Relationships are complicated, and the longer you live with someone, the more annoying their quirks and behaviors can become. What if I told you the things that annoyed you most about your partner were issues you had and were blindly projecting onto your partner? For example, let’s say your partner goes to bed after leaving a mess in the kitchen. You end up forfeiting time in bed with them to clean up and then go to bed feeling resentful and angry. First thing in the morning, you attack them for not ever helping with chores. Your partner gets defensive and leaves for work, wondering why you’re so mean. Which of you prioritized time spent together? How important is a clean kitchen tonight if you could have both cleaned it in the morning or later in the day? Is your controlling need for a clean kitchen being projected onto him, making you feel angry and resentful that he doesn’t prioritize the same things you do?
Forcing our needs onto other people happens all the time. Everyone has blind spots and what annoys you in others is often a reflection of yourself. A very common scenario of this is your mother-in-law who you feel is too close to her son (your husband). There’s a very good chance that the time they spend together annoys you so much because you have insecurities about being left out. Maybe you’re possessive and want to be the one and only one he talks intimately with. The fact that he spends so much time with her and talks to her openly makes you feel left out, hurt, and jealous. Instead of addressing this vulnerability within you, you attack him for not separating from his mom or calling him a “momma’s boy.” This most certainly will turn into a fight, and both of you will go to bed feeling angry and alone.
Humans make mistakes, and everyone sees weaknesses more easily in others than themselves. Luckily, the opportunity for change is greater with an intimate partner because they live with you and know you best. Here is a list of the most common feelings we project onto other people and how they manifest.
Body image criticism. When you don’t like something about yourself or you have a perceived flaw that makes you feel insecure, you have a tendency to overlook or make excuses. However, if you see it in your partner, you point it out or blame them for it. This helps you distance and protect yourself from feeling bad about your body and puts the blame or disgust you feel onto someone else.
Attraction to someone other than your partner. It’s common for one partner to blame another for being attracted to someone else. They feel guilty about being attracted to someone else, so they project that onto their partner. This helps them distance themselves from their own guilt and conflict.
Not liking someone. Sometimes it’s difficult to tell who doesn’t like who. But, it is more than likely if you don’t like someone, you’ll find a way to project your feelings of dislike onto them, and they will respond with verbal or non-verbal behavior, which justifies why you dislike them. Your feelings of dislike are usually an unresolved issue you feel shame, guilt, or angry about.
So how do you take advantage of the opportunity to get a better understanding of yourself instead of lashing out at your partner? These suggestions can help you get in touch with your own flaws instead of projecting or blaming your partner for theirs.
Interrupt the part of your conflict where you begin blaming and call a time out. Take a day or two to become aware with exactly what was said, and be honest with your feelings. If you’re hurt, ask yourself why it hurt so deeply. Projecting or overlooking your flaws begins because you feel pain about something.
Work with a therapist. Therapists can help you objectively and gently uncover painful areas.
Practice awareness. Like any habit, you have to practice awareness to stop it. Projection becomes a bad habit, and it will become a destructive part of the relationship. You can practice self-examination and stop yourself, but it takes determination and courage to care more about the people you love than protecting your ego.
If you’re honest with yourself, you should be able to see flaws or weaknesses within yourself. No one expects you to be perfect; thinking you are superior or better than others is not mentally healthy. Living a life where you see flaws in everyone but yourself will lead to a very lonely and limited life. The next time your spouse annoys you, it may bring self-awareness to your life.