Support or Criticize: How to Respect Your Partner’s Autonomy

by Darcie

Logan sleeps odd hours. He says he’s always been a night owl and that it’s hard for him to go to sleep before 1, or 2, or 3 am…or later. He says he becomes energized in the early evening right around the time that I’m starting to wind down and become sleepy.

His erratic sleeping schedule affects his ability to keep a regular schedule during the day. But because he’s a web designer and digital marketer, he makes his own hours as long as he meets his deadlines. In short, his sleeping patterns seem to be working for him.

However, occasionally he tells me that he feels his productivity would further increase if he were to get himself on a schedule. When he’s said this to me, I typically provide a verbal sign that I’m listening and understand his concern, but don’t often provide a suggestion for what I think he should be doing.

Let me be clear, it’s not that I disagree with his sleeping habits. I can’t say there’s a right or wrong way to sleep, though it does seem reasonable to conclude that sleeping during the day is the more typical behavior. And most physicians would agree that sleep is important for health and overall mental cognition.

That being said, I do think that Logan is right when he says that his productivity would likely improve if he were to get into a more solid routine.

However, I don’t say this to him, at least not in a way that’s saying what he’s doing is wrong.

People don’t respond well to being shamed or criticized, even when you are agreeing with them about their arguably maladaptive behavior.

Sure, there have been times when he’s discussed making change to his exercise regimen, and I insert a comment about how there could be a connection between his ability to fall asleep and regular exercise. And then there are diet changes, which vary based on his daily preferences, work schedule, and activity level.

But I’ve found that as Logan’s partner, I choose to support rather than criticize, even when I think his behavior could be positively affected by change.

Sure, you might be thinking. Easy for you to say, Darcie. Logan’s sleep schedule isn’t really that big of a deal. But what if my partner wants to do something dangerous or foolhardy like quit his job on a whim? Should I still keep my lips sealed and support his idiotic decision?

My response would be yes, though I would qualify that.

You should always support your partner’s autonomy.

So, from that perspective, yes, if your partner is making a decision you believe is dangerous or foolish, he or she has the autonomy to make that choice. It’s his or her life to live, and how you might choose to live your life is not how your partner chooses to life his or her life.

However, your partner should respect you enough to consider how you might be affected by his or her decision.

When it comes to minor decisions, your partner might not need to take your opinion into consideration because the outcome doesn’t affect you, or only on a minimal level. Logan’s sleep habits don’t really affect me, so I, more or less, stay out of his decision. Now, if we had a child and these habits were affecting his ability to parent, I would absolutely have a conversation with Logan – ideally without blame, shame, or criticism –  about how his decision is affecting me and our child.

I don’t say any of this lightly or with the implication that is always easy for me to do. Hardly. It takes effort, one of the words most associated with being in a healthy, thriving relationship.

It often takes reminding myself that Logan is free to life his life how he desires and that my role as his partner is to support him.

Now, if you consistently don’t like the decisions your partner is making, and you’re becoming frequently critical of his or her behavior, then that could be a sign that it isn’t a relationship that is serving you well and might be prudent to discuss this concern with your partner and perhaps even ultimately end the relationship.

So, do you think it’s possible to support your partner even when you disagree? Are there any exceptions that come to mind?

Leave a comment below, or discuss with your partner or friends and then check back in. I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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