What’s worse is that most of us don’t even notice it’s earliest emergence in our relationship. It’s that subtle. It starts by unconsciously supposing that your level of sensitivity, viewpoint, behavior or whatever is better than that of your partner. Just in our tone of voice, we reveal that we are chronically disappointed in our partner.
Note the word, unconsciously. But, before we get into that, here’s a useful question:
Why are couples who exhibit this one behavior more likely to split up?
Superiority actually starts in the form of dismissing or diminishing your partner. So toxic is this, like a gas unseen, that it accumulates daily until the relationship breaks. Contempt drowns you and your spouse, often to the point of splitting up. Some of Gottman’s research suggests that 75% of couples fixed on contempt or disgust for the other will break-up. And, those who wade in a bit of superiority might find themselves sixteen years down the road, debating divorce.
Being aware of what you’re doing allows you to apologize and actively seek first to understand before being understood. It also allows you to bite your tongue, and realize that you may not be better (aka, superior) but just different than your partner.
Most people have little clue about how subtly or overtly depreciating/dismissive they are to their partners.
Most people reading this will think “I don’t micromanage, judge, criticize, or critique my spouse.” But, just to make sure, check it out with your partner. Don’t say, “Do I criticize?” That’s like saying, “Do these pants make my butt look big?” No one in their right mind is going to give you a straight answer. Instead ask, “What are some of the ways I criticize or shame you?” Or say something like, “If I ever make you feel bad, would you please point it out to me?”
Also, because we’re destined to do these things (below), the point is not to “never” do them. As Dr. Patricia Love points out, the goal is to notice when we do and to sincerely admit it to our partner. Ideally, the partner in return will “go easy on you,” because they will have their turn of getting it wrong too–at which time you’ll likewise have compassion for them. Being human is messy.
Ways Superiority Leaks Into Our Daily Relationship
- Excluding the other from decisions: “I told my brother we would visit them this weekend.”
- Robbing the other of the opportunity to help (by over-functioning and over-doing): “Don’t bother. I got it.”
- Correcting what the other said: “It was last Wednesday, not Thursday.”
- Questioning the other’s judgement: “Are you going to cook those eggs one at a time?”
- Giving unsolicited, menial advice: “If you do it this way, it’ll got a lot faster.”
- Implying inadequacy: “I wish you had been at the workshop with me” (not because he/she would have enjoyed it, but because it would have ‘corrected’ some stuff not up to par in him/her).
- Making unrealistic demands of the other’s time and energy: “After you put the kids to bed and pay some bills, I want you to listen to how my day was, in detail.”
- Overreacting (which is a form of criticizing another’s choices or behavior): “I can’t believe you voted for him.”
- Ignoring the other’s needs (Basically sending the message that they’re not important): “It’s no big deal that I do this; You’re being controlling.” Or, “You’re not too tired; it’ll be fun to have company over.”
- Focusing on what he/she didn’t do, not what they did do: “It would have been better if you’d said ‘I’m sorry” to begin with.”
- Withholding appreciation: Thinking “Well, it’s his/her role in the family to xyz. So, why thank him/her.”
- Valuing other’s needs (including children’s or work’s) over your partner’s: “I couldn’t say no to them.” (Kids can learn to tolerate life’s disappointments by observing and experiencing their parents choosing mommy or daddy more often. and, work colleagues can see how dignified and exclusive it is for you to choose going home to your partner more often.)
- Showing little interest or curiosity in the other’s interests: Silence; use of smartphone in presence of the other, or flat out: “I can’t see what you see in that.” or “Well, that’s your thing. Not mine.”
- Undercutting the other’s wishes: You’re mindset is something like this: I agreed I’d get home early tonight, but she wouldn’t say no if I told her the sports tickets were free. The honest way to do this is be direct: I got these tickets, how upset would you be if I went. I know you asked if I’d come home early tonight.”
- Dismissing the other’s grievances. Thinking, “Okay, here we go again. I’m the bad guy.” (Point is to see that more is going on beneath the surface; i.e., security, trust, etc.)
- Choosing friends over his/her company without checking in to see how he/she might feel or think.
- Interpreting the other: “What you really meant when you said you’re tired is that you don’t want to listen to me.”
- Psychoanalyzing: “You are trying to make up for your father…”
- Comparing: “The neighbor’s house is so much prettier.” Or, “Jake and Sarah go out at least once a week.”
- Generalizing: “You always…” “You never…” “You barely…” “You wouldn’t understand.” etc, etc.
- Believing you know what’s best for the relationship: “If you’d only listen to me, I know about these things…” or “I’m with the kids all day so I know what they need…”
- Framing your expectations as rules or truths: “It’s really important that you join us for the afternoon.”
- Suggesting how the other should feel.
- Assuming they wouldn’t have ideas or interest about your area of expertise
- Assessing him/her by the same standards as you do your friends. (We don’t live with our friends.)
- Teasing the other’s efforts: “You’re really having a tough time with that, aren’t you.”
- Suggesting a “better way”: “If you…” “When I do it, I…”, “Try it this way…” or “Why don’t you…”
- Casual Name-calling: “You’re so grumpy today.”
And, oh yeah! More examples:
- Criticizing in front of other people
- Not replying
- Not making eye-contact
- Rolling eyes
- Giving the look
- Walking away
- Using harsh tone to get through to your partner
- Pointing out what he/she is doing wrong
- Pointing out what he/she is not doing well enough
- Pointing out what he/she is not doing exactly as you’d like it done
- Being in a bad mood around your partner–but not your friends
- Expecting the other to match your level of energy and use of time
- Ignoring or condescending the other’s needs that you think are unimportant
- Sarcasm & Teasing