I’ve been pretty on the record with the fact that I’m anti-relationship testing. What’s relationship testing? Well, it’s funny because relationship testing is shockingly common behavior — in fact, it’s so common that most people don’t know it has a name or even what it is because it’s baked into their beliefs about how relationships operate. And not just romantic relationships, mind you, but all of them — familial, friendship, coworker, etc.
Relationship testing is doing anything that’s intended to indirectly ascertain if the other person cares about you or the relationship you have. These behaviors 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 sometimes relationship testers will attempt a dramatic gesture, such as an intentional overdose, so that their partner has to come in and save them, proving their love.
It can also manifest in very small, subtle ways in which people insert hidden challenges in their conversations with other people designed to test how much others care for them. Conversational tricks and traps, with hidden right and wrong responses to what the relationship tester is saying that are all about ascertaining how much the other person cares about them (but done indirectly and often dishonestly).
“Stop Texting to See Who Your Friends Are”
I recently discovered another common form of relationship testing actually being peddled as relationship advice: “Stop texting to see who your friends are.”
The thought behind the experiment is this: If a person really cares about us, they will notice when we stop making an effort, miss us, make an effort in return, and reach out.
And if they don’t? Well, they don’t care about us, do they? They never cared about us. Good riddance.
And I see why people are offering this advice. On its surface, it’s simple — it makes a basic kind of sense. And it’s easy to implement, too. It doesn’t require a big amount of courage or finesse. it simply requires that the person who wants to relationship test be silent and wait.
However, the basic sense that it makes dissipates when even the tiniest amount of perspective-taking enters the picture: Will the person on the other end of such an experiment respond appropriately to the silence? Or might they mistake the sudden silence as a mood shift and a request for space from the other person?
The trouble with this test is that silence is ambiguous. As I mentioned in another post, this is precisely why ghosting is so psychologically damaging — ambiguity tends to be painful and difficult to move past. An ambiguous stimulus makes for a poor test, which means even if you’re keen on relationship testing, it’s not the best-designed experiment.
Furthermore, people legitimately do get busy. Your friends ostensibly do have lives outside of you (personally, I prefer being friends with busy people as they’re typically more interesting, even if it means that I’m not their only priority).
And obviously I think relationship testing is always a mistake.
“But, Page,” you might ask, “how am I supposed to know how people care unless I test them?”
For starters, you can ask them (although I suppose that means trusting what they say, which can be difficult for people). And you can also observe.
But I think that’s almost beside the point. If you can’t exist happily in a relationship without testing it, it usually means one of two things — and sometimes both:
- You have deep-seated issues that you need to work on.
- This is not the relationship for you.
For more reframes and tools to maintain healthy relationships of all kinds, please see Dealing with Difficult Metamours, a guide to troubleshooting challenging polyamorous dynamics as well as guidance on how to not create them in the first place.