The Relationship in Your Head

young couple lying head to head in park

In a recent blog post, I talked about the differences between owning versus disowning responsibility for yourself in your relationship with your partner. I shared a story in which I made myself a victim of Judy until I stopped to think about it and was able to alter my reaction. I went from feeling like a victim to being accountable for what was happening.

A Relationship is not a “Thing”

Now I want to introduce another way of understanding your relationship. We too often talk about a relationship as though it were a thing, an entity. It is not. Your relationship is really two relationships—the relationship in your head and the relationship in your partner’s head. These are not the same. The way you perceive your relationship is different than the way your spouse perceives your relationship. In other words, your perceptions, needs, feelings, and experience are different from your spouse’s perceptions, needs, feelings and experience. Would you agree?

Of course, you share experiences but that does not mean that how you feel and interpret these experiences is the same. You each put your own spin on what happens. So, for both of you, the most important relationship is not some entity “out there” but rather an image inside your head. And here’s the important part. You are the creator of the relationship in your head and you are 100% responsible for the relationship in your head.

Change the Relationship in Your Head

Why is this important? Because if you want to improve your relationship then you begin by changing the relationship in your head. Do you like the relationship in your head? If not, what can you do to change it? How can you change your “come from” or the way you are perceiving and acting in your relationship? And are you willing to put a different spin, perhaps more neutral or compassionate, on what you see coming from your spouse?

By accepting responsibility for the relationship in your head, you can recognize it as something you have created. Then you can consider how you might create it differently.

For example, suppose you and your partner have been hypersensitive and defensive with each other lately. You feel tense and irritable around one another. Most of us build our case—we’re in the right and they are wrong. They are at fault that things are not going well and if they’d change their reactions or behavior, we could get along just fine.

Looking Through a Lens of Compassion

Instead, take ownership of the spin you put on what he or she says or does. What if you looked at him or her through a lens of empathy and compassion? How could you view their actions in a different way? What if you were to give them the benefit of the doubt and find some positive explanations for why they are behaving as they are? As you do this, you’re in the process of changing the relationship in your head.

You can also think about what you really want. What do you want this relationship to be like? How about if you go about creating that in your head? What would it look like? What would you say and do? This is taking ownership. This is how we improve our relationships, not by gathering evidence that the other person is wrong and waiting for them to change.

I’m not claiming this is always easy to do, but it puts the responsibility and focus where it needs to be and empowers you to change your relationship. By improving your relationship in this way, you just might become a happier person.



  1. Charli

    Allen, I see what you’re saying. I think that I have been trying to change my perspective. But I am stuck. It seems the more I try to give the more I have to give. If I try discuss how I am feeling, I am told I am starting a fight. I feel that I’m losing my identity.

    • Roger Allen

      Hi Charli. This sounds very frustrating for you. A good relationship is made up of two people who each have a strong sense of self so you don’t want to lose your identity. Does your spouse have some deeper feelings that she needs to express? Does she need to be heard? Can you listen in a non-defensive way? On the other hand, do you need to allow her to assume more responsibility for her emotional reaction when you assert yourself? Can you be okay if she is upset with you if you know, in your heart, that you’re not being selfish or controlling but taking care of your needs and feelings? A marriage is a balance of caring for ourselves and our partners and she may have to learn what it means for you to take good care of yourself. (Please know that I share this not understanding the dynamics of your relationship.)


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