Dating and having similar relationships can be fun, exciting, and most of the time, quite nerve wracking. The wacked out nerves often come from a place of uncertainty that comes with getting to know a new person, and the vulnerability that comes with having to let your guard down for another person. All these are pretty common. What shouldn’t be common, but sadly is, is if a partner you are involved with is exhibiting problematic behavior, or behavior that is triggering or harmful. Whether it be racial slurs, fat shaming, ableist comments, or overall plain dehumanizing behavior, here are three ways to handle the situation, along with acts of assertive self-care.
1. First and foremost: Talk it out.
There are definitely different ways to talk about a problem in regards to your partner’s behavior: in person after the situation has happened and you have had time to recollect your thoughts, an email explaining how you feel in case confrontation makes you very uncomfortable, or, although this may be the least popular but sometimes most necessary way, calling out your partner right as the behavior happens. Communicating why the behavior is problematic in an objective sense,how a behavior makes you feel, and how you expect the behavior to be fixed to the best of their ability is extremely important within a healthy relationship, and can even contribute to the personal growth of you and your partner.
Don’t just talk at. Educate, instead. Not every single person you come across in life is going to deserve your time, energy, and information when it comes to having to explain social responsibilities and problematic behavior, there’s absolutely no way. This is not the case with someone you have chosen to have a relationship with or date, meaning: this is a person that you will have to put some time and effort (to the best of your ability and as much as you can handle to a certain extent) into certain parts, not all of course, of their personal growth, and vice versa.
“This is wrong because-”
Communicating to educate your partner is vital and there are many avenues to follow when doing so that don’t always have to resort in giving your partner books on feminist rhetoric or social commentary to read in order for them to understand that their behavior comes from a place led by societal norms and standards. Although offering books to your partner is a totally valid way of communicating, it may not be accessible to you or your partner. After all, these conversations may be better had in the bedroom, and not in discussion form in the classroom, so have these educational conversations in the best way you know how to communicate with your partner. Perhaps doing research together on systemic issues or social responsibility can be a bonding opportunity for the both of you.
“I feel as though-”
Explaining how the behavior makes you feel can be especially scary because this can showcase vulnerability, emotion, and quite possibly past traumas that are associated with a partner’s triggering behavior. This is something the both of you can work on together, even if it takes a little bit of time. And if your partner does better comprehend through an academic lens or if teaching isn’t your strength, what they should understand is this: their behavior hurts your feelings or is triggering and that alone should be reason enough for them to stop.
“Instead of saying this, what you should say is-”
Sometimes your partner needs an example of unproblematic behavior to replace their problematic behavior with. Lead by example and answer their questions because they actively want to get better. Old behaviors take a long time to unpack and new behaviors might take even longer to learn, and that’s okay. Go on this journey together!
More often times than not, your partner’s problematic behavior has no mal intent and comes from a place of innocent ignorance, and this type of ignorance can’t always be punished right off the jump; this is where education and communication comes in. If someone was never told their behavior was wrong or hurtful, it’s a bit difficult for them to know that there’s an issue.
2. Re-evaluate the relationship
After you have already addressed problematic behavior to your partner, the responsibility is back on them to change their behavior, and learn and grow from it. Your partner may not be perfect at first, for these types of changes might not always come overnight, but as long as your partner is actively making an effort and the two of you have continuous discussions that come to a solution, congrats! You and your partner are growing together to becoming better people!
“Oh, you know I didn’t mean it like that-”
But let’s talk about what happens when your partner ignores your information, requests, and feelings all together and continues on with his behavior due to the ever so popular “I didn’t mean it like, in a bad way.” Again, if your partner refuses, and I do mean refuse, to understand that the impact of a behavior matters much more than the intent of the behavior (i.e the fact that what they said hurt your feelings, regardless of their intent.), then you must think about whether or not this person is worth having a relationship with.
“Freedom of Speech and Expression!”
If your partner tries to use the first amendment for their dehumanizing comments, triggering behaviors, and essentially hurting your feelings on a consistent basis, with no intent to change or do better, then they are creating a non-safe space for you. A couple is allowed to have difference of opinions, but if these “opinions” are degrading other people, or more importantly, degrading you, perhaps this isn’t a person you need to be patient or understanding towards.
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“This isn’t going to work out-”
It may be in your best interest to leave this person all together. It may not be easy or quick because there are feelings involved, and sadly not every relationship is safe enough to leave whenever someone wants to. There are resources and assistance to help with leaving a partner if it’s not safe enough to do so, hotline or crisis text line are just a couple oof many. Use them if you have to, because no relationship is worth it, if you do not feel safe or respected.
More Radical Reads: 6 Warning Signs That Your Friendship is Abusive
I’m sorry this piece may not have a happy ending, but neither did your relationship, perhaps, and that’s okay. It is not your fault that someone chose not to understand your feelings and receive your information. The right partner, friend, anyone you choose to have close in your life, should and will understand your point of view and will want to grow and change for the better alongside with you.