You have likely been in a relationship where you meet someone, and for a period of time they appear to be one way, but eventually, the person’s true self shows up and you realize you had been dating the person’s representative all along. Other times, you can establish a strong relationship with someone, but different occasions seem to trigger the person behaving in a way that’s different from their true authentic self. Again, a classic sign of a representative takeover.
What is a Representative?
Your representative is any projection of yourself that is outside the transparency of your true, authentic self. It is an attempt to project a picture of yourself that is different from the truth, in order to give your partner or others a more favorable view of you.
Representatives typically aren’t sustainable, and someone will get let down or feel fooled when the real you is revealed. I’ve seen partners in long-term, committed relationships still employ representatives to hide their vulnerabilities and insecurities. In essence, we set up our relationships for failure right from the beginning by not letting the other person know the real us. We can actually increase the probability that the relationship will fail with this very approach! In fact, I almost lost my man in those first few months by keeping my protection up and holding back how I truly felt.
So, when it comes to relationships, whether you are in the beginning of one or have been married for decades, it is important to be able to identify when you or your partner are having a “representative takeover” and seize control back.
How Do Representatives Show Up?
Early on in relationships when partners are trying to fit in and measure up, representatives typically show up in two ways.
Doing things that you WOULD NOT normally do such as dressing provocatively when you normally dress conservatively when you go out or buying expensive gifts when you can’t afford it
NOT doing things that you WOULD normally do such as staying home watching television when you prefer to be out partying most weekends or not spending time with friends and family when typically they take up a huge part of your time
Representatives can also show up later in relationships after you feel you’ve gotten to know your partner really well. Here are a few examples of how a representative may show up later in your relationship:
Silent Martyr: You keep quiet, instead of vocalizing your concerns.
Pleaser: You constantly please your partner to get them to love you.
Placater: You tell your partner what they want to hear instead of your true feelings.
Deflector: You avoid addressing your own issues by focusing the conversation on other issues.
Workaholic: You keep busy to avoid addressing emotions or problems
Jokester: You use humor or sarcasm to cover up other feelings.
Aggressor: You are quick to pick a fight to avoid addressing the real issues.
Keep in mind that some of these behaviors can appear to show up at appropriate times to respond to a life circumstance. For example, someone who has a huge work project due and is working around the clock to meet the deadline may be working long hours during that period. But that’s not a workaholic as I have defined it. That is, they are not keeping “busy to avoid addressing emotions or problems.” The point is that when these behaviors show up in order to cover up or hide another issue, then they serve as representatives.
What Should You Do if You Catch Your Partner “Representing”?
Immediately acknowledge it and request a reset.
I hear your words. But from the way you … it seems like something else may be going on here. Would you take a second and consider if there is something else you really want to say?
Use your assertive communication and reflective listening skills to help your partner express their authentic thoughts and feelings.
Use reflective listening to play back what you heard or saw.
It sounds like what you are saying is …
Use I-statements with feeling words.
When you are holding back and not sharing, I feel …
Ask specifically for what you need.
It would be helpful to me if you would …
Once your partner takes a step toward practicing authenticity with you, make sure you respond with emotional responsiveness. Below are a few examples:
Make your partner feel heard by using reflective listening to restate what you heard.
Validate their fears.
I can see why you feel that way.
Acknowledge their vulnerability with compassion and empathy.
Express comforting words
Hug your partner
Get curious by asking follow-up questions.
Can you tell me more about that?