It Takes Two to Dig: Rewriting Relationship Tests

2 shovels on a beach, both with plastic heads (one blue, one neon green)
Image by Rusty Clark / CC BY

I previously wrote about a struggle I’ve faced with “testing” in my relationship with Skyspook in small ways.

Relationship testing involves forcing a partner to demonstrate their love. It can vary widely in severity. In the most destructive relationship tests, partners set up dilemmas in which they are pitted against something vital to their partner, to see if they “win.” This is the partner that says, “If you really loved me, you’d give up your friends for me.” Or who will attempt a dramatic gesture, such as an intentional overdose, so that their partner has to come in and save them, proving their love.

These kinds of relationship tests are fairly easy to spot, although very difficult to deal with. Especially if you’re very invested in the relationship (you live together, are financially entwined, have children and/or a long history, etc).

Questioning the Phrasing of a Received Compliment

However, a lot of us are guilty of making smaller gestures that are in the same emotional realm. My repeated attempts to get Skyspook to describe precisely what love means to him are a good example.

Questioning the phrasing of a received compliment is a very common, milder form of relationship testing. Blogger Jack Herlocker writes an excellent example of such a test in his piece Conversation with My Wife (02):

I see my wife in a new outfit for the first time, and she really looks great, so:

Me: In that outfit, you are easily the most beautiful woman I have ever known!

She: [with a look on her face like I just punched her in the gut] So… just the women you’ve known? Other women are much prettier?

Me: [short pause] What I meant was, you are the most beautiful women I have ever known, could ever know, or could conceivably come into existence.

She: [looking like her puppy died] But only in this outfit? Otherwise I’m just mediocre?

[long pause]

Me: I love you very, very much!

She: [laughing and kissing me] First law of holes, honey!

*

I know this dynamic is supposed to be funny – this back and forth between spouses. The testing, failure, and punishment. After all, it’s the backbone of a million mediocre comedy routines. But it’s not.

And what sort-of works in stand up? Is absolute shit for relationships. At its worst, it erodes trust. At best, it’s obnoxious.

The first law of holes is that when you’re in one, you stop digging. While his wife admonishes him to stop by alluding to this adage, I would argue that she’s just as guilty and is flinging shovelfuls right back at him.

It takes two to dig.

Rewriting the Conversation to Remove Testing

Here’s how I would rewrite the conversation to eliminate the testing.

I see my wife in a new outfit for the first time, and she really looks great, so:

Me: In that outfit, you are easily the most beautiful woman I have ever known!

She: [with a look on her face like I just told her she was incredibly beautiful] Awwww… thank you.

Or if you’re going for the Poly Honor Student answer:

Me: In that outfit, you are easily the most beautiful woman I have ever known!

She: Well, I try not to compare myself to others, but I’ll accept the compliment. You don’t look so bad yourself.

But I’m not a poly honor student, so the first would probably sit just fine with me.

*

While it’s a very minor issue I’ve raised, and Herlocker and many others laugh and find the light side of it, I think whenever possible that we should not neglect the small things in a relationship. They have a way of becoming a rehearsal for who we are in a larger sense.

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