If you are like most people, you have determined your own sense of worth by the ways others have responded to you throughout your life. Knowing that the fulfillment of your needs and desires are dependent upon those appraisals, you have sought to know what others may think and feel about you and what you need to do to get what you want from them. With each new significant relationship you've added more data, revising your value as an intimate partner.
I call those cumulative evaluations your "relationship score cards." Each time you add a new "judge," you not only revamp your conclusions about your current marketability, but consciously or unconsciously choose who you'll look to for the next rating.
Your relationship score cards began accumulating the minute you were conscious of other's opinions and what those evaluations meant in terms of getting what you needed. Those early experience, unfortunately, are deeply ingrained. For example, if you were lucky enough as a child to have nurturers who were consistent and rational, you might have mastered the program relatively quickly. But if you were on the other end of unstable or unpredictable caretakers, you may have found yourself helplessly at the mercy of their whims. Whatever your early influences were, they affected your confidence in being able to predict rewards and punishments in succeeding relationships.
As you have accumulated relationship experiences, you have hopefully realized that you need not be limited to pre-defined options. You can choose to give or withhold your relationship score card by a more discerning appraisal of who is on the other end, knowing that the recipient of that right will have the power to affect your sense of worth. You've probably also become aware of how your relationship scores can fluctuate according to whom you've given those rights.
In every relationship, you must decide how much you are willing to let your current partner determine your value and know why you are giving that power to him or her. The people you allow to define your relationship worth must be chosen carefully, but sadly, are often not. If you are willing to face your choices, you may realize that you haven't always chosen partners for the healthiest reasons. Like many others, you may have been afraid of not giving your partners what they desired and given up your own reality to avoid that potential loss.
Many quality people choose security over risking disapproval or potential abandonment. They hope, somehow, that if they hide their faults and enough time passes, their partners will love them enough to bear what they have hidden. Yet, if people were willing to explore each other's value systems at the beginning of their relationship, they might gain a better sense of what they can expect and what they are willing to sacrifice for connection. They might still want to give up their authenticity for a better love score, but, at least they would know what they were doing, and why.
Ideally, at the beginning of each new relationship, you would be able to know what criteria you have for yourself and your partner that would ensure that your relationship score card was not only authentic but made you feel better about yourself. That way, even if your current relationship does not last forever, you would have a better sense of your actual value before you start the next one.
Your Personal Criteria for Giving Up Your Relationship Score Card to Another
1. Separate out how you were defined as a child from how you are defined as an adult by a relationship partner. Familiar triggers from childhood are easy to miss, but can have big impact, especially if they are submerged into your subconscious. Pet names that you may have experienced as derogatory, for instance, sting more deeply than they might have without such a bad beginning.
2. Learn to recognize your reactivity levels when your partner is criticizing or lauding you. If your partner and you both feel the same negative or positive sense of something you do or say, you will feel more overwhelmed than if it were only coming from him or her.
3. Hold on to your personal integrity and try to avoid selling out just to keep your partner feeling good about you. He or she may not even know you are abandoning self to be accepted.
4. Make it a point to hang on to the things you like about yourself, no matter how your partner may feel differently, especially those qualities that others have supported and enjoyed.
5. Be open to new data, even if it is uncomfortable. Outside evaluations do not define you unless you let them, but a new partner may see something in you that you should look at, as long as he or she has passed your litmus test as an objective evaluator.
What You Should Want From A Partner:
1. How much is he or she projecting negative evaluations on to you that may be from a prior relationship?
2. Question the criteria your partner uses to define your worth and make sure you agree with those reasons.
3. Only listen to constructive criticism or embellishments if they seem to be meant as objective feedback rather than intended to hurt or put you on an unearned pedestal. If they are hurtful, your partner should know that in advance and deliver them with compassion and support.
4. Compare your partner's feedback with all that you've received in the past from others you've trusted. Listen carefully to those observations that you've consistently heard, and separate them out from your partner's own issues.
5. Be careful of evaluations that seem to "sell" your partner's own agendas.
6. Check out the way your partner judges others and know that you are not exempt from his or her biases.
Your ultimate goal is to know yourself better from every intimate relationship you have been in prior to this one, and to protect yourself from illegitimate attacks. You can only do that if you are open to critique but not destroyed by it, and listen to positive feedback only when it makes sense.
If you're lucky, you'll get better and better at knowing who you are, what your assets and liabilities are and how to choose a relationship partner who knows you deeply and loves what he or she sees. You'll also have the option to transform those parts of your personality and behaviors that have not worked as well as you would like them to have.
Eventually, you'll take possession of your own relationship score card and be able to evaluate yourself accurately and with the self-confidence of one who is willing to pre-evaluate your evaluators and to face the truth where it is relevant.