About Last Night: I think my partner’s priorities are wrong

September 23, 2018

Q: Josh is a great guy, but he’s too involved in fixing other people’s problems. I often spend hours of the weekend on my own while he helps someone move a bed, walks a sick friend’s dog, battles with the council for a neighbour, and so on. He does try to fix problems for me as well, but I think he should focus on us as a couple, and spend more of his time and energy helping me to deal with my anxiety and insecurity. Surely that’s how a couple should operate?

A: Not really. In fact both of you could be displaying symptoms of what Mark Manson, author of The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F…, calls ‘‘entitlement’’, something that many of us suffer from in Western society.

Psychologists in the 1960s observed that people performed better when they felt good about themselves. By the ‘70s, self-esteem practices were being taught to parents, and the education system had introduced feel-good strategies like grade inflation, participation awards, and meaningless trophies so that everyone could feel like a winner. We were all encouraged to believe that we are special and extraordinary. No one was prepared to be mediocre or ordinary.

But Manson believes that feeling good about yourself means nothing unless it is with good reason. Otherwise, you become entitled and delusional. ‘‘Adversity and failure are actually useful, and even necessary for developing strong-minded and successful adults … a true and accurate measurement of self worth is how you feel about your negative aspects.’’

Entitled people need to feel good about themselves all the time. As a result, they are always thinking about themselves, in pursuit of that high. The result is selfishness and narcissism.

An entitled person believes that good things happen to them because they are amazing, and bad things mean they are being victimised. Some people flip between both, depending on their mood, but Manson says that both are manifestations of innate selfishness.

He encourages people to understand the difference between blame and responsibility. Another person might be to blame for stealing your car park, or telling lies about you, but you are responsible for your reaction to any situation.

When it comes to relationships, these patterns of thinking can become toxic. Manson says: ‘‘Unhealthy love is based on two people trying to escape their problems through their emotions for each other … healthy love is based on two people acknowledging and addressing their own problems, with each other’s support.’’

It is healthy for there to be clear boundaries between people and their values, with each person taking responsibility for their own values and problems and not taking responsibility for the other’s values and problems.

In toxic relationships there can be a rescuer, who takes responsibility for the other’s problems, and/or a victim who expects their partner to take responsibility for how they feel. One lights fires to get attention and feel special, the other puts out fires for the same reason.

In a healthy relationship each person owns their own issues, and encourages their partner to do the same, while offering loving support. Neither feels an obligation either way. They act because they care. They seek their own solutions. In this way each person, and the relationship, will grow stronger and deeper. In your situation, you would be wise to get professional help to tackle your anxiety and insecurity. Meanwhile, Josh might do well to ask himself if his focus on saving others is a way to avoid tackling his own problems.

Email your questions to abtlastnight@gmail.com

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