When It's Not Them, It's You
“It’s not you, it’s me”
We usually hear this statement during breakups, but it applies to other situations too. Sometimes, a conflict arises because of one person is dealing with issues that have nothing to do with the other. Another way to say "it's not you, it's me" is “it’s not your fault, it’s mine."
We like to think that we are incapable of making mistakes and always express ourselves correctly. Unfortunately, miscommunication is as common as cold weather in the Midwest: we try our best to avoid it, but we can't completely stay out of its way.
Months ago, I was discussing an upcoming summer vacation with my boyfriend Nathan. He wanted to plan another trip in the fall involving a variety of activities, dining out, the works. Finances are a difficult topic in any relationship, but given my status as a grad student and that l am currently making less money than him, I began to feel inferior and frustrated. I didn't want to go broke while paying for school, but I also didn't want to miss out on the fun with him.
We went back and forth on the subject: Nathan was enthusiastically explaining how we could do XYZ and ABC, while I just sat there feeling annoyed and pressured to drop money that I didn’t have on a trip that I wasn’t sure I could afford. The conversation died down, and I finally realized that I wasn’t actually mad at Nathan or even spending money on a trip: I was feeling on edge about my financial situation. I didn’t realize that I was letting my feelings overlap with my mood, causing me to come off like I was frustrated with at Nathan.
Context matters. In times like this, you have to remove yourself from the situation. Ask yourself why you’re upset, break down your emotions, and if your partner is the one causing this emotion, evaluate if this is even worth getting upset about.
In my case, I had to look at why I was upset: I felt like it was glaringly obvious that I was making less money and couldn’t afford to do as much. I felt like I was being pushed to spend what I didn’t have, and I also didn't want Nathan to feel like he had to cover me. In reality, he was pitching this trip as a present for my birthday. He wasn’t asking me to spend anything, he was offering to pay for the idea.
Realizing this, I felt terrible. I apologized to Nathan. “It’s not you, it’s me. I’m sorry. I let what I was frustrated with financially affect me too much. You haven't done anything wrong and I'm so sorry.”
After telling Nathan how I felt and explaining that it wasn't his fault, I felt a huge wash of relief. The situation improved because he was willing to listen and see where I was coming from. He had noticed my frustration and was kind enough to help me overcome the feeling of financial inferiority and reassured me that there was nothing to be upset about.
Communication in these kinds of situations is necessary. Some of us need time to process what we are feeling before we can accurately verbalize it. Others feel the need to speak the second a negative thought pops into their head.
Every relationship has issues because it's a bond formed by two different people. No matter how much your interests align, you will have different perspectives sometimes. However, it is important to recognize when your issue doesn't have much to do with the other person.
Minor issues can be solved with compromise, respect, and understanding. It isn’t bad to want to save money, have a clean space, or hang out with your friend uninterrupted. However, if you don’t communicate that, it ends up being reflected to your partner or friend that your frustration is their fault. This leads to mixed messages and avoidable arguments.
When an issue arises and you can't tell whether you are frustrated with the other person or yourself, take a minute to step back. Go outside and clear your head, get off the phone, and do not say anything that you haven't thought through. Ask yourself why you are so aggravated by the situation: "Why am I mad right now?".
Then break down what caused you to get there: was it a comment they made, or a pre-existing thought process you had? If you need to, write everything down to retrace your thought process. You might have been mad when your girlfriend asked you to do the dishes while you were finishing a stressful report downstairs, but how did she know what you were doing if you didn't tell her? You won't find a solution by passive-aggressively washing dishes. Tell the other person how you feel and offer a solution if necessary:
"It was me, not you. You didn't know I was doing work. If the dishes can wait twenty minutes, I'll do them as soon as I'm done with my assignment."
And if you are on the other side of this? Be patient, but don't be afraid to ask for clarification. You don't want to start an argument over a sink of dishes, but you also don't want to walk on eggshells. Acknowledge their apology and say something to the effect of: "I appreciate your apology and I know you're busy. If you wash the dishes later, I'll put them away."
No relationship is perfect because no person is a perfect communicator. However, communication isn't an uncrackable code. If you respect, trust, and love the other person and you know they feel the same about you, you will have a far better time explaining what you feel and reaching an intended result. Don't let a sink full of dishes, a mixed message, or a vacation lead to the breakdown of your relationship.