Relationships: Oh, Boy!
A friend and I sat in my backyard on a sunny, almost-too-hot afternoon. Each of us had had a minor "run in" with our partners and dissected whether or not we had handled the situation with aplomb or had blown it like we had many times before.
Like most of us, she and I had read a ton of articles (books) about relationships over many decades. You know, the books about having a better sex life to books about active listening and getting along when the going gets tough. I laughed recalling the time in my first marriage when I brought home a "library" of books about sex and marriage and placed them prominently on the bedroom bookshelf where my then-husband couldn't miss them. But miss them he did. Or more likely, he saw them but stuck his head in the sand instead of sticking something somewhere else. Ooops. That was naughty.
RULE #1: Never go into a committed relationship thinking that you can change the person and mold him/her/they into the perfect partner. It just ain't going to happen. I remember having made a list of all the traits I liked about my first husband -- intelligent, good provider, Jewish like me, good sense of humor-- and all the traits/behaviors I had hoped to change: communication about personal feelings, sex, appearance . . . Boy, was I naive. He remained exactly the same as he was the day we met. I initiated a divorce seven years into the marriage.
RULE #2: Take responsibility for your part in a relationship that doesn't work. Okay, I have to swallow my pride and admit that I didn't have a clue how to talk to him about the things I'd hoped he would "work" on and, yes, change. (Of course, I was perfect in every way. LOL) I was afraid to broach the issues for fear that--I don't know--he wouldn't love me any more or that we'd spend our time together bobbing and weaving like two boxers in the ring. I have never liked conflict, probably because I'd never learned how to problem-solve.
RULE #3: Practice the art of active listening. There are a ton of books out there about how to listen so that the person you are talking with feels as if you "get" him/her/they. You put the person at ease because instead of judging or blaming or jumping in with your two cents' worth, you serve as a mirror and reflect what you think you are hearing. "If I'm hearing you, you don't feel comfortable telling someone how you really feel." You give the other person a chance to either agree with your understanding or to clarify. And when it is your time to speak, you deliver what is called in the biz of communication a clear "I" statement. "I feel ____ because." Not "You make me so angry when you sit in your office and pout." Now, this stuff isn't as easy as it sounds. It takes practice. Over and over again. And in the heat of the moment when feelings are raw, it's our natural tendency to forget all of this and revert back to our old habits that put fuel on the fire instead of defusing.
RULE #4: Pick Your battles. I'm sure you've heard this a million times before. I know I have. It sounds so basic, right? I mean, why get into it when the issue is minor in comparison to the bigger stuff? Here we go again: this makes so much sense but isn't a slam dunk. Far from it. So, if it isn't that important if your partner doesn't clean the kitchen counter exactly as you'd like, keep it to yourself. You've asked many times before, and the message has never clicked. Give it up. But when your partner compares you to your mother whom you know he never liked or when he chastises you in that condescending voice you find hurtful and offensive, that's a battle you probably find worth "fighting". Okay, you gentle readers. What's the most effective way to have a shot at getting through here? Yep, that's it: give a clear "I" statement: "It hurts me when you talk to me that way. I feel disrespected." Or something like that. (Boy, I wish my students back in the day were as aware as you.)
RULE #5: Learn to count to ten. Give yourself the time to roll things around a tad. Sure, you can pick your battles. But sometimes you're not sure. Sometimes you just don't have the energy to engage. And this goes for discussing things in general. Does your partner really need to know that you set the alarm off the night before, if he slept through it--and that 6:15 AM call was from ADT? Maybe not. Why have to explain that you were in the dark and couldn't see the numbers on the keypad and punched in the wrong ones? Sure, you could have walked across the room and turned the lights on, but it was early and you hoped you could feed the cat and go back to sleep. The next morning, count to ten before you spill the beans.
This relationship stuff can be a challenge. It is a challenge. As young girls, we grew up certain that the perfect person would ride into our lives and that we'd live happily ever after. Okay, so Disney and all the others tell