Have you ever listened to yourself while you're criticizing or yelling at your partner? Probably not. Newsflash: You don't sound like a loving, supportive person.
Take a second to stop and think of the things that really irk you about your spouse. Maybe it has to do with their personality, habits or way of doing things? As a relationship coach, I make it a practice to read and learn daily. Several years ago, I read a piece of advice that hit me like a bullet between the eyes: "If you're incessantly complaining about your partner, you are probably projecting your own doubts and insecurities onto your partner. Look at your words as a mirror."
This transformed the way I saw my own relationship as well as my clients. In psychology, this is often referred to as projection — and it can be a relationship killer if left unchecked.
My client Annabelle was in a relationship, and she always complained about her husband's lack of financial skills. He didn't balance the checkbook on a monthly basis (by hand like she wanted), or keep things as organized as she wanted. This was a constant source of conflict in their relationship.
When Annabelle came to see me and described the fights and complaints about her husband, I suspected that it was she who had issues around her own competence with money. I started probing into her past, and asked her about how comfortable she felt about money. She revealed that ever since she was a child, she wasn't very good at handling money (and was repeatedly criticized by her family about it). So, when Annabelle sat back and realized what was going on, the light bulb went off in her head. Instead of solving her own problem, and becoming better at handling money, she continued to berate him for every move he made (projecting her own insecurities onto him).
Once she realized this, and how destructive her projection had become on their relationship, we decided that she should change her own behavior about money.
Her first step was to take a personal finance course to become more savvy about money. As she grew more intelligent around money, she started to feel more confident — and instead of criticizing her husband, she truly started to appreciate him for what he was doing. It was a turning point in their relationship, and the friction around this virtually disappeared. The big change was that Annabelle understood her projection — and put a stop to it.
Projection can happen in most relationships — and it's almost never a good thing. We may feel unimportant, and accuse our friends of making us feel unimportant. We fear that we are bad parents, so we point out the flaws in other parents. We feel overweight, so we judge women for what they're wearing. Projection can be deadly, and a real relationship killer.
When you find yourself thinking or saying something bad about someone else, have a look in the mirror first, and see if your words are YOUR mirror.
Dating coach Bela Gandhi is the founder and president of Smart Dating Academy.