How to deal with a partner who is being a jerk


What do you do when a partner will only 'discuss' a problem at the top of his lungs? Do you hold your ground, or back away? Here's practical, real life advice from Terrence Real, author of The New Rules of Marriage, on how to deal with a partner who's being a jerk.

How to deal with a partner who is being a jerk
  • How do you define ‘jerk’? This is when your partner is yelling, not listening, pouting, or refusing to communicate when something is wrong. He is acting like a child. Everybody does it in relationships sometimes, but you have to take turns.
  • So when your partner acts like a child, what do you do? Don’t get into the sandbox with him. Try to reach in and see if you can engage the little child to be a grown up again. You can clarify a statement that was hurtful, for example, and apologize. But if that doesn’t work after a few efforts, what do you do?
  • If that child part of him wants nothing to do with making things better, stop trying to make it better. Walk away for a while. If you can keep it small, and say to yourself, ‘my husband is having a bad day, at this moment,’ and 'it's not about my whole marriage,' you can let go of it.
  • Remove yourself for as long as it takes, and then come back to it. Normally check in after 20 minutes, and if you still can’t talk about the issue, try again later. It could be the whole day, even overnight, but you can’t keep fighting. Let go of the topic. Do a 24 hour moratorium on the subject.
  • So what happens if you try again with that subject after 24 hours and it’s no better? If you can’t discuss an issue, no matter how much time passes, without a fight, that’s a sign that the two of you just can’t talk about this subject without some expert help.

KATRINA: Hi I'm Katrina Szish. We're talking relationships. Specifically, how to deal with your partner when he or she is being a jerk. And here to help us do that is relationship expert and author of The New Rules of Marriage, Terrence Real. Welcome.

TERRENCE: Thank you.

KATRINA: So what does it mean when your partner is being a jerk? 

TERRENCE: Oh, Katrina you know what it means. This isn't rocket science. It's when your partner's yelling, screaming, not listening to you, pouting, and then when you say, Honey is there something wrong, they say, no. It really means acting like a child. And everybody acts like a child in a relationship. What I say is, everybody gets to be a child in their relationships from time to time, you just have to take turns.

KATRINA: That's a very good point. So when your partner is acting like a child, what is the first step? How can you get through to them? 

TERRENCE: You know hunker down and don't get into the sandbox with them. Try a couple, three times, to reach in to the little boy or little girl and see if you can engage the grown-up part of them. 

KATRINA: You're trying to bring them back into the adult world. What are some ways of doing that? 

TERRENCE: Well you know you clarify what was obviously--oh honey I didn't mean to say that you were fat and ugly, you know I just thought that perhaps that dress wasn't as flattering as the one you were wearing yesterday. Oh, uh, I'm not saying that I have the right to come home whenever I want, but I'm saying sometimes I'm going to be late for work. It's a little bit like talking to a child. You know what honey I'm sorry, I didn't mean to say that. Really it just does. Try it a couple, three times, but remember that's it. If that doesn't work, it's on to a new strategy.

KATRINA: That's was my next question, if you can't pull them back into the realm of adulthood then what?

TERRENCE: This is the moment that really separate the girls from the women, and the boys from the men. That child part of them wants nothing to do with making things better. So ready, stop banging your head against the wall. It's time to learn to let go. 

KATRINA: So you just forget that there's a problem and walk away? 

TERRENCE: Actually, yes.

KATRINA: Oo that's sounds difficult. 

TERRENCE: Well if where you go to is: he always, he never, this is the kind of thing he always does, he always makes me suffer and--

KATRINA: And this is the real problem with our marriage and it's never going to change and I knew this before I married you--

TERRENCE: That's right yeah. You go right to: I'm stuck with a loser and this is going to be the rest of my life. That's hard to walk away from. But if you keep it bite-size--if it's: my husband is having a rotten day and he's acting like an idiot, this Thursay at 3 o'clock I'm going to back off and just take some distant and you know what honey, you seem to be upset about something, you don't seem to want to talk about it. I'm going to go make a sandwich. I'll check in with you later. If it's about this moment and this particular afternoon, you can let go of it. 

KATRINA: So you talk about stepping away from that moment, removing yourself from the heat of the moment--so how long are these timeouts? 

TERRENCE: Well they're as long as it takes until the heat dies down. So, we normally say twenty minutes and you check in. If the fight's still going on, take an hour, half a day, whole day. You can even check into a motel and go overnight, but you send yourself and your partner the message that you're just not going to keep fighting. 

KATRINA: But, eventually you do have to come home and then what?

TERRENCE: Well then it's important that you let go of whatever the topic was that triggered all of this heat. I ask people to do a twenty-four hour moratorium on whatever the subject was. And I know what you're going to ask now, what happens if everytime you bring up the subject it gets that hot. That's a signal that the two of you can't handle that conversation and it's an indicator that probably you can check in with somebody who can help you. 

KATRINA: Okay thanks Terry. Well that's how to deal with your partner when he or she is being a jerk, but what happens when you're unhappy. Check out: How to Complain Constructively To Your Partner.

meet theexpert
  • Terrence Real

    Terrence Real Relationship Therapist Terry Real has been a family therapist and teacher for more than twenty years. He is a best selling author and founded The Relational Life Institute, dedicated to therapist training as well as relationship workshops for everyone. more about this expert »

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