Snap Out Of This Common Assumption About Your Partner Before You Wreck Your Relationship

Couples therapists Harville and Helen share why this disastrous mindset will make your relationship tailspin — and how to snap out of it.

happy couple sparklestroke and Wavebreakmedia / Getty Images via Canva

If you are still waiting and wishing that your partner would just see the light and behave in the way you think they should, then you are living a fantasy.

Idealizing a figment of our imagination — rather than living with and accepting the real flesh and blood person who is our partner — sets us up for failure.

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We see our partners through our image of what we think they are, rather than seeing them as they are, or as they see themselves.

And here’s the rub: when you take up the banner to “improve” your partner, you are annihilating them. You are wishing for the real person to be gone and your image of them to take their place, and then you treat them accordingly.

Guess what? That’s also what your partner does to you! And you wonder why your relationship isn’t going so well now that the euphoric stage of romantic love has passed?

If this sounds familiar, we invite you to take a journey of discovery. Engage your partner with curiosity; surrender judgment. You may discover a whole new, amazing world.


Your partner is an “other,” with a whole world inside, one which you cannot fully enter or change. You may want sameness — for your partner to be just like you or your ideal image — but that’s not going to happen.

If you want a great relationship, you have to let your partner be.

Your frustration with your partner is an objection to them being their true self. It is an objection to their reality; to the fact that they are not like you; that they do not fit your idealized picture.

Let’s be honest: Your frustration is a denial of reality.

The deepest form of suffering is the denial of reality, and the greatest denial of reality is denying the reality of the person you live with.


Quote from Harville & Helen about denying our partner's reality

Your partner will always strive to be who they are, even if they're trying to fit into your image. If your partner tries to deny themselves, they will eventually become angry or depressed. That wish for sameness is the source of difficulty in living with another person.

Differences are our reality.

Your partner has an inner world that is different from yours.

Your partner’s feelings are different.


Your partner’s thoughts are different.

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Your partner’s temperament is different.

Your partner’s desires are different.

Your partner’s childhood was different.

Your partner is not you!

Get it?

Practice simple acceptance.

  • Ask: “Why do they do that?” “Why do they feel that way?”
  • Ask what it is like to live in your partner’s skin.
  • When you judge your partner, they cannot help but become defensive.
  • When you approach them with curiosity, you have taken the first step on the path to intimacy.

In the early romantic stage of your relationship, you felt inseparable, as though you were so much alike. You knew that all of your needs would be met in this relationship.


But in the second stage, you experience conflict. You disagree; you fight. Your partner wants things that you don’t.

How could this be? Who is this person?

You try to get your partner to see things your way, to behave as you wish. You criticize, shame, and blame, all in an effort to coerce them into being who you think they should be. But they become defensive, distant. T

This process will only escalate until the relationship is torn apart.

Before you know it, you are leading parallel lives, and the prospect of divorce has raised its ugly head.


This doesn’t have to happen.

You are longing to love your partner, and they are longing to love you, but you have become separate. Trying to create sameness will not get you there; learning to accept and honor your differences will.

In a healthy relationship, you realize you live with another person who is not an extension of you.

Your partner is a unique individual with an equally valid point of view. When you learn to love those differences that you now find so annoying, you have entered the realm of mature love.

RELATED: How To Get Your Partner To Change For The Better

Harville Hendrix, Ph. D., is a couples therapist with over 40 years of experience as a counselor, educator, clinical trainer, author, public lecturer and has received many awards for his work with couples. He and his wife, Helen LaKelly Hunt, co-created Imago Relationship Therapy, a therapy for couples now practiced by over 2,200 certified therapists in 30 countries.