Being the best partner — 14 August 2008
Being accountable is a moral conduct in relationships

It is common for partners to be very aware of their mate’s failures in pleasing them. If asked, partners can readily recite what is “wrong” with their partner’s personality, habits and behavior. The question of how these displeased people contribute to their own unmet needs or to their partner’s failure to please them, is seldom considered.

When was the last time you asked yourself: “What is my part in not getting my wishes honored by my mate?” As moral, fair and decent as you may be, it is instinctual to avoid looking inside for responsibility that can be placed elsewhere. It helps us to maintain our sense of self-respect, while blaming others for our unmet needs. Is this a moral interpersonal stance?

Dr. Steven Pinker of Harvard University states:” Moral goodness is what gives each of us the sense that we are worthy human beings. We seek it in our friends and mates, nurture it in our children, advance it in our politics and justify it with our religion.” Dr. Pinker is talking about morality in terms of social consciousness and regard for others. Shouldn’t the same principle also apply to our treatment of each other within our relationship?

Richard Dawkins who wrote “The Selfish Gene” advanced that fairness is similar to reciprocal altruism; a willingness to be nice to another if it is more helpful than it is taxing the giver, and would be returned if the giver were in need of help. Under that definition, it appears that being accountable for one’s conduct as part of the responsibility for his/her unhappiness would be healthy for both mates and probably a pattern that would be reciprocated. Yet, it is easier to blame than to be fairly self- reflecting.

The insecurity we feel about being at fault is so uncomfortable, and the fear of loss of esteem in the other’s eyes is so threatening, that we work hard to conceal our imperfect conduct even from ourselves. Anton Chekhov advised; “ Man will become better when you show him what he is like.” Actually, anyone can become better when he/she is secure enough to admit and take responsibility for who he/she is like. When both partners can do this- they can attain a truly moral, respectful and deeply intimate connection.

Some common examples:
A wife repeatedly chastises her husband for not getting her the gifts she wants. She accuses him of being inattentive and not knowing her true essence. She refuses to tell him what she wants to receive, claiming that it would not count as true gifts. Seeing her role in this pattern may force her to abandon being wronged, righteously indignant and better than her husband, but will grant her happy holidays and a better marriage.

Similar pattern occurs with partners who do not get their sexual needs met and blame their partner for being a poor lover.

Most fights comprise of repeated issues and entail accusations and discounts. They may end with an apology but rarely with an honest, decent admission of each partner’s role in the conflict and a decision about ways to avoid the recurrence of these conflicts.
• Understand that being a moral and decent person involves being accountable for your conduct.
• Rid yourself of the notion that admitting your role in a problem makes you a less valuable mate.
• Practice thinking first about your contribution to your unmet needs or frustrations. You may be able to avoid any conversation by changing your own way.
• Consider your part in creating a conflict. You will feel less anger, hurt or frustration with your mate and greater regard for yourself.
• Remember that both of you are partners in creating the optimum satisfaction of each other in your relationship.
• Be kind to yourself and your mate. Both of you are imperfect, but perfectly lovable.

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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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