I’ve heard so many stories through the years of people covering up for their partner’s rude, violent, insensitive, arrogant and general mean-spirited behaviors that I’m a bit shell-shocked from them. Below are several real life examples I’ve heard, seen or experienced over the years. Although names and identifiable details have been changed, the stories are true.
• Karen and Fred are at a party when their son runs up crying because his brother just hit him. Fred becomes furious. His face turns red and he demands that his other son come over to him, “RIGHT THIS VERY MINUTE, DAMN YOU!!!” When his son comes over, Fred grabs him by the arm and yanks him away from the guests, yelling at him the entire time. Karen looks at her friends and says, “His bark truly is worse than his bite.” She then moves on to tell a comical story to lighten the tension. When her husband returns she acts as if nothing happened and tells him she’s glad to see him.
• Barbara and Stan are at a large family gathering, engaging in a large scale discussion with everyone at the table. Barbara offers an opinion that differs from Stan’s. Before she knows what happened, Stan throws his drink all over her. Barbara makes light of it and pretends Stan was being playful. She later acts as if nothing happened and the incident is never discussed again.
• Betsy and John are out to dinner with friends. John is ferociously flirting with Betsy’s friend, who is starting to feel uncomfortable. When Betsy’s friend tells her that John is hitting on her, Betsy tries to brush it off by saying that’s just how John is. She swears that John doesn’t mean anything by it. When her friend tries to stress how disrespectful it is to Betsy, Betsy laughs it off and says it’s just a game she and John play with one another. After all, she points out, she’s the one John will be going home with.
• Greg and Brenda are browsing through stores one afternoon, looking for clothes for Brenda. When a salesperson doesn’t respond in the way Brenda wants, Brenda becomes enraged. She begins to yell at the store clerk, call her names and become very intimidating. Greg does the best he can to calm Brenda down and is finally able to coax her out of the store by joining in Brenda’s story that the sales clerk was rude. He tells Brenda they should go spend their money in a store that will treat her better. He never once addresses Brenda’s behavior. He is just relieved that he got her to settle down.
When we try to cover for our partner’s obnoxiousness or meanness, we block life’s natural consequences from hitting our partner and, instead, we take the hit. This is NOT helpful to us or our partner. Women often do this in an effort to not make people uncomfortable and to protect their partners from being seen as a jerk. Men do this more often out of fear of their partner’s reactions to his setting a limit. Either way, covering for someone else’s poor behavior is toxic. It’s toxic to you AND your relationship.
Trying to pretend that what our partner did wasn’t really that bad leads others to feel pity for us. Those watching think to themselves, “Ah, did you see how she was trying to protect him? Doesn’t she have any self respect? That’s too bad.” Covering up also gets our partner off the hook. If there are no consequences for being insensitive and mean, why would someone stop? When we block life’s consequences, we block a significant tool for learning. If you dress up bad behavior, it doesn’t look so bad. If you are working so hard to try to make your partner look like a great person, then why don’t you try that hard insuring that s/he is a great person? The best way to do that is to stop protecting them from the impact of their behavior. Allow them to feel the sting of their actions and stop protecting them or rescuing them from that sting. That’s what got them here in the first place!
If you want a loving relationship you need to stop pretending that unloving actions are anything but unloving. Stop dressing up poor behaviors. Allow yourself and others to see them for what they are. Not protecting your partner from the impact of her/his actions is not about hurting your partner; it’s about caring for you. Besides, your cover-up isn’t fooling anyone. The world can tell the difference between a frog and a prince—no matter how you dress the frog up.
CHALLENGE: Allow your partner to feel the impact of her/his behaviors regardless of how uncomfortable that makes others, your partner or yourself. Sometimes we learn our greatest lessons through the most pain. Don’t shield your partner from the pain their behavior causes. Allow them to sit in it and deal with the repercussions of it (from you and others).