Not a review! Op ed pieces don’t have ratings from me!
So I am currently post-break-up with my longest-term partner, and I’m in a lot of pain and self-reflection. In the middle of one long conversation late at night, I had a revelation about my life and the folx who come through as partners.
My mother has often said “If you find someone who is good to you, don’t let them go because that’s rare.” I have a lot of issues with this. For one, I have had many many partners and people be really good to me. It’s hard NOT to be good to me, so why does my mother find it so rare? But the more important question is: What constitutes “good to you?”
I have experienced a few partners in my time, and they covered the spectrum. So I’m going to show you a new idea: Being “good to you” and being “good for you” are very different. And they are both important.
What is Good to You?
My first ex (let’s call him Ex A) was someone who did not make time in his schedule for me. Here are other examples of what our relationship was like:
- I would hear from him once a week if I was lucky.
- About a month before we broke, he got mad because I told two of his friends we were dating. (He was worried that he would be called “a breeder.” I can’t believe I didn’t break it off then, because I felt so awful about myself. He was ashamed to get me. ME.)
- I always had to visit him and not the other way around. (We lived five states away, so this is no joke.)
- He told me multiple times that he would pay me back, or pay for dinner and then never had the money for it.
- Had little or no sympathy for my sadness and lonely feelings.
This ex was not good to me at all. Ex B who WAS good to me acted more like this:
- Supportive when I cried, expressed sadness or otherwise doubted the status of my life
- Supportive when I was mad, overwhelmed or otherwise doubted the okay-ness of my life.
- Paid for things equally whenever possible, and paid for extra things when I needed it.
- Helped with housework when I asked.
- Listened and made an effort to change when I felt unappreciated.
Being good to you is something that is measured in small, everyday things that get overlooked when someone thinks about partnership. It’s a general feeling of wanting to help and care on a daily basis.
So what is Good for You?
Let’s use examples again. I find they are the best way to illustrate these concepts.
So I had an ex (we’ll say Ex 1) that was good for me. He looked like this:
- Pushed me to get my career on track.
- Lived in an exciting place by his choice and on his dime.
- Didn’t take my bullshit when I tried to throw it.
- Happy to share opinions and suggestions with me, either about his life or mine.
- Didn’t lay all his problems on me and ask me to fix them.
And I had an ex (Ex 2) who was not good for me. He looked like this:
- Never pushed himself towards a goal.
- Happy to stay in one place unless pushed by someone or something else.
- Rarely had suggestions. About activities or life. Let me lead every conversation, big or small.
- Not strongly opinionated, happy to go with the flow.
- Got frustrated easily over small things and make large impulsive decisions to counter them.
- Often didn’t prevent small issues from popping up through lack of foresight.
I’d like to play a game. Of these two situations, is Ex A (bad to me) Ex 1 or 2? Ex B (good to me)?
Well, it’s designed to trick you. Ex A and Ex 1 are the same person. This ex was awful to me on a personal level. He lied often and didn’t respect me as a human. Here is how it felt to me: His confusion about his sexual orientation (mostly gay) was thrown off by my gender identity (at the time). This confusion in him (plus our being poorly matched on a lot of other things) made him not good to me. However, his employment and living situation was really under his control, if a bit tight on money. That inspired me to do the same. I pursued my career more vehemently and got my feet under me, financially speaking. I owe him a lot of good in the broad strokes of my life. And I owe him a lot of bad, because his actions spurred a great deal of my second-guessing and self-esteem issues.
On the other side of that, Ex B and Ex 2 are the same person. He took care of me when I presented a problem. Sometimes he could anticipate when I was sad, and did nice things for me. He was really open about communication. He texted me Good morning and Good night every day. In short, he thought about me a lot. And when it came to his life, he thought about me too. His decisions were always to impress me. He came to me for lists of ways to improve. In a lot of ways, I felt like a therapist, and a mother figure. It was great for a long time, and then I was tired of making decisions for two people, and I needed to end it. He was great to me, but he wasn’t good for me.
Being good for someone is hard. It really involves more focus on yourself so that they don’t have to focus on you. It’s less of entwining your lives together and more spending time together. Fixing problems from one side is done by that side. Problems that come up on both are tackled evenly. When you hold yourself to a standard, you’re holding them to a standard and vice versa. When all of this happens, you are good for someone.
Being good to someone is as easy as being smitten. Think about them often. Notice the things that change each day. Did their patterns shift? That might mean something is wrong. Did they say the same thing, but in a different way than usual? That’s another indication. Make sure you pull your weight on daily interactions. Do they text you more than you text them? Either step it up, or break it up, because being evenly matched is important.
“Not Good for You” is NOT the Same as “Bad for You”
This is really important to me. I want to differentiate between experiences that don’t help you and experiences that actively harm you. What is the difference and how can it change your decision to stay or leave? Ex B was in no way a bad influence on me. He didn’t impair my life in great big ways or discourage me from my career and efforts. He tried to do everything for me, and it was just exhausting to make all the standards. But he was NOT bad for me.
So what is Bad for You, if it isn’t the same as Not Good for You?
- Discouraging your self-improvement.
- Contradicting your self-knowledge.
- Abusive in ANY way.
- Holding you back/impairing your progress in life (on accident or on purpose).
- Competition mindset.
So there’s a few things I want to address here. I am not a victim of abuse in a relationship. I have experienced parental abuse, but no other kinds. I would speak on it more, but I don’t know it, even from an academic stance, so I won’t address it further.
There is a difference between wanting to be good for your partner and wanting to be good enough. If you struggle to be good for your partner, it implies that you are improving yourself and finding ways that you can make life better. Being good enough for a partner implies that your accomplishments up to this point aren’t good enough. They are. You are good enough. That should be assumed. If there is a question, it’s time to work on yourself. Your partner will have a hard time helping you accept yourself.
I also want to talk about Competition in relationships. When I saw what a partner had (like their own place), I realized that I wanted it too. However, I didn’t want THEIR place. I didn’t want a place that was BETTER than theirs. And I did not think to myself “I will earn my place MORE than they earned theirs.” I said “This is nice. I want a place that’s good for me.” If you go in trying to one-up your partner, you will create a bad atmosphere, and often, it’s tied to a need to be good enough. Again, work on yourself. It will do wonders for your mindset.
The Successful Relationship
When I look at successful couples, I notice that they challenge each other. I’ve watched two people push each other through school when things got hard. I have seen a very successful couple fight about a comment that was not appropriate, and the one who made the comment accepted the education they received. Respect is held on both sides of the relationship. There are standards held for themselves and their partners. Their own standards are always more important (and usually higher). There is an equal desire to spend time together. I have watched successful couples look at each other and strive to be good enough for one another, without judgement or self-depreciation.
It’s possible to achieve successful relationships regardless of any mental health factors. It requires communication and a desire to connect. But if you want to achieve and maintain a relationship, be open to some suggestions. If you aren’t helping yourself, or actively rejecting the help of others, your partner won’t be able to help you, and it gets exhausting. So listen to how they feel. You may not realize what you are doing. That’s okay. Help can start anywhere, including in ignorance.