Kid With, Not About, Your Mate

Some individuals are in a habit of pointing out their mate’s errors, faults and faux pas in the presence of family, friends or even acquaintances. This recounting of a loved one’s foibles is hurtful to the mate and embarrassing to the listeners. Why do some individuals diminish their mates in public while others would shudder to do so?

Some individuals who publicly depict their partner in a negative way often appear to be enjoying their recitation. Why would they do so to their beloved? Research by John G. Holmes and associates at the University of Waterloo in Ontario Canada found that “Individuals regulate perceptions of their relationships in a self-protective way, finding virtue in their partners only when they feel confident that their partners also see virtues in them.” They added, “Low self-esteem individuals react to self-doubt with heightened doubts about their partners’ regard, which then tarnishes their impressions of their partners. In contrast, high self-esteem individuals react to self-doubts by becoming more convinced of their partners’ continued acceptance, using their relationships as a resource for self-affirmation.”

Since the common core of negative kidding of a mate stems from permanent or temporary low self-esteem, how can the unhappy spouse cope with these emotions and avoid discounting his/her partner? Research by Dr. Joachim Stoeber and Dr. Dirk Janssen from Kent University’s School of Psychology explored students’ methods of coping with daily failures. Students who used denial, venting, behavioral disengagement and self-blame were less satisfied by the end of the day as compared to the students who used positive reframing, acceptance and humor. The researchers recommend using positive reframing in dealing with perceived failures to attain greater inner peace. They stated, “It’s no use ruminating about small failures and setbacks and drag yourself further down. Instead it is more helpful to try to accept what happened, look for the positive aspects and have a laugh about it.”

When you are witness to a person discrediting a spouse’s behavior, thoughts or feelings you are wise to help the criticizer, who is coming from a self-shaming position, not by coming to the aid of his spouse but by validating a trait, attribute or conduct of the critical individual. This reduces the criticizer’s shame and frees him/her from the need to put his partner in a less favorable light.

If you find yourself inclined to tell a discrediting story about your partner, remind yourself of three positive traits you value about yourself and abstain from uttering the shaming story.

Use humor with your spouse that is supportive and encouraging in regard to his/her mistakes by reminding yourself how precious he/she is in your life.

Kid with your mate:

  • Wrap your partner’s faux pas with an envelope of love and compassion.
  • Empathize with the discomfort your mate already feels about his/her errors and failures.
  • Remember having sworn to “love and cherish ‘til death do us part.”
  • In case of doubt always support your mate’s healthy and competent ways.

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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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