This is a popular little saw, and frequently applied to difficulties in relationships. It can be totally pernicious. Consider how many people you know in the world, or hear about, who are just plain awful. Bullying, violent, dishonest, addicted, inconsiderate, self centered, axe murderers (OK -I’ve been watching too much Scandinavian television..)
These people are out there in the world, and we know they are. And they are often someone’s partner. We like to believe, when partnerships are in trouble, that it’s ‘six of one and half a dozen of the other.’ But this is far from inevitably the case, as we might see if we think about those people we cross the road to avoid.
Women are especially gullible and ready to blame themselves for difficulties. They also often take responsibility in a relationship for working hard to make it better, living in hope that this that or the other tactic will suddenly transform some lout into a lover.
Add to that the fact that when someone is unpleasant it makes us anxious. Unaccustomed as we are to expressing our feelings, especially in an unsafe environment, our squished up anxiety emerges as quite unpleasant behaviour instead of straightforward anger or tears. We may whine, complain, placate, reason, persecute, blame, plead… all of which will have the effect of promoting similarly nasty responses from the other.
The brutal fact is that we are all horrible people at those times. It is always totally pointless getting into ‘who started it’ (except later maybe, in a nurturing relationship, if you both want to discover what problem one of you has which the two of you can sort out).
But the fact that we are horrible in these circumstances should not obscure the fact that some of us are overall more awful than others and should not be in any relationship with a half decent human being. Don’t let your own horribleness in a row or altercation blind you to the total, or far too frequent, horribleness of someone else. And if someone is consistently or frequently horrible don’t imagine there is a trick which will transform them.
People get killed ignoring how awful their partner is.
And just in case anyone misinterprets any of this: Charles is not horrid or violent, but I have been in relationships with men who were.