If You're Mad At Your Partner, This Is Probably What It's Really About

They're not the ones you're actually mad at.

couple on bus arguing Drazen Zigic / Shutterstock

There are times when my boyfriend offers to do something for me, like opening the jelly jar or backing up my computer, that annoys me.

I'll say, "I can do it" in an irritated manner.

I have to hold myself back from bringing up the fact that I have a college degree and have been alive long enough to pick up things from time to time. 

I've said, "I'm not lame," and, "I'm not completely helpless," and the ever-popular, "I can do it myself."


And that's when I'm being kind of a brat. I become annoyed and forget that he's just trying to help. I'm acting as if he's attempting to belittle me. 

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Whoa, what's going on here?


In an article in The Elephant Journal, psychotherapist Gerti Schoen talks about how she can't stand it when her husband tries to tell her what to do, and how she realizes that the problem behind her irrational response is projection.

Projection or blame-shifting is a defense mechanism where individuals put their own unacceptable thoughts, feeling and actions onto others. For example, a self-centered person may constantly accuse other people of being self-centered and thoughtless.

Schoen explains, "What I mistakenly projected onto my husband in these moments was that he was holding all the power in the relationship. The five-year-old in me that didn't have a lot of control growing up suddenly resurfaced, terrified that she wouldn't have any input whatsoever. In order to stave off fear and loss of control, I put up a wall and the gloves come off." 

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I can certainly understand wanting to put up a wall and hide away from my own painful thoughts and behaviors. I have some insecurities from a variety of sources and I know I haven't dealt with them. It's clear that there are triggers that bring up those old painful emotions.

Sometimes when we project our negative thoughts onto someone, we make up entire scenarios about what's taking place in the present that actually happened in the past.

Brené Brown has a method that she calls "The Story I'm Making Up", which, as she told Tech Inside, is about telling the other person your reading of the situation and simultaneously admitting that you know it can't be 100 percent accurate.

These five small words can diffuse a potentially explosive situation or be an honest and vulnerable way to let the person you're talking to know where your head is at.


Carl Jung called the unacceptable parts of a person their shadow. We can't admit them to ourselves so we push them back, deep into the shadows, where they continue to grow in strength. If these shadows aren't dealt with, they can get very dangerous.

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As Schoen says, "Disregarding our shadow and disowning our power is an enormous energy drain. By taking back our projections we take responsibility for our own life."

Whether you use "The Story I'm Making Up," or work at dissolving projections, it's all about accepting our shadows. If we stay in the moment and recognize everything that's happening right now, we will start to deal with the truth of our feelings.


When my boyfriend tries to help me and I get obviously irritated, I need to be honest with myself about what's really going on with me. I know I'm not helpless or feeble, and that my boyfriend knows it as well. Those feelings aren't the truth, but a projection.

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Christine Schoenwald is a writer, performer, and frequent contributor to YourTango. She's had articles featured in The Los Angeles Times, Salon, Bustle, Medium, Huffington Post, Business Insider, and Woman's Day, among many others.