“That Won’t Work if Your Partner Is Behaving Like a Terrible Person”

a computer generated image of a necromancer in front of a skeleton with glowing eyes
Image by Normajean Rae / CC BY

Since I’ve been writing for a decent-sized audience for a while now, there’s a certain kind of comment I’m used to receiving.

This happens particularly often whenever I write a post where I offer some advice. A tip or a trick. A novel way to approach communication.

Someone will chime in with, “Yeah, well that won’t work if” and share some particularly awful interpersonal situation. One where everything’s screwed up, no one’s acting in good faith, and everything has disintegrated to the point that it’s a wonder why anyone is still interacting with anyone else — let alone being intimate.

The exact situation changes from case to case, but essentially what they’re saying is, “That won’t work if your partner is behaving like a terrible person.”

Well, duh.

If your partner is acting in bad faith, I’m sorry to say that advice isn’t going to magically make you have a good relationship with them. Doesn’t make it bad advice and doesn’t mean it won’t be useful to other people.

That’s not what advice is for, convincing your partner to suddenly act in good faith. And it’s not for other kinds of hopeless cases, the sinking ships that everyone should have left long ago.

No Easy-Peasy Relationship Necromancy

There are lost causes in every field. Not just in fluffier venues, like relationship advice. But even in the hard sciences. After all, shock paddles have their place, but there comes a point where even a medical doctor can’t raise someone from the dead.

That said, I get why people get into DIY relationship necromancy. I was there myself. Spent 10 years with someone I wasn’t terribly compatible with, who also liked to tell me that I was the source of any and all problems in our relationship.

So I got it into my head that if I could only figure out what I were doing wrong and fix it somehow that we’d have a good relationship. I read so much advice in those days, tried so many techniques. And was frustrated to find that none of them were a magic wand. Or an effective way to raise our relationship from the dead.

Now, that doesn’t mean it was a waste of my time. I learned a lot that would go on to serve me well, long after I left that relationship.

Good Faith Versus Bad Faith

That said, one of the most important skills I’ve cultivated over the years is the ability to discern between when a partner is acting in good faith versus when they are acting in bad faith (or dragging their feet and not acting at all).

It’s terribly easy to confuse the two. For some, this means giving someone the benefit of a million doubts that they maybe don’t deserve.

For others, it means confusing normal human imperfection with acting in bad faith. When it comes to seeing bad faith when there is none, it’s important to understand the role of bias, particularly negativity bias.

What’s Negativity Bias?

What’s negativity bias? It’s a well-documented phenomenon that you’ll find in basically every human being: The tendency, all else being equal, for us to cognitively and emotionally weight negative experiences WAY MORE than we do positive experiences.

If you’re interested in it, I wrote more about negativity bias here.

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My new book is out!

Dealing with Difficult Metamours, the first book devoted solely to metamour relationships, full of strategies to help you get along better with your partners’ other partner(s).

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