Relationship advice: Do we teach others to treat us poorly?

Psychology experts say boundaries are key to a healthy relationship.

Oct 31, 2011
Jen Kirsch
Leda & St. Jacques
Relationship advice: Do we teach other to treat us poorly?

It may seem like common sense, but when a significant other treats you negatively, how you react (or don’t react) dictates how that person will treat you in future interactions. If you gloss over negative behaviour, you might be perceived as being a doormat. However, if you are upfront and firm, the other person gets the message loud and clear that you are setting expectations and boundaries on how you want to be treated.

In behavioural psychology, this is known as the “Law of Effect” and is defined as “The events that follow an action will weaken or strengthen the likelihood it will occur again.” Essentially, this means that if you want to prevent someone from treating you poorly, you need to respond in a way that teaches him or her that his or her behaviour is not acceptable in order to prevent it happening again.

Take the following steps to set the right expectations, and establish reasonable boundaries.

Be assertive
If your partner acts in a way that makes you uncomfortable and you don’t like how you’re being treated, say so. Don’t smile and pretend it’s ok or turn a blind eye to it and tell yourself that you’re overacting and that you shouldn’t take his actions or words personally. Voice your dissatisfaction in a clear, concise way and then step away from the situation so they can measure the severity of their actions. If you get in an argument and make your point, but don’t walk away, you risk them not taking you seriously.

Prioritize your own needs
Instead of wallowing, dwelling on the situation, and rogue texting him all night about how disappointed you are – step back from the drama and focus on yourself. Make (and follow through on) other plans without your partner. Don’t be at their beck and call if and when they change their mind, and don’t pretend it didn’t happen when you connect again. Pretending something didn’t happen does not make it go away. It simply makes it snowball in to a much larger scale problem and can be detrimental to your emotional and physical health.

More steps to setting boundaries on the next page...


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