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Your Partner as Problem and Solution

When you are feeling hurt, depressed, stuck and generally miserable you might find yourself looking around for the cause.  Because your partner is nearby and the most consistent person in your life, you might get caught up in the idea that he or she is the problem and the potential solution for your suffering.  There is a particular kind of thinking that goes along with this idea.

Some version of "If only" thinking makes your partner or some other person or event the condition for your happiness and well-being.  "If only" thinking involves some version of "If only he would... (do, be, or feel something different), than I would... (do, be, or feel something different.)"   In this kind of thinking the locus of control for your experience is always outside of yourself.  It's a form of self-disempowerment and blame.  

If you are caught in this, you likely find yourself doing one of two things; trying to control your partner or putting your own needs and dreams for your life on hold. In either scenario you are not the only one who suffers.  Your partner becomes the targete4g your resentment.  You will resent your partner, because no matter how much you try to control him or her, he or she continues to have his or her own autonomy and life path.

Resentment also arises if you blame your partner for your own choices to put off your needs and dreams.  Your resentment may be expressed in a pervasive sense of disconnect and irritation and/or sudden critical remarks that seem to come out of nowhere.  Your partner either attacks back and/or gradually creates more physical and emotional distance between you.

Knowing that your partner is neither the problem or solution to your happiness, doesn't change the fact that his or her behavior has an impact on you.  When you recognize this without the overlay of blame and resentment, you can go through a process of self-reflection and honest expression in which you take responsibility for your own well-being.

An honest and responsible self-reflection might include the following thoughts;

  • When she does that behavior, I notice I feel____ because it doesn't meet my need for ______.

  • Am I am misinterpreting her intention or words?  

  • Is there an assumption I have that I could check out with her?  

  • Is there is something different I could do in that situation?

  • Am I clear that her behavior doesn't work for me and I want to make a request that she contribute to my needs by doing something different the next time we are in that situation?

In this kind of reflection you attempt to keep attention focused on a specific interaction rather than generalizing.  You work to recognize your own interpretations and projections and check them out before believing them.


Take a moment now to reflect on the dreams you have for you life.  Is there a dream you have let go of with the idea that your partner is the problem or block to your dream?  Write down or simply notice the details of that story.  Is there "if only" thinking?  Are making assumptions about your partner?  What has been the cost of this kind of thinking and decision making to yourself and your relationship?  Have you ever shared your dream with your partner with honesty and with vulnerability?  Are you willing to share it now?

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4 Responses

  1. Aug 02, 2013

    Love this Gem! Especially, "You work to recognize your own interpretations and projections and check them out before believing them." Some of my deepest relationship pain has its roots in the lack of awareness of how thinking is affecting the quality of connection.

    In the past I have worked with, "I feel_________ because I'm telling myself____________." and I notice that this phrase isn't one of the options in your self-reflection list. I'm not assuming that you meant your list to be exhaustive, but wondering if you purposely did not include that prompt and if so why. Do you generally find it more connecting to work with questions rather than a statement like that? Curious...



  2. Aug 02, 2013

    Thanks Tricia for sharing your celebration and question.

    No reason for leaving out your statement, I rephrase it a little to be more technically in alignment with the NVC concept that feelings arise out of needs and needs arise out of our experience of both the internal (thinking, beliefs, perceptions) and external worlds.

    So it would sound like this:
    "When I tell myself________ I feel______ and the need that comes up is________"

  3. Aug 07, 2013
    Athena Berens

    My daughter died on July 30. Do you have any suggestions about getting in touch with my needs?

  4. Aug 11, 2013

    Dear Athena,

    Wow, I am feeling the weight your loss. What I think of with such intense loss is making lots of space for the need to mourn. This might include getting reassurance from others that they are willing to be with you as grief arises when and whereever it does.

    Celebration also is an important need at this time, taking time to celebrate her and your experiences with her with other can be healing and integrating.

    And of course, the need for play and grounding can be especially important to attend to.

    Does this help?

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