We’re on year 26 of marriage. It hasn’t always been easy. We still struggle with relationship glitches, mostly based on bad habits. Psych Page groups them into the “Four Horseman”–criticism, contempt, defensiveness and stonewalling (shutting partner out). These little habits damage relationships in big ways. One of the worst is taking partners for granted (a form of contempt). Happily, this habit is relatively easy to break if you’re willing to try.
* Realign unbalanced perceptions. What partners bring to relationships affects how they interact. If one was the center of attention and spoiled at home, he may expect his wife to continue that way. If the wife took care of everyone, she’ll likely enter marriage expecting to keep doing so. Explore what preconceived ideas you have. Recognize the unhealthy ones and watch for ways to keep them from hurting your spouse.
* Low self-esteem to arrogance ratio. In every relationship, partners sometimes take each other for granted. It becomes problematic when one thinks too highly of herself and the other too little. The one with low self-esteem accepts the other’s superiority unquestioningly. It’s habit. To break this cycle, change the ratio. Those with inferiority complexes need to learn self-advocacy. Those tending toward arrogance need humility. Meet each other in the middle.
* Fairness. Respect, equality, mutual support, consideration, patience, listening and understanding are things both partners should provide. What’s good for one is good for both. One set of rules decided together should guide the relationship. There’s no room for a self-serving attitude.
* Expectations. We need expectations for ourselves and each other in relationships. The keys are that both spouses set fair exceptions, practice what they preach and look to their own behavior before faulting the other.
* Behavior. We all have bad habits, but we have a responsibility to curb inappropriate behavior, especially that which bothers the other. Partners don’t have to endlessly put up with problem behavior. Case in point: a non-smoker objects to smoker partner’s cigarettes. Smoker retorts “you knew I smoked when you married me.” Yes and you knew I didn’t. I loved you enough to overlook it, but I hated it then and now. The burden is on you to quit smoking, not me to quit hating it. I don’t show love by tolerating, you show it by trying to quit what hurts me and is killing you.
* Tolerance. Being patient is good. But endless tolerance breeds contempt and laziness. It gets taken advantage of. The tolerated one begins to think it’s his due. He’s shocked and angry when he’s confronted. She keeps quiet to keep the peace. Ironically, he may be intolerant of others. If you have a tolerant partner, be grateful. Don’t abuse it. Give it in return.
Taking or being taken advantage of hurts both partners. Happy relationships are gifts to be treasured, not taken for granted.