It’s hard to maintain perspective on relationships with partners. It’s easy to take partners’ good qualities for granted and to be exasperated over and over again by the qualities we don’t like. This relationship experiment is designed to give you a more complete picture of your partner and your relationship than you are likely to see on a daily basis.
Make a List
You can do this experiment with your partner or by yourself.
Get out a piece of paper and a pen. Draw a vertical line down the middle of the paper. Title the lefthand column: “[your partner's] qualities that made me fall in love with her/him.” Title the righthand column: “[your partner's] qualities that make me aggravated1 with her/him.”
Start by working only with the lefthand column. Working quickly and not thinking too much, jot down a list of your partner’s qualities that initially attracted you and led you to fall in love. Make as long a list as you can.
Then, move to the righthand column. Look at each item you listed in the lefthand column and see if you can figure out which of your partner’s aggravating qualities is related to the one you listed. Then write that quality down in the righthand column next to the corresponding quality in the lefthand column. For example, if the attractive quality you listed was, “Intelligent” the aggravating quality might be “Too much in his head” or “Not in touch with feelings” or “Acts like a know-it-all.” If you can’t think of a corresponding aggravating quality for some of the attractive qualities you listed, that’s fine — just skip that one.
Finally, look at the list you have now made in the righthand column and see if it is complete. Are there any aggravating qualities you haven’t listed? If so, list them in the righthand column now. Then, go to the lefthand column and see if you can figure out what attractive qualities are related to these aggravating ones. For example, if the aggravating quality is, “Nags me all the time,” the attractive quality might be “Always cared about the details of my life” or “Very organized” or “Had high standards for self and others.”
If you cannot match up your lists of attractive qualities and aggravating qualities, you are not trying hard enough. I can say with confidence that every quality that irritates you has a corresponding quality that you once admired (and possibly still do).
If you feel comfortable doing so, share the list with your partner. And the next time you get aggravated by something your partner does, remind yourself of the good quality that goes along with the aggravating one.
- Note that abuse, violence and controlling behavior are not merely “aggravating qualities.” If your partner is abusive or controlling, this kind of experiment might end up making you blame yourself for the abuse, which is not helpful (or true). Instead, get some help from a knowledgeable therapist or a domestic violence agency (1-800-799-SAFE) to discuss the problems in your relationship. [↩]