We all have our little quirks that make us uniquely us, and we hope that whoever our romantic partner is, that they find those little unique traits about us charming (or at the very least tolerable).
What if your partner has certain traits or habits that actually embarrass you in public? Are you the type of person who feels guilty for wishing you had a partner who had more grace when under the limelight?
Turns out, that awful feeling of embarrassment by something that your partner has done is pretty normal according to Psychology Today.
It even has a nice little name: The Spotlight Effect.
What the hell is the spotlight effect you ask?
The spotlight effect is when “we have a tendency to believe that others are paying more attention to our actions than they really are.” (Why Our Partners Embarrass Us)
This is felt in varying degrees for people, and some things will spark those uncomfortable feelings more than others.
Imagine the following scenarios:
- You have to run to CVS because you’ve got a huge cold sore, and you feel everyone staring at it
- You make a joke at a dinner table that no one laughs at
- You get to the gym and realize you brought two different shoes, but you’re already there so you wear them anyway, all the while worrying that everyone thinks you look stupid
- You’re the only person who orders an alcoholic drink while out at dinner, and you feel that the table is judging you
For some people, any of these scenarios could cause a little anxiety or embarrassment.
But if these scenarios all have to do with the self, why do we get embarrassed when our partners do or say something awkward, mean, or out of line in public?
It’s mainly because we see our close partners as an extension of ourselves. So, when they do something, we feel as though we are also in the spotlight with them. Even worse, we feel this even stronger when our partners do something negative! If they do something neutral or positive, the feeling is not as strong.
So, now we know why we feel mortified when our partners do something embarrassing in public. What can we do about it?
1. Ask yourself if it’s really that bad
As we learned from the spotlight effect, we think people are noticing more about us than they actually are. The same goes for your partner.
If she was wearing something you found embarrassing, chances are you’re one of the few people that actually noticed.
Begin by asking yourself if your partner’s clothes, behavior, etc was even really all that bad. If it was just something that happened once and not a recurring behavior, it might be time to let it go.
2. Focus on other people’s reactions instead of your own
Embarrassment is a very strong feeling. It can punch you in the gut and make you forget everything around you – like whether or not the people around you and your partner were bothered.
If you’re embarrassed at a dirty joke that your partner told, look to your group to check for their reactions. Is everyone uncomfortable? Is everyone (except you, you sour puss) holding their stomachs from laughter?
If you’re the only one with a problem, give your partner a break.
3. If the behavior is recurring, bring it up at the right time
If this is becoming a serious problem, then you definitely can have a conversation about it.
Here are a few tips from the good folks at Succeed Socially on the subject:
- Be straightforward and talk in terms of how their issues make you feel, and how you want the best for them, rather than coming off as attacking them with lots of, “You always…” “You never…”
- Be polite and respectful.
- Accept that if it’s a touchy issue for them, there may be no way you can phrase your concerns in a way that doesn’t upset them. Some issues are important enough that you have to risk this anyway.
- When they respond, genuinely try to hear their perspective, and not insist your view is the only correct one. For example, they may feel their behavior is just a legitimate variation in how people act, and not a flaw. Or they could describe what it’s like to be in their shoes, and how changing for them isn’t as simple as just wishing it were so.
- Be willing to come to a compromise.
- Be open to hearing some complaints of their own (e.g., “Well you always try to push me to be someone I’m not”), and try not to get defensive.
Have you ever been embarrassed by what your date has said or done?
Was that a deal breaker for you?