By Ryan McMillian, MDIV, MFT
Have you ever recited all the words to a song you disliked? You knew the words and moved to the beat, yet cringed every time you heard it. Couples often have the same core argument repeatedly, and they dance to the tune that the late lamb chop ventriloquist, Shari Lewis, called the song that doesn’t end.
Heads shake or drop, stomachs turn, and you’re probably thinking here we go again. To stop the nauseating soundtrack, with good intentions, you decide to put on the “bigger person” cape to swoop in and save the relationship.
While this plan to save the relationship sounds good, it can backfire. Here are 3 reasons you can’t be the bigger person in your relationship.
1. It places the elephant in the room.
Usually, the “bigger person” tucks away or pushes down his feelings to protect self and others. When this occurs, the elephant certainly follows. The longer the elephant remains in the room, the more your resentment builds. Each time the elephant is ignored it’s like rubbing wood together on the inside. If you rub for too long or too hard, a fire starts. You may think you’re doing the relationship a favor through holding back, but this only feeds the elephant that no one talks about until the fire spreads.
I can hear the voice of many clients past say “aren’t we supposed to pick and choose our battles?” Sure. I am not recommending a better-out-than-in approach where your words become weapons and you take your partner to task any chance you get. Rather, I suggest you find safe ways to let your loved one in. Show him the elephant, so at least he knows that you’re offended. Otherwise, your partner will be blindsided with the news about your growing resentment.
2. It causes unbalanced strength.
My experience with the “bigger person” narrative is that these individuals feel they can handle or take emotional hits better than their mates. You’re the “strong” one. You know your significant other well enough to know what he can take, so you work around his limitations.
Here, strength is defined by the amount of stress you can bear without sharing its impact on you. A perspective shift may be helpful here. I have rarely encountered a person that wished to be viewed as weak. If you both want to have strong moments in the relationship, you have to share the pain. Your partner is stronger than you think, and they want to hear about your limitations too. When we cease to see our partners as weak, we first empower them. Then, we tell them the depth of their strength through providing opportunities for them to care for us.
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3. It increases defensiveness.
Have you ever said to your significant other, “I am tired of always being the bigger person in this relationship?” You can predict what happens next. Comparisons breed defensiveness. You share your goodness in the face of their faults. This “I’m good, and you’re bad” dichotomy rarely leads to the intended result of apologies and happily ever after moments. Comparisons can single-handedly rob your relationship of its good and joyous moments. It’s the start of a recurring nightmare.
Comparisons can single-handedly rob your relationship of its good and joyous moments.
Rather than saving the relationship through “bigger” person tactics, become the best you. Do not hide important parts of who you are. Your best self may listen more carefully to your partner’s needs, and share your needs without criticizing. The next time you plan to be the bigger person in the relationship, reconsider your approach and focus on becoming the best you. To be the best you and change the tune into a riveting up tempo groove, address the elephant, view your partner as strong and eliminate comparisons.
BMWK – do you find that being the bigger person, helps or hurts your relationship in the long run? Let us know your thoughts.
Ryan McMillian is a marriage and family therapist in Philadelphia, PA. He facilitates workshops, speaks for events and publishes relationship tip blogs on ryanmcmillian.com.
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