What’s it like to be on the receiving end of me?
A friend asked me that question years ago, after it was a small group discussion series at her church. It took her aback when they were studying it, and it had the same effect on me when she asked me. What is it like to be on the receiving end of me?
In her church group, they did an anonymous survey wherein people wrote comments about the other members, based on how they experienced them, positively and negatively. My friend learned she’s perceived as ‘rigid’, ‘kind’, ‘generous’, ’moody’, and ‘judgmental’…none of which she’d argue with in theory, but some were nonetheless hard to hear.
In a relationship, you can’t get anonymous feedback on your partner’s experience of you … nor can you give it.
And we often don’t think too much about how we’re perceived, because it’s easier and more natural to think about what our intentions are, or what our behavior looks like from our own vantage point, not from our SO’s. But it can be so valuable to take some time to try to see ourselves through their eyes.
Does our talking over them feel like excitement and eagerness to engage, or interrupting? If we usually defer to their wishes, does that make us seem flexible and easy to please, or put the unwelcome burden of decision-making squarely on them? Does our take-charge approach to making plans help them feel cared-for or bossed around?
What can you learn about yourself by asking these kinds of questions?
What an insightful window into your own strengths and blind spots! And how scary could that be?! I’ve thought about some ways to approach it myself, and talked with clients about it over the years, and I’ve come up with a few questions you might consider starting with.
First, I suggest explaining why you’re asking, and feel free to use this post as your catalyst. (After all, that’s why I wrote it 😉). Then, move onto one or more of these, stressing that you’re really interested in honest responses, so that you can get a better view of yourself as a partner.
What 6 words would you use to describe me?
Can you give me 3 positive and three negative words?
Can you give me an example of some of these?
For instance, my friend was seen as rigid. The examples she got about that were, to her, just doing things ‘the right way’, or upholding standards, so it was eye-opening for her to learn others saw it differently. Examples help put things in context.
In our relationship, how big a deal are my more difficult qualities?
From my own life, I can tell you that my impatience has been a pretty big problem for a couple of people in my life, and a non-issue for others. Understanding the relative significance of things can help you know what to focus on modifying in order to make things even better between you.
My friends who dislike my impatience get a lot more grace from me about how quickly they respond to texts, for example. It takes work on my part not to ping them again, but in the end, my discomfort in waiting a bit longer pays off in other ways.
At its heart, the purpose of this is two-fold.
First, self-awareness is almost never a bad thing, and accurate self-awareness is even better. Knowing how others perceive you can let you know how to be in a relationship, not just what to do. How we show up matters, our intention matters, and how others perceive us matters. It’s less about changing ourselves to suit others and more about being aware and mindful of how we come across. That alone can improve any relationship.