When you think your partner doesn't care about you...
Your partner never comes home when he says he will. You’ve told him a million times to just tell you the right time. Maybe he comes home late from work frequently or he hangs out with his friends for a little too long. It feels totally disrespectful and like he just doesn’t care. When he repeatedly comes home late, you know he just doesn’t care.
He is frustrated with you, too. WHAT?! He does care and doesn’t like it when you say he doesn’t. Nobody likes to be accused of something they didn’t do. In fact, he’d be home much later if it was just about him. He feels misunderstood by you. He starts to think you want to be his mom, not his lover and friend. He also thinks you want to control him and that you don’t really care about him, his needs or his stress.
We all want to know that our partner deeply cares for us. That is the bond that can see us through all kinds of challenges and stressors. When we feel cared about, we feel secure.
Typically in relationships, when we hit a pain point, we focus on what our partner is doing (to cause the pain) or not doing (to alleviate the pain.) We go to our partner with a request (or a demand) to do or not do something. We begin to blame our partner for our pain…when actually, the meaning we ascribe to their behavior (or lack of behavior) is the real cause of our pain. I don’t like it when my partner comes home late repeatedly despite my asking him not to, I label him a selfish, uncaring person or maybe he’s just not into me anymore. Is there another possibility here? Perhaps he is disorganized, under tremendous pressure at work, needing male bonding time, lacks focus, has poor time management skills, etc. Does your accusing him of being selfish, uncaring or not into you motivate/encourage him to be on time? (Spoiler alert) No. He will either stay out later to avoid your angry outbursts or come home on time and resent you (so that behavior won’t last long.)
The partner who comes home late is part of the problem, too. Others find him unreliable, not just you. If he doesn’t understand the impact his behavior has on others, he has a problem. While he doesn’t have any bad intentions, he has to be able to own that his behavior may have a negative impact on others.
When both partners can begin to acknowledge all sides of the issue, conflict begins to de-escalate. You can appreciate or empathize with your partners efforts, needs, or shortcomings and he can acknowledge the bad impact of his behavior on you and commit to improving. He doesn’t deny his behavior, dismiss your frustrations, act like it’s not a big deal or blow you off. If your partner owns his behavior and its impact on you, DO NOT try to solve his problem by offering unsolicited advice. Unsolicited advice always sounds like criticism.
Bad behavior doesn’t always mean your partner doesn’t care. Be careful of the motivation you ascribe to their behavior. Work to see the other possible reasons for his behavior. Acknowledge his needs, stressors and struggles, and gently share with him the impact his behavior has on you. If this feels impossible, don’t worry, there are trained professionals ready and willing to help you out of your stuck spots. Don’t continue the negative cycle…it doesn’t end anywhere good.