by Andrea M. Darcy
Nice to others, but once you are alone with your partner, another side roars out? Keep asking yourself, ‘why am I so mean to my partner?’
Why can’t I stop being so mean?
It’s a loaded question. And the answer might be something entirely different than you expect. It also varies depending on you as an individual, so read all of the various scenarios below before jumping to conclusions.
Is it all your fault?
The first thing to notice is the self blame. It’s all your fault, you are the big bad wolf, and they are the poor victim.
But this is life, not a fairy tale. And relationships are two adults making choices. The other person is choosing, for their own reasons, to be in a relationship with you. And if they are allowing you to be mean, and are not setting boundaries, then they have their own matching issue. In some way or another they are ‘getting something’ from the relationship.
This is not to say it’s okay to be mean to someone you care about who hasn’t done much to merit it (and it’s certainly not okay if the meanness is leading to abuse of any kind). But this is to say that the blame game, the “I am such a horrible person” tactic, can be a way to blind ourselves to other, more useful truths in our relationship.
Are you really that mean?
Again, if you really are verbally attacking your partner, it’s a serious problem, and it’s great that you are aware of that.
But in some cases we have another agenda. We expect ourselves to be perfect, and live up to some idea we have of ourselves as an endlessly supportive, smiling, and buddha-like partner. We are using our relationship to support our low self-esteem and constantly beat ourselves up by deciding we are a ‘bad partner’ because we snap now and then. And we are actually being false in the process.
Relationships and people are messy. And intimacy is about authenticity. Sure, our partner gets to see our best side. Our loving, open, and warm goodness. But they also get to see our shadow side. Our sadness, our confusion, and, yes, sometimes our full on bitchiness.
photo by: Zach Vessels
Note that it can be our very desire to deny a part of who we are that can lead to outbursts in the first place.
Think of the effort it takes to hold a beach ball under water, only for it to eventually pops up rather dramatically. Whereas if we just let that beach ball float in plain sight there is far less energy required. That beach ball is your upset and worries. Held under it becomes anger that is explosive.
Is it you, or is it them?
Once you get out of blame mode, you can start to evaluate the true sources of your tendency to lash out.
1. Do they do things that actually do annoy you?
Do you have very real reasons for feeling edgy? Is it possible that, through no fault of their own, they are not actually the right partner for you, no matter how ‘nice’ they are? For example, if you are a deep person who values personal evolution, and your partner finds that ‘stuff’ silly and makes jokes about it, it might just be that you don’t share values.
Sometimes meanness is our own way of avoiding a truth we don’t want to face, like that you and your partner are a mismatch and you need to let go.
2. Do they ‘get’ you?
Research shows that having a partner who ‘gets’ us actually leads to better health and even a longer life, according to a study. at Cornell University.
The same study discusses how alternately, if there isn’t ‘perceived partner responsiveness’ (how much you perceive you romantic partner understands, cares for, and appreciates you), we are more easily stressed. And if stress leads to you being snappy…. therein could lie the problem.
3. Is your bad behaviour all on you and they are your dumping ground?
Notice when you lash out. Is it after something else goes wrong? You hear from one friend that another friend is having a get together without you, and you hang up the phone, and next thing you know you are sniping away at your partner?
Being mean can also be an unhealthy form of stress relief. We might have learned this behaviour from parents growing up. Because they did it, we took on board that you lash out at loved ones when upset.
If this is your real problem, then you will notice that your ugly side also comes out around family. Basically, once you let your guard down and are with people you love, you can be mean.
4. Is this way, way bigger than your relationship?
Next question — has this pattern turned up in all your relationships to date? Do you find that the moment you move towards intimacy and love, your inner nastiness steps up to the plate?
Then this is about an unconscious relating pattern, or ‘schema’. You are trapped in a loop of unhealthy behaviour. And that won’t come from nowhere, but from a childhood difficulty or even trauma.
For example, a common cause of adult meanness is childhood abuse. Abuse can leave a child with an unconscious belief that the world is a very dangerous place. Or that there is something wrong with them. Or that it is somehow all their fault. That they are the monster. If it was an adult you loved who hurt you, the belief might be that love is dangerous.
As an adult we can consciously see how crazy this sort of thinking is. And yet unless we take the time process and heal the past, these beliefs live in our unconscious mind and run the show.
photo by: Jakayla Toney
If the world is dangerous, we better be mean to keep people at bay so they can’t hurt us.
If we are a monster, we better make sure we don’t dare feel good things or let people think we are good. We better let them know we are a scary. Say, by being mean.
If love is dangerous, then we better lash out if we start to feel to happy or open.
Borderline personality disorder and lashing out
Childhood sexual abuse is highly linked to the possibility of ending up an adult with what is called ‘borderline personality disorder’.
One of the main symptoms of BPD is ‘emotional dysregulation’. This means your moods go from zero to a hundred just like that. One minute you are okay, the next you are in tears, or, yes, angry and mean.
If you have unstable personality disorder, the main thing that triggers this emotional revving is feeling you are being rejected. At the slightest whiff of rejection you’ll overreact and assume the worst, even if it’s just someone not answering a text you sent.
Can therapy help me from being mean?
Yes. Therapy is very helpful for helping you recognise why you lash out, and how you can better cope with emotions so that people don’t bear the brunt of them and you don’t leave yourself lonely.
If you think you have borderline personality disorder, read our article, “Therapies that Work for BPD”.
Ready to stop ruining your relationships by being mean? And to finally sink into love? We connect you to a team of highly regarded and rated London-based therapists. Or use our online booking site to find affordable UK-wide and online therapy that is accessible worldwide.
Want to share an experience with other readers, or have a question about, ‘why am I so mean to my partner’? Use the comment box below. Note we cannot offer free counselling over comments.
Andrea M. Darcy is a wellbeing and health writer who also coaches people on how to find the right help for their issues and plan their therapy journey. Find her @am_darcy