How to adjust my negative expectation of relationships
August 13, 2014 3:19 PM Subscribe
I grew up witnessing my parents' verbally abusive marriage. They are combative and insulting toward each other. Also, my mom has always blamed her marriage and kids for her stalled career and other unhappiness in her life. When I think of having a relationship, I automatically feel like it will drag me down and make my life worse. I've come to understand over the years that others actually think of a relationship as a safety net and source of comfort. I want to think of them that way too. How can I adjust my mentality?
posted by vienna to Human Relations (16 answers total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
I am a woman in my 30s. My parents have been married for nearly 40 years. Their marriage has been verbally abusive the whole time. They are quick to criticize, assign blame, and lash out at each other.
I realized that I have negative expectations of relationships:
1. I assume my SO will make my career worse. My mom has lamented for decades how she was forced to give up the career she wanted, because my dad needed to control her and keep her down, and because raising kids took too much time. She is bitterly resentful over it. I've found myself thinking things like "I'll first get my career to point X, so that even if I get into a relationship and my career stagnates after that, at least it'll keep coasting at level X."
2. I expect the relationship to be adversarial instead of collaborative. If something good happens to me or my SO, I expect the other person to feel envious. If one person screws up, I expect the other person to roll their eyes and make a mean joke, instead of be supportive. I've trained myself over a decade to not behave this way, but I still expect the other person to behave this way toward me.
3. Related to how I don't expect relationships to be a source of comfort, I end up seeing them mostly as an avenue for superficial benefits. I end up prioritizing things that are good "on paper" such as looks, career success, or romantic gestures, because I assume the more fulfilling stuff (deep trust and mutual understanding) is not going to happen anyway.
One repercussion of these negative expectations is that I end up putting up with bad relationships that conform to these expectations. I've dated people for years who were superficially great but who were unsupportive during tough times, or were constantly causing drama. I just assumed that was par for the course. Those relationships also reinforced my negative expectations, in a self-fulfilling manner.
Another repercussion is that when I think of dating, I feel a sense of dread. I feel an instinctive fear that a relationship will make me less successful, more depressed, and more defensive.
I've been witnessing healthy marriages amongst friends over time, and it has been very slowly changing my perception, over the past 4-5 years. I would like to speed up the mental shift. Every day I still catch myself expecting bad things, like "A friend would comfort you if you're crying, but a spouse will think you're needy and less attractive". Or "if you make sacrifices for a friend, they'll appreciate it forever, but a spouse will lose respect and think of you as a chump". When I catch myself thinking this, I'll mentally question if this is true, and sometimes over the course of 10 minutes, I can logically convince myself that not all relationships must be negative in that way.
I've also tried watching movies with good marriages, and that has helped too, but also slowly. I'm afraid that if I continue at my current speed, I'll be 80 before I embrace relationships positively.
What suggestions do you have for shifting my mentality to view relationships as a positive source of comfort, instead of my negative expectations? Thank you!