He means to make your life terrible.
He doesn’t care about you. If he did, he wouldn’t behave like that.
He’s so annoying.
And his family are all awful, too.
Why does he act this way?
Well, it’s obvious, isn’t it?
He acts like a jerk because he IS a jerk.
And you have to put up with it.
NEITHER of those statements are true.
The Jerk Excuse
This is one of the most enduring patterns in relationships:
He’s bad—you’re good.
He did the wrong thing—you try hard to do the right thing.
He doesn’t care about you—you care about him.
He’s thoughtless—you’re careful.
He forgets everything—you remember everything.
He doesn’t want you to be happy—you’ve got to look out for yourself.
But there’s a problem with that story:
It KILLS you.
It breeds mistrust and animosity.
It turns innocent mistakes into major conflicts.
It encourages you to look down on him.
It eats up love and spits it out and leaves only resentment behind.
Can You Love a Jerk?
If your guy isn’t treating you well, you have two options:
- Talk to him about it and make a plan to address it, or
- End the relationship.
If he really is as bad as you say he is, and he refuses to change, then leaving is probably the best option.
This isn’t a healthy situation for you. You deserve a relationship where you can feel safe, supported, and secure.
But sometimes we complain about our relationships just to complain.
We call him a jerk because that word slips so easily off our tongue.
We secretly love him a ton. He’s annoying but he’s ours.
If this is you, then listen up.
There’s a popular saying in self-help circles that goes:
It’s better to be loving than to be right.”
Any time you make him wrong, you’re making yourself right.
Now, it feels good to be right. Incredibly good!
But it turns you into adversaries instead of lovers.
Adversaries are always looking for ways to get one up on the other.
You end up in a power struggle. You can’t let down your guard for a moment. You’ve always got to be on the lookout for what mischief he’s planning next.
You’ve got to second-guess his motives. Is he lying to you? Is he going to use this against you in future?
That’s just exhausting.
But there is another way.
Science to the Rescue
It starts by looking at the belief that he acts like a jerk because he IS a jerk.
This is what’s known as a fundamental attribution error.
It means that you attribute his thoughtless behavior to the type of person he is, rather than taking into account what else might be going on.
For example, he forgets something once, and you start calling him forgetful. You don’t consider the fact that he forgot this time because he had 1001 other things on his mind, or that he usually doesn’t forget.
Or he does something thoughtless, and you decide that makes him a jerk. You don’t consider the fact that everyone messes up from time to time, or he might have had good intentions, or he’d been under a lot of stress, or he honestly didn’t know any better.
You don’t make that mistake with yourself.
When you look at your own less-than-superlative behaviors, you clearly see the situational factors that contributed.
You made that rude comment NOT because you’re a rude person but because he provoked you, or you were tired, or what you said was factually true albeit tactless.
You give yourself a lot of leeway. And you give him hardly any at all.
Make Generous Assumptions
There’s a kinder, more compassionate way to look at your partner’s bad behavior.
It starts with realizing that we’re all human and and we all make mistakes.
We’re all born good. Think of a baby. Who would ever say that beautiful gurgling baby was bad?
Yet as we grow up, a lot of stuff happens to us. We don’t get our needs met. We get hurt. We’re told lies about ourselves.
As adults, we act out those wounds. We do stupid things to feel better about ourselves. We act out the patterns we saw in our parents’ relationship. We refuse to look at our own unconscious patterns, because our self-esteem is reliant on believing we’re good people.
From that perspective, both you and your guy are coping with a LOT of stuff.
You’re trying to feel good about yourselves while also negotiating a relationship that pushes your buttons.
When your self-esteem is at risk, love takes second fiddle. You’d rather blame problems on him than risk feeling bad about yourself.
But what if you called yourself on what you were doing?
There I go, making him the bad guy again.”
What if you focused more on why you felt hurt by him and what you can do about it, rather than ruminating over why his actions proved he’s a major jerk?
What if you opened up and shared your vulnerabilities with him?
Try telling him:
I didn’t feel good when you said that. You probably didn’t mean it the way I took it, but I heard it as saying I’m not sexy [or whatever]. Could we talk about it for a second?”
Instead of blaming him, share your pain.
Don’t make it about him. Make it about the fact that you’re vulnerable, and certain things hurt you even if that was never their intention.
Maybe he’ll be emboldened by your confession enough to share some of his own vulnerabilities.
At the very least you’ve given him the opportunity to clarify or rethink the impact of his words on you.
You Did The Brave Thing
It’s an incredibly brave thing to do:
Drop your defenses and raise a white flag.
What if he takes advantage of you? What if he uses your confessions to make fun of you?
Well, then you know this relationship is over. This isn’t a man who can be trusted to hold your heart.
Refusing to blame and speaking your truth puts you in a very powerful place.
You’re not at the mercy of what he does to you.
You have the right to respond consciously, rather than just take it.
You don’t have to compromise yourself or figure out how to get him back for it. If you believe that trust really is an issue, then you can end the relationship.
None of this is about him. It’s about YOUR choices.
That’s good training for the future.
Couples that thrive through adversity share a common trait:
When things get bad, they turn towards each other instead of away.
They don’t lash out. They don’t turn their backs.
They’re willing to face the awful prospect that they’re not as perfect as they want to believe. Mistakes aren’t the end of the world. Refusing to acknowledge them is.
But to do that, you’ve got to give up the belief that you’re good and he’s bad.
You’ve got to give his mistakes the same kind of thoughtful understanding you give your own.
You’ve got to look past the tendency to judge him and explore the possibility of talking more honestly about your pain.
What will YOU do about the situation?
That’s the only question that matters.