Testing in relationships

Becoming involved in an emotionally intimate relationship is a venture that induces considerable disquiet in many. It means you have to be open and vulnerable, close to the other, trust the other and so on. As we know all these things are tasks which many find quite difficult because one can be hurt and hurt badly. And most, some where in their past have been hurt either in the original family of origin or with a partner in adulthood, or perhaps a close friend or peer group some where in the delicate stage of adolescence.

As one begins to become more involved in such a relationship one way of coping is to test the other party in the relationship. Research shows that in romantic relationships such testing will occur in 35% of cases making it quite a common phenomena. Females were found to use testing behaviour in relationships more so than males.


As soon as you let this happen we are open to be hurt


Common types of testing:

Testing limits of the other – “How much will he or she put up with and what can I get away with and still keep the person around and interested?”

33% test by seeking to make the partner jealous

Making mildly discounting comments to the partner in the hope they will disagree

Raising topics which they know the partner is sensitive about to see how the partner will react.

Asking ‘loaded’ questions like:
“Do you think I have put on weight?”
Not reminding the partner of anniversaries to see if they will remember
“If I died who would you be interested in?”

Asking the partner to choose between the relationship and something else such as other family members or some activity like work.

Whilst one can understand why people do such things unfortunately such testing creates unwanted side effects. Basically the fabric of the relationship is damaged. If it is not often it does not matter but if there is repetitive testing done it can create significant damage such that the tested partner eventually wants to get away from what they find as disruptive and conflictual behaviour on the behalf of the tester. This can be shown as the Test transaction below:

Test transaction Jpeg


Obviously it is better for the tester to openly raise their insecurities and anxieties about the relationship. But that assumes the person is consciously aware of the motive behind their testing behaviour and is capable of taking that risk – to be open and vulnerable with the partner. Some have been hurt many times in the past, that it just seems too risky to be so open, yet again.

The same testing behaviour can happen in the therapeutic relationship. Any client is already in a vulnerable and emotionally open position in therapy. Or at least that is what will have to happen soon for the person to benefit from the therapy, or little will be achieved. Clients can do many things to test the therapist in a similar way, with the overt behaviour and the hidden psychological transaction from the frightened child.


Attending a session intoxicated
Reporting illegal behaviour
Reporting behaviour that can result in judgement or disapproval from the other
Missing appointments
Not paying properly
Being abusive or discounting to the therapist


The therapist of course is not meant to respond like a partner would, but instead seek to understand the transaction and expose the hidden psychological message.


It could be said that ‘testing’ is normal human behaviour, self or others.

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4 Responses to “Testing in relationships”

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  1. Ajit Karve says:

    Very revealing. I have experienced this happening in quite a few cases esp. in revealing illegitimate relationships or taking a call on them. Your suggestion to expose the hidden psy. message is valuable. It could also be an intimacy building process in as much as it could be an invitation to game.

  2. Tony White says:

    Hi Ajit,

    I think you make a good point about the intimacy building process as it hghlights how testing is counter to intimacy building. thanks for your comment.


  3. R.suresh says:

    Testing can be intimidating when the tester doesn’t reveal the purpose and keep it to herself/him and come to a judgement. it is always the open discussion even when tested that can bolster the relationships. nice article to read tony

  4. Tony White says:

    Thanks R.suresh,

    I would agree that testing could be used to try and gain the upper hand in a relationship (intimidate).


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