December 15, 2022
We often forget that our mental health as an individual has a huge amount to do with the health of our relationship. In other words, you can read all the relationship advice you want, but if your self-care doesn’t change, you may not affect the changes that you want in your relationship, either.
In this vein, one simple way of cultivating your relationship is to examine your self-talk… And how that translates into conversations with your partner. The key question here is “Would you say that to a friend?”
Why Self-Talk Matters
To put it simply, self-talk is like the scaffolding from which you build your interior world: your personality, emotions, thought patterns, and emotional well-being. It’s probably oversimplification to say “Just change that, and everything else will follow!” On the other hand, it certainly doesn’t help to shower yourself in criticism and hurtful judgments day in and out.
This is the crux of asking “Would you say that to a friend?” If you followed your friend around all day telling them things like “You did a bad job on that, you should be ashamed of yourself” every time they didn’t do something perfectly, what do you think their mood would be?
And if you observe this in yourself, what sort of mood follows?
Will the Perfect Person in the Room Please Stand Up?
Consciously managing your self-talk is one way to deal with the fact that we’re not perfect. None of us. In fact, if I tell you that you’re allowed to make mistakes in your life, how surprised do you feel on a scale of 1-10? How much do you believe that you can make mistakes and still be okay overall?
Let’s take an example of a frequent, everyday mistake: being late to an appointment. As you rush to get to your car, your thoughts tangle up in your noggin: “This person is going to think I don’t respect their time. I’m a bad person. I’m never going to get things right.” By the time you get to the appointment, you snap at the neutral receptionist when she asks what time it was. “More evidence that I’m a bad person,” you add.
So, what if your friend had called you on the road and told you about their struggle to be on time? Would you support them by saying “Well, it’s all your fault, you know. You’re too dumb to maintain a schedule like an adult, and you don’t deserve success anyway.” Harsh, right?
And this reaction is almost laughably unthinkable. You would probably tell a stressed friend something like, “I’m sorry your morning has sucked, and I hope it gets better.” You would offer them emotional support, because that will help the situation far more than criticism.
So, can you offer that support to yourself?
And if you’re accustomed to criticizing yourself, can you start noticing when you react to yourself that way? Would it be possible to pause, take a breath, and try to reset? How would you feel if you offered yourself a little grace?
Bringing Constructive Self-Talk into Your Relationship
This extends to your partner, as well. Two imperfect people in an imperfect relationship benefit greatly from giving each other grace.
This doesn’t mean that you change your core message or sweep things under the rug about how you really feel. But it does often mean rephrasing things using the “Would you say that to a friend?” check.
Cultivating your relationship with a habit of (sincere) positive talk between partners can go a long way toward knitting a safety net. It’s like putting emotional savings in the bank for the tough times.
Of course, keeping your exchanges in that space can be difficult when deeper issues are at play. Don’t hesitate to reach out for help from a professional counselor to untangle the foundational knots in your relationship. Sometimes the first spark of positive self-talk will come from the unconditional support of someone outside yourself and your relationship.