Why We Need to Let the Ones We Love Make Mistakes

When it comes to relationship advice, pretty much anywhere you look, the word ‘trust’ will come up. In fact, in our society, trust has come to be up there with love and loyalty as far as traits that make a successful relationship.

But what, exactly, does it mean?

Trust that our loved ones won’t cheat on us? That’s certainly important; you can’t build a healthy relationship while simultaneously getting offended every time that they talk to someone of the gender or genders they’re interested in.

Trust that our loved ones won’t hurt us? Well, we have to trust that they won’t hurt us intentionally or excessively, but a little bit of pain is just part of the territory every now and again.

But what about trusting them not to do something stupid? Trusting them not to put their foot in their mouth? Trusting them not to make mistakes or royally fuck things up in their own lives? Is that sort of trust important?

Because sometimes, it can be really, really hard; I get it. We are talking about someone you care about, and when they start to do something that you not only disagree with, but that you can see potential ramifications for in the near or distant future, you might want to get involved.

You might want to steer them away from saying that thing that might fuck things up.

You might want to tell them not to do something that poses a potential risk, just because you don’t want to see them get hurt.

You might worry about them, and worry about them a lot, because they matter to you, and their happiness and wellbeing matters to you. And we all know that everyone makes mistakes every once in a while, and you might start to think that, if you can help them just avoid those mistakes beforehand, tell them what to do and how to act now before anyone gets hurt, then you’re just looking out for them. You’re just being a good partner to them.

But let’s go back to that idea of trust now, because I’m going to suggest something here: you need to trust them to be able to handle their own lives.

And I’m not saying that relationships aren’t a partnership and that you shouldn’t work together; you should. But when it comes to your partner’s life, work, hobbies, and friendships, that is their business. They might talk to you about it. You might be able to give them insight and input about what they can do about it. But end of day, that is their life, and they should be free to live it. And you need to trust that they have the judgement and intelligence to live it well.

And I know what you might be thinking now: but what if they don’t? What if they fuck up? What if they say the wrong thing to the wrong person, and they lose a friend, or they embarrass themselves, or they get themselves punched? What if they lose their job? What if they make the wrong decision and regret it later? Isn’t it better for me to guide them and make sure that they can avoid all of that?

Well, in my opinion, no, and for a few reasons.

First of all, maybe your partner will make mistakes. It’s totally possible; we all do, after all. We all say stupid things from time to time and make the wrong decision. We all lose friends or jobs or pride. It happens. And that’s the point; it happens to all of us. It’s a human experience, and it happens for a reason. We make mistakes so that we can learn from them. We say stupid things so that we can realize that they’re stupid and not say them again. We make the wrong decision so that we can realize that it’s the wrong decision and fix it later. It isn’t always as simple as that, no; sometimes it takes time, and sometimes that time is spent in regret or depression or anxiety, and it can be very hard for us to see our loved ones experience that, but sometimes they just have to. That’s just part of life, and you can’t keep them from living life. Chances are, you wouldn’t even want to.

Secondly, you might think that you are helping them avoid mistakes, but you can never really know for sure. Though your heart might be in the right place when you lead them toward making a certain decision, they might later decide that that was the wrong decision, and that the alternative would have been preferable. And maybe they would have chosen the alternative if they had just gone with their gut rather than allow themselves to be influenced by outside parties. It’s hard to say; not one of us living has all the answers. If we did, we wouldn’t run into these conundrums in the first place.

When it comes to relationships, we need to trust our partners to be able to use their own judgement and their own intelligence. We need to have faith that, when faced with difficult choices, they will make the one that feels right to them, and hopefully that choice is the right one. And if it isn’t, if it’s the choice that leads to pain and heartbreak, then we need to try to be there for them to the best of our ability. But end of day, we should not try to tell our partners what to do and how to act, because that isn’t actually doing them any favours. When we do this, it doesn’t actually help them to grow as people, but leaves them stagnant, relying on you to tell them right from wrong, which is not a healthy way to lead a life. And when we do this, we are communicating to them that we do not trust them to lead their own lives. We place ourselves in the role of parent and them in the role of misbehaving child, even if that is not what we intended. And though our hearts are in the right place, it is not fair to our partners.

So though it might be difficult to trust that the universe will be fair to the ones that mean the most to us, we need to at least trust our loved ones to have the ability to navigate their way through it. Have faith in their abilities, because they are much more capable than you might even realize.

