The Good, the Bad and the Ugly: What Relationships Teach Us


How bad behavior can teach us good things about ourselves

     Our romantic relationships help us see all aspects of our personalities. All of our relationships do this, but romantic relationships do it in the most intense way. Romantic partners are mirrors, reflecting back parts of your personality that you may or many not want to look at. Romantic relationships offer the opportunity to heal wounded parts of yourself. Any conflict you have, especially if it’s a conflict that comes back repeatedly, is showing you where you have a wounded part of yourself that wants to be healed. Romantic relationships also show us parts of our personality that we may have suppressed because we learned as a child that those qualities were undesirable.

     They show us the good, as in when you’re initially attracted to a person. Their good qualities exist somewhere inside you, even if you don’t act them out. You don’t have the ability to appreciate a quality in another person unless you possess that quality yourself and it’s important to your value system. If you didn’t have that quality and it wasn’t important to you, you may recognize the trait but you wouldn’t be attracted to it.

     They show us the bad and the ugly, as in when you are irritated by something your partner does or says. It rubs you the wrong way because it conflicts with your value system. But just as the good is a reflection, those bad qualities also exist somewhere inside you. You may or may not express them, but they’re in there. When I talk about bad qualities, I’m talking about something that an individual judges as bad. Other people might not have a problem with a particular quality, but you do. Examples of ‘bad’ qualities would be messiness, or interrupting a conversation repeatedly. They don’t have to be really bad from an objective standpoint, but they trigger negative reactions in you because you don’t want to acknowledge them. Here’s an exercise you can use to identify and work through when you get triggered.

  1. Think of something your partner does that really irritates you.
  2. In your mind’s eye, scan your body. Where is that feeling located? Is it in your low belly, solar plexus, or your heart? Identify the feeling behind the irritation.
  3. When was the very first time you felt like that? Identify a time during your childhood that triggered the same feeling.
  4. What did you make it mean about yourself that first time? Once you understand that, you can calmly tell your partner how their behavior impacts you. You can say, “when you do (whatever it is), I feel like (whatever the feeling is).”

     For example, let’s say your partner interrupts you repeatedly. Close your eyes and scan your body for the feeling. Maybe your solar plexus feels tight, and when you ask yourself, what is this feeling, you realize you’re afraid that what you say isn’t important, and you feel a vague sense of shame. Going back to the first time you felt this way, you recall a time when you were five years old. You were trying to tell your mother that you needed to use the bathroom, and she interrupted you and wouldn’t let you speak. As a result, you had an accident. You made it mean that your needs weren’t important, and you experienced shame at having an accident. When your partner interrupts, it triggers that original experience.

     Remembering that original experience, which was probably buried deep in your subconscious, will help you understand your reaction. With that understanding, you can have a calm conversation with your partner and make a specific, clear request that they stop interrupting you. If they slip, you can notice how you react; it most likely won’t bother you as much as before.

     To heal even further, you can have a conversation with that part of your subconscious mind. Tell that five year old that you’re sorry your mother didn’t listen, that it’s ok she had the accident, and that it doesn’t mean she’s not important. Ask her if there’s something she needs to tell you, and listen for the response. When these wounded parts of our personality feel heard, understood and loved, they heal. When they heal, you’ll no longer be triggered.


This article was originally published at . Reprinted with permission from the author.