For a relationship, women in particular are willing to give a lot: To be understanding and helpful to their partner – often even when he or she may be the completely wrong one. "Don’t invest too one-sidedly," advises coach and author Attila Albert, "both sides have to do their part."
As a professional coach, I have to admit: I am always amazed at how many women are willing to volunteer as psychiatrists and therapists in their spare time. Specialization: complicated guys. What time and effort they often spend analyzing and improving a potential or current partner! At the same time, my own experience has always shown: In the end, he remains as he was.
Of course you can say: "I do not need hobbies. My partner is my project. I have already shown him how to dress better, handle money, and think about others in bed. Next, let’s practice ‘please’ and ‘thank you’." But then you don’t have a relationship, you have a foster relationship. It makes sense to make an effort to understand your partner and foster the relationship. At the same time, there are limits to this.
Here are five basic rules for this section. They help you see and treat your partner as an equal adult. Not as someone they need to save, cure, or change first. They will save you a lot of time and disappointment. This also allows you to quickly see who is the wrong one: Not ready for a relationship, or at least not now and with you. In that case, it’s better to cut your losses.
"I’m not doing this anymore: How you can finally set yourself apart and let others suffer too" by Attila Albert
About the expert
Attila Albert, born in 1972, is a communications expert, coach and author. He started working as a reporter at the age of 17, has since written for media at home and abroad, and is still active as a columnist today. He studied business administration, web development and completed coaching training in the U.S. He oversaw global marketing communications for a Swiss industrial group. He is the author of several guide books.
1. Do not become an amateur psychiatrist
It has become popular to explain conspicuous behavior with psychiatric self-diagnoses. Is he possibly a narcissist ("lack of empathy"), a borderliner ("disregard for others’ feelings"), or a psychopath ("superficial charm")? Possible. Or maybe he’s perfectly healthy and just has a problematic personality.
For a serious diagnosis, a psychiatric professional would have to interview and assess it. He studied for six to seven years for this, then practiced clinically. There are criteria for personality disorders and mental illnesses. Everything else is guesswork. You will not help anyone and you will harm a real sick person.
As a partner you should not get into this role at all. Men you can explain only with psychiatric diagnoses, you may recommend a medical expert. Otherwise you should give them a wide berth. Block in cell phone, unfriend on Facebook, and give them as little thought as possible.
2. Do not excuse every behavior
The same applies to excusing inappropriate social behavior with psychological interpretations. Is he really an "introverted head person" and not just a grumpy one? "Too emotional, he feels too deeply" or just unrestrained? "Disappointed too often and therefore not ready for a new relationship" or not just immature even well beyond 40?
Some understanding women had to realize that he was very much ready for a relationship, marriage and children – just with another woman. That he could very well behave himself once his boss and colleagues were sitting next to him. All the nice explanations that had been prepared always seemed to apply only to certain people.
Again, you can and should expect adult behavior from a partner. Everybody has his peculiarities, which you have to accept in a relationship with loving patience. But a minimum of communication, engagement and behavior are mandatory. Otherwise you should not spend time together at all.
3. Reading thoughts is not your job
Some think men’s heads are crystal balls and want to peek inside incessantly: what thoughts could be read out, what hidden desires could be found and fulfilled? Problematic relationships create a very false ambition: "My partner does not talk to me! This can only mean that we understand each other without words."
However, autism is a disease. Not a lifestyle to aspire to enthusiastically. You are not there to constantly anticipate each other’s needs. It is of course good to show empathy, be considerate and sensitive. But you don’t have to think for everyone all the time. Every adult has a responsibility to communicate themselves.
Therefore, don’t be tempted or even blackmailed into becoming a mind reader: "If you love me, you’ll understand me that way too!" Surround yourself with someone who will communicate to you in a positive way. Encourage someone who may struggle with this at first due to shyness or inexperience – but again, not indefinitely.
4. Talk to him, not about him
Many people talk to all kinds of people about their partner’s soul life – just not with him or her. Mom confirms that he is behaving inappropriately? What does the little sister and the best friend say? What is the assessment in the Facebook group, and hasn’t the acquaintance from the sports class already had similar experiences?
A conversation with a trusted person can be helpful. Ideally, this is not someone who has never managed a longer relationship themselves. In general, however, you should discuss relationship problems with your partner. That is less easy than complaining about him somewhere else, but only there at the right address.
See such conversations as an important check: can you talk to each other at all – let each other talk, listen, respond appropriately? If not, the whole relationship has little future and you can plan accordingly. Even professionally conducted couples therapy requires that both want and cooperate.
5. Help when needed, but not all the time
If you really would like to work as a therapist or social worker, you should do a corresponding further training and then get paid per conversation. Or, alternatively, offer a volunteer position at church, refugee aid, or a club for abandoned persistent naggers. A relationship is the wrong place for permanent help.
You don’t have to fathom analyzing or improving anyone, and you shouldn’t. It disenfranchises your counterpart, puts your relationship at risk, and you end up not being thanked. You may help for years and, if it does end, you still have to listen to: "I never thought you would be so selfish!"
End relationships based on pity. This doesn’t mean you can’t support afterward, such as sticking it to an ex-partner who often has money problems. But this is then done under different conditions, namely voluntarily and on a case-by-case basis. Some people have to learn their lesson before things finally get better.
Each of the five basic rules will help you to restore the balance between giving and receiving. You are responsible for yourself and no longer exhaust yourself in re-educating or pushing another adult to do something. Example: If your partner has been finding new explanations for ten years why he can’t move in with you, even though you wish he could, it’s not your fault. You waste your time.
Devote your energy to your own activities, be they professional or personal. Speak out early on what you want – even if it’s seemingly sensitive things like a desire to get married and have children. This way you will be an attractive, independent partner, interesting for someone who shares your basic ideas. Too much energy and time spent on the wrong ones will only stop you in your tracks and distract them.