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Why “My Girl/Boyfriend Won’t Let Me” is Problematic

In many relationships, two things tend to happen: 1) you will change over the course of the relationship, and 2) you will find that you need to respect the opinion of your partner. This is just the nature of life in partnerships, and I am not going to argue that either of these things are a bad thing. Really, they don’t have to be. Change can very well be a good thing, it can be a sign of growth and development, while respect is absolutely necessary in creating a happy and harmonious social environment.

But that being said, I do have a growing pet peeve when it comes to relationships that involves both of these things.

These pet peeves show up most often in the form of little comments, things like: “I wish I could change my hair, but my boyfriend won’t let me”, or “I can’t go out tonight, my boyfriend won’t let me”, or “I don’t really hang out with that person anymore, my boyfriend doesn’t like them”. These sorts of comments usually earn from me one of two responses, either “dump him” or “he’s your boyfriend, not your father”, but to be honest, these comments trouble me a bit more than I tend to let on. Not because I think of it as a sign that the relationship is abusive or that either party in this relationship are inherently bad people or anything like that, but it does reflect an attitude that I find somewhat troubling: this idea that one partner in a relationship can and should control the other.

And although I focused primarily on women in the given examples, this can happen to men as well. And I’m sure that this happens in many different ways, taking several different forms depending on who is involved, but the way that we tend to think about most often, stereotypically speaking, is an intentional attempt from the female partner to ‘change him’ – to make him spend less time playing Dungeons and Dragons with his buddies and more time being suave and cool or whatever it is that she intends for him to do now. I can’t personally speak to how accurate this stereotype is, but I’m sure it does happen. I think we’ve all heard the tropes that when it comes to women, they ‘like a project’, they want a ‘fixer-upper’.

And, personally, I take issue with this idea for two reasons: 1) maybe he liked playing Dungeons and Dragons with his buddies. Maybe that made him happy, and yes, you also make him happy, but differently. You aren’t his entire source of joy in this life, and you aren’t making him a better man by taking the other sources away from him. And 2) chances are, you entered into this relationship knowing who he was; shouldn’t you love him for who he is? I mean, yes, we are all flawed, and he might have some habits and hobbies that are kind of annoying, but asking him to stop doing something that he enjoys is entirely different from asking him to pick up his dirty socks off the floor; one matters to him and the other doesn’t. You don’t have to join him in the hobby; you don’t have to understand it; you just need to respect that it matters to him.

But let’s get back to the little comments that I’ve heard women make about what their boyfriends will and will not let them do. Because while these two examples are similar, both of them getting back to this issue of control, they are also very different. The latter example that I gave about one partner intentionally changing the way that the other lives is very overt, and it does require a bit of consent on the changed partner’s part – how rational and well-informed that consent may be is another matter, as they might be agreeing to go along with everything just because they’re so in love at the moment, but nonetheless, consent must be given to make this very obvious, blatant change. The first example is much more subtle.

The first example is limiting what the other partner can and can’t do in small ways, ways that can easily be ignored or brushed off at first, but that build up over time – making them ask for permission instead of an opinion.

And don’t get me wrong, it is perfectly fine to consult with your partner about making plans or changing your style or hanging out with a specific person. You can ask them if they had any plans, what their opinion is, etc., but at the end of the day, the decision should always be yours. This is your life, your body, your friends – you have the ultimate say in what happens with all of it. And if your partner is actually getting outright angry with you because you have respectfully made plans with someone else or because you got a haircut, then that is a totally separate problem and it isn’t fair to you.

The reason why this is such a pet peeve of mine is because, in relationships, the issue of control seems to come up often, but I am personally of the belief that neither party should be in control of the other. Too often, we romanticize this idea that every couple is two halves of a whole that is only completed when they’re together, but this isn’t true. Every single couple in this world is made up of two completed, totally whole individuals who are just trying to make all their quirks and weirdness mesh well together, and both parties in the relationship should be treated as though they are both whole, both capable of making decisions for themselves.

You do not need your partner to make decisions for you. You should not let them make the decisions for your own life. Because you are a partnership; you need to work together. You need to respect one another, and part of that respect comes from respecting who they are as a person and the fact that they are fully capable of taking care of themselves. And while you’re together, you very well might change, but your partner should not be the one in control of that change.