I'm a huge fan of creating little hacks for improving your relationship. This is going to be another "hack."
So here's the deal. We all act like assholes sometimes. Harsh, but true. Perhaps your acting like a asshole presents itself in the truest form of the word and you are mean, rude, childish, start fights, or bring up old shit. But in can also present itself in other ways. Maybe your way is to be cold, closed-off, shut down, giving out the silent treatment and dismissive. Or maybe you prefer the crying, sad, victim stance and you like to rehash every time the other person has hurt you, over and over again. Anyway you shake it, we all have our ways of not being our best selves sometimes in the relationship.
You're best self in the relationship is someone who is mature, respectful, curious, interested in your partner, discerning (decides if what they want to say or do is actually what is best for the relationship and then makes their decisions based on that), loving and open. Our goal is to be our best selves as often as possible. This is where true intimacy is created. This is where deep relationships happen.
But sometimes, our asshole self takes over. Especially when our relationship has gotten into a rut. It can be easy and tempting to act out our asshole self. So how do we stop it?
Create an alter ego for your asshole
Ha! That was probably the funnest sentence I've ever written. But seriously. Create an alter ego for it. Depersonalize it from you, make it someone else. Detach it. Get it out of you. It will be easier to recognize when you are doing it, easier to talk about when you are doing it, and easier to decide to do something different.
Maybe your alter ego is Margie. Margie is whiny, manipulative, acts like she is hurt all the time, and sets tests for her partner which she knows he will fail but she just keeps doing it. You can think of how Margie looks, how she dresses, what she thinks, how she sounds, and what she eats. Margie is a part of you that comes out when you're not being your best self. We can also tell Margie to hit the road when she makes an appearance. "Beat it Marge, you're annoying and you're helping to ruin my relationship." When you tell Margie to take a back seat, you can then bring your best self forward and choose to act in a different way.
Let's create another alter ego because it's fun. Maybe you tend to get closed off, cold, condescending and you stop asking for input and start doing more and more without your partner when you guys aren't doing so well (no, I'm not writing about myself! How dare you!). Let's name this alter ego Breanna. Breanna can be quite the bitch. When she starts to come out, she is not helping the relationship, she is all about helping herself. Breanna needs to sit down when it comes to the relationship because she is not the best person to have a great relationship. So we don't take advice from Breanna when she starts to say what we should do.
By the way, we don't hate our alter egos. They are just trying to help keep us safe in their own weird, maladaptive ways. We note when they are present and lovingly ask them to step aside so we can be our best selves.
Alter Ego for Your Best Self
Maybe you want to create an alter ego for your best relationship self too. So when you ask your alter ego asshole to check himself, you can bring forth your alter ego Casa Nova. This would be someone that loves love. That goes above and beyond for their partner. This person shows them attention, caring, curiosity. They want to ask them how their day was, they want to greet them at the door when they get home, they want to go to bed at the same time or cook them some food. Creating an alter ego for your best relationship self will help you step into those shoes a little easier and quicker.
So what do you think? Will you give relationship alter egos a try?
Corrin Voeller is a couples counselor in St. Louis Park, Minnesota. She does in-person and online counseling and coaching with couples and individuals to improve the relationships in their lives. She specializes in couples counseling, marriage counseling, discernment counseling and sex therapy. She lives with her husband, children and extremely fat dog.
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