally appeared on on March 15, 2013

There's an often-forgotten secret to having a good relationship.

A great deal of pain is the result of someone acting out an emotion. Very often, that acting-out is mistakenly identified as "expression." You hear, "I have to get my anger out!" as an excuse for yelling, or worse. "I have to express my feelings!" doesn't mean kicking the cat.

One of the benefits of psychotherapy is learning the difference between expression and acting-out.

In my psychotherapy office, every emotion is good, and valid, and worthy of exploration and expression. In my office, you are free to say whatever comes to your mind.  In the rest of the world, every emotion is still good, and valid, and worthy of exploration and expression. But you’re not free to say whatever comes to your mind, because much of what comes to your mind is likely to be a verbal “acting-out.”

“I shouldn’t say this, but…” is definitely a preface to verbal acting-out. If you shouldn’t say it, DON’T SAY IT! “You’re a #*%$!” is not an expression of anger but an angry act . (Most of us who think we’re afraid of anger are really afraid of the acts that may come out of anger.)

“My wife (or husband ) doesn’t understand me.” This quintessential excuse for infidelity may, in fact, be true. But it’s no excuse for misbehavior. Marital vows don’t include perfect understanding. They don’t even include a soupçon of empathy. When we make that commitment , we’re promising behavior, not emotion.

That’s a good thing, because you can’t control emotion, any more than you can control what your eyes see or your nose smells. It’s not possible to promise to feel love always and forever.

But you can do love . You can behave with consideration and respect (not the same as submission). You can practice the “Golden Rule” in whatever form you know it. If you don’t like being yelled at, maybe you can soften your own urge to yell.

Respect for myself is the best foundation I know for solid relationships . A person who respects himself is a person who (mostly) likes who he is. And I like myself when I behave honorably. Chances are, you will like me, too -- but that’s not actually the point. In fact, the point is more that, when I like myself, I’m more likely to like you . And this starts an ascending spiral, rather than one of those terrible descending ones.

It’s hard to be responsible for your behavior. The only thing harder is trying to put the pieces back together when you haven’t acted respectfully.

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