Time to read: 2 minutes

It may have happened to you, or to a friend, but the chances are you have experienced it. In a romantic relationship, one person doesn’t like something their partner does, most commonly spending time with a particular person. It could be an ex-romantic partner, or a friend, but that relationship makes them uncomfortable. Depending on the self-awareness of the uncomfortable person, their response could be to demand their partner not see them, or just to say they don’t like it – with the implicit assumption that their partner will do something about it.

Let’s use names to make this easier:

Sam – In a romantic relationship with Lucy

Lucy – In a romantic relationship with Sam, and friends with Jeff

Jeff – Friends with Lucy

The names imply gender, but are not the key part of the example, which is non-romantic relationships of people in romantic relationships.

Sam is insecure (this needs to be correct for the rest to follow), and doesn’t like Lucy spending time with Jeff. He worries about what they are doing together, if Lucy likes Jeff more than him at times, and if she finds him attractive. As a result, Sam tells Lucy that he’s not comfortable with her spending time with Jeff.

As a compassionate partner, Lucy wants Sam to be happy, and may give into the demand/request for well-intentioned reasons. The trouble is, the root cause of the problem is not Lucy or Jeff, but Sam’s insecurity. By giving in to it, Lucy is allowing Sam to externalize an internal issue, making Sam’s issue into Lucy’s, and pretending that it’s Jeff who’s the problem rather than Sam. As a result, the internal issue remains unresolved, and is likely to cause more problems later. The troubles arising from insecurity in a relationship are many: controlling behaviour, their work, hobbies, lack of trust, constant need for reassurance, feelings of distance, and excessive sensitivity.

While in the short-term giving into the demand is easier, in the long-term it undermines the relationship, and misses the opportunity for self-development for Sam. If the more difficult path is taken, the result will be an improvement in the foundations of the relationship that make it more likely to last, and be happier for both.

This internal focus is not limited to Sam. Lucy should also consider why she spends time with Jeff, and if there’s any good reason for Sam’s reaction. If Lucy is romantically interested in Jeff, the situation becomes more complex. At the same time, romantic partners don’t need to get everything from each other. In fact, the dependence on one person for too much can put an unnecessary level of pressure and expectation on a relationship. If for example, there is an intellectual connection between Lucy and Jeff, and they enjoy exploring topics together, that isn’t bad. But it should be acknowledged and made explicit, to avoid misinterpretation by Sam.

Not all requests for changes in behavior are about the person requesting them. For example, if Sam asked Lucy to stop walking through a rough neighbourhood alone at night, the driver of his request is likely concern for her safety, rather than his insecurity. While that doesn’t mean Lucy has to agree, the request is not disguising a problem of Sam’s, so can be taken at face-value.