One of my local radio stations has a morning show feature called Dealbreakers, where they have one person call in to complain about a partner and seek advice about whether this complaint is a dealbreaker worth ending the relationship over.
I heard one show where a man called in complaining about his girlfriend’s snoring. He said he had mentioned it repeatedly to her and she had denied it repeatedly. The radio DJs grilled her, asking if he had talked about it, and the girlfriend at first denied it, but eventually acknowledged that he had mentioned it before. He had asked her about it so many times that it led him to call a radio show out of frustration! To him, her snoring might be a dealbreaker that would cause him to end the relationship, yet she supposedly had never heard about the problem before. This, alone, is a warning sign.
The on-air conversation continued. He had a recording of her snoring — audio gold! Her response? She denied it was her! Eventually she discovered she was outnumbered and the facts were overwhelming, so she reluctantly admitted that — maybe — she had a problem.
To me, the deal breaker is not her snoring. The dealbreaker is is her response to his request to do something about the snoring.
As a psychotherapist who works with couples regularly, the real concern in this relationship is that she denied this for months and refused to acknowledge his complaint.
She engaged in all the classic Other-Blamer techniques: ignoring, denial (even in the face of a recording), deflection, excuses and lack of accountability.
On air she stated that no one she had ever slept with had said she snored. Well, I’m guessing that her partners realized ahead of time that her response would be just as it was in this conversation and that speaking up would have no effect. They likely did what most partners of Other-Blamers do — hold their tongue because they know speaking up is a waste of time.
This radio conversation is a perfect example of the very unhealthy impact Other-Blamers have on relationships. Their inability to hear the truth escalates problems and pushes arguments down the road until they become dealbreakers. They cause a partner to believe, probably correctly, that the snorer (or gambler, drinker, etc) will not address the problem. Other-blamers have poor shame tolerance, which makes them struggle to be held accountable for their faults. They cannot tolerate criticism and they respond by blame-shifting to the partner or others.
The snorer’s response to her boyfriend is the problem, not the actual snoring. Most people are very tolerant and patient with the faults of others — IF the partner acknowledges the problem and attempts to fix it.
A person with healthy shame tolerance can acknowledge the problem or fault and can gracefully apologize and work to find a solution. The snorer should have said: ‘’Wow, I had no idea I snored. I am so sorry you haven’t been sleeping well. Thanks for bringing that to my attention. I will absolutely address that right away.”
In the radio scenario the DJs pushed on and held her accountable despite her amazingly stout denials and defensiveness. She was in a public arena, and the boyfriend wasn’t talking to her in private. She knew she was “busted” and could no longer pretend to be obtuse.
But imagine how this will play out on other issues in the future when people are not around to hold her accountable. If she gives denials and defensiveness for other requests he makes, he will learn to stop making these requests for compromise. If she blame-shifts consistently, his response will be limited. Often, the Self-Blamer in this relationship equation will bite his tongue for some period of time, maybe years. But as the resentments build, eventually he may finally give up and begin to blow up in anger. Or he will just retreat and end the relationship.
We must be able to hear the requests of our partners to compromise. Ideally, partners reply with kindness, thoughtfulness, respect and accommodation. However, if they respond consistently with blame shifting and disrespect, the relationship will be unbalanced and unhealthy.
All relationships will have disagreements and difficult compromises, but Other-Blamers have great difficulty compromising, because to them this triggers feelings of shame and failure.
The core problem in 99% of all relationships that I see in couples therapy is that one or both partners have poor shame tolerance. Other-Blamers lash out at the partner and try to off-load feelings of shame, but this is a fundamental violation of our human need for reciprocity in relationships. They are often paired with Self-Blamers who absorb too much guilt and take on their partner’s blame-shifting.
I’m predicting difficulty in the relationship with the snorer, not just because she snores, but because of her inability to react to her boyfriend’s request with accountability and maturity.
Many people look for a perfect spouse, but what they should look for is a person who can apologize for their imperfections. We all make mistakes, so when your partner calls you out on it, your reaction is very important: If you pout and sulk, throw a tantrum, blame shift to your partner, or silently hold a grudge, your relationship will suffer. And you may end up on a radio show one day!
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