Are there parts of your guy you don’t like?
Maybe you don’t like the way he acts when he’s frustrated and not getting his own way.
Maybe he acts like a completely different person around his guy friends or his family.
It’s hard to reconcile those sides with the side of him you fell in love with…
The side of him that’s soft, sweet and tender.
So which is the real him?
Is he being his real self when he’s cuddled up with you at night confessing his most vulnerable thoughts and feelings?
Is he being his real self when he’s hanging out with his guy friends and tossing back beers?
Or is his real self the person he reverts back to when he goes home for holidays and is around his parents?
These aren’t idle questions.
If you end up spending your life with him, you need him to be the soft, sweet, tender guy you’ve come to know and love.
That can’t be an act he’s putting on to win you over.
Luckily, there’s a system of therapy that can help you get answers…
Your Many Parts
We all have many different sides to our character.
The person we are with our friends isn’t the person we are at work.
That’s completely appropriate. You’re not deceiving your work colleagues by only showing them your professional side. You’re just doing your job.
Being multifaceted helps you fit into different social environments.
But it doesn’t end there.
In the privacy of your own mind, you also have many different sides.
Maybe one side of you wants to be healthy, while another side of you can’t resist treats.
One side of you is satisfied with your job, while another side dreams of quitting and taking a chance on a dream.
One side of you adores your partner, while another side wonders if you can put up with his irritating behavior for the rest of your life.
Which is the real you?
Clearly, they’re ALL you.
You are made up of many parts, including some that contradict each other.
(This is why you can argue with yourself!)
It’s how those parts interact that make you who you are.
Talking to Your Parts
Dr. Richard Schwartz is the founder of Internal Family Systems (IFS)…
A school of therapy that helps people understand and manage all their different parts.
If there’s a part of you that’s self-destructive or self-sabotaging, and you can’t seem to control it, then this type of therapy (also known as “parts work”) can help you talk to that part and find out what it really wants.
I thought so at first, too!
But many of us do rudimentary parts work without even realizing it.
For example, there’s a part of me that doesn’t want to get up and go to work in the morning. My brain resists. It doesn’t want to think that hard.
So I negotiate with that part. I tell it that I will take a break mid-morning and have a really delicious coffee. Usually, that’s enough to convince my resistant part to settle down and get to work.
If you’ve ever gone on a diet or started an exercise program, you’ve probably confronted a part of you that resisted change.
Maybe you got mad at that part. Why was it making this so hard? Why couldn’t it accept your new limitations?
Maybe you felt embarrassed of that part. It weakened you in the face of temptation. It made you lack willpower.
Or maybe you had some compassion for that part. What it was about the diet or exercise program that bothered it? Did it feel life wasn’t worth living without small pleasures? Did it feel lonely exercising on its own? Did it find the extra scrutiny embarrassing?
When you can find even the smallest sliver of compassion for the part of you that’s making your life hard…
You can often think of solutions that make that part feel better.
Shaming parts or getting angry at them never helps. It just makes those parts dig in even harder.
Your Guy’s Parts
So let’s go back to the question that opened this discussion:
Which side of your guy is the “real him”?
Is his true self the one that you see in your most private, intimate moments?
Or is that just one of his many parts?
Internal family systems suggests that your guy has many multi-layered, often contradictory parts.
The part of him that loves you can co-exist with a part of him that feels irritated by or even hates you.
The part of him that wants to be with you can co-exist with a part of him that wants to be free and unencumbered by relationships.
As his partner, you want him to listen to the parts of him that love you and want to be with you!
You might even decide he has “good parts” that make him a kind, loyal boyfriend…
And “bad parts” that make him irresponsible and thoughtless.
But in truth, as Dr. Richard Schwartz writes, “there are no bad parts.”
The parts you don’t like are actually trying to look after his wellbeing. They’re trying to protect him.
Calling out and shaming or blaming those parts will just make them dig in deeper, because they’ll feel under attack.
Ignoring them won’t help, either. That will just entrench the status quo even further.
The only way to handle those parts is by approaching them with compassion and curiosity—which is often the last thing you want to do.
If you can, try to find out what they want. What are they protecting? What vulnerabilities are they hiding? What happened to them in the past to make them this way? And are they open to trying something different?
It can be really strange to speak to a part of yourself, or a part of your boyfriend, as if that part had an independent existence.
And not all men will be open to this kind of approach!
If you’re interested in exploring parts work further, an IFS-trained couples therapist is a great place to start. (Find out more about parts work in couples therapy here.)
There’s one last beautiful insight from IFS I’d like to wrap up with.
According to Dr. Schwartz, we all do have a True Self that’s separate from our parts. That Self is the observer or witness.
You’ll know you are speaking from your True Self when you feel the presence of compassion, creativity, curiosity, confidence, courage, calm, connectedness, and clarity.
Your guy has access to all of those qualities, too.
When he’s connected to Self, he’s the dream man you know and love.
But sometimes… or maybe quite often… his parts get in the way.
In my next article, I’ll explain how.