I’m going to assume you know what I mean when I write “eye rolling.” To be safe, let me point out I’m not referencing a new-age eye exercise where you move your eyes around in circles to improve your chakras or a strange zombie game where you roll eyeballs down a lane like bowling. (Did you just roll your eyes at me for that terrible suggestion?) Eye rolling is either a playful, potentially flirtatious act or it’s a very condescending gesture that tells the other person they’re an idiot. Not sure how it can be condescending? Try rolling your eyes the next time your boss speaks and see the response.
Before I continue, I want to be very clear that we fuel each other’s behavior. For instance, if your partner is eye rolling when you speak, you have done or currently doing something that is fueling that reaction. Similarly, if you’re the eye roller, you too have done or doing something that is causing the behavior you can’t stand. When there is eye rolling, neither side is “innocent.” BOTH sides need to take responsibility for their actions because only by changing our own actions can we hope to receive a different reaction from our partner.
Now, fun question: Which gender is more likely to be guilty of eye rolling? If you said women… wow, you’re brave. I wouldn’t. Instead, what I will point out is that guys love to get reactions like “Ew, that’s disgusting!” and “Oh, you (eye roll with arm touch).” It’s like we never stop having this little boy pulling a girl-we-like’s pigtails mentality of flirting. Of course, a guy only likes these reactions when it’s done in acceptance and not anger. For instance, when a guy is able to show an injury that freaks his friends out that feels like an accomplishment. When a guy can make his buddy gag from the smell of his rancid hockey bag, he feels like a champion. The same good feelings happen when he does something that gets a girl he likes to give a playful eye roll. It’s this teasing “you make me happy when you do something silly” kind reaction that makes a guy feel special when it happens. Guys bond through playfulness and teasing, which is something that often backfires on us after the honeymoon phase of the relationship is done and we’re in the more real-life relationship dynamic. Unfortunately, a lot of women are too busy/tired to have the energy to find our silliness funny anymore. It’s like in Mrs. Doubtfire when the wife says of her ex-husband: “But after a few years, everything just stopped being funny.”
A guy loving playfulness is really important to realize because a girl giving a serious eye roll is a guy’s kryptonite. Eye rollers I’ve asked will claim what they’re doing is innocent, but it’s actually incredibly damaging to the relationship. From my experience as a therapist and from readings I’ve done, yelling is actually less damaging to the overall relationship because fights happen, but eye rolling is a sign of growing resentment. Eye rolling is this gesture that says “Why am I with you? I’m so much better than you.” Eye rolling is actually a sign of contempt, which is one of the four telltale signs that a relationship is heading to its end according to Dr. Gottman, the leading psychologist on relationships. Contempt is like disgust where you see the other person as somehow below you. Eye rolling is very passive aggressive, and it’s so damaging because the eye roller rarely realizes how it cuts to the heart of the receiver and slowly erodes their soul.
What’s unfortunate for the eye roller is this behavior fuels two main responses from the other person, which further fuels their frustration with their partner. The most common response is for the guy to get defensive and justify what he did like a child to a parent. Unfortunately, defending ourselves always makes us seem weak to the other side who want to roll their eyes again: “Of course, you have to justify yourself. Just accept that I know better than you.” This response naturally furthers the cycle adding to the guy’s defensiveness, which in turn, leads to the girl’s increased annoyance with him, which can easily be carried into the future increasing the likelihood of another eye roll and defend yourself situation. Good times.
Someone defending themselves is easily recognized by the center of their eyebrows being raised, which is a sign of fear. If the insides of the eyebrows are pointed down, this is anger, which is more connected to the second option. The second response option is for the eye-roll-receiver to follow the classic “the best defence is a good offence” idea. These are the guys who defend themselves by yelling and attacking the eye roller who will either eye roll again or attack back. The eye roller will then justify their behavior as something they did to protect themselves thereby making it the other person’s fault because he’s clearly insane. Meanwhile, the eye-roll-receiver is thinking his partner is a serious jerk (or a more derogatory name). This pattern will get increasingly worse until the eye roller wants to break up because she can’t handle how mean the other person is while she sees herself as the innocent victim. As a therapist, this latter situation is the worse pattern to face because both sides carry so much hurt and can’t see their behavior as a problem.
In either response to an eye roller, the only chance for the relationship to heal is for BOTH sides to see how BOTH sides are screwing up. Unfortunately, eye rollers (i.e. passive aggressive people) are incredibly hard to convince they’re doing anything wrong because part of being passive aggressive is only seeing how they are hurt. But again, BOTH sides need to accept that they are BOTH fueling the other’s behavior and only by BOTH being nicer does the relationship have a chance, and typically, a therapist is required to mediate discussion to heal.
According to a study I read, two of the most important qualities people look for in a partner is someone who is patient and kind. If you ever yell at your partner, if you ever eye roll in a non playful way, if you ever defend yourself, you are not acting in a patient and kind way and therefore, need to accept that you are just as much the problem as your partner.
This week may you address any eye rolling going on in your life in order to prevent future damage.
Rev. Chad David, ChadDavid.ca, learning to love dumb people (like me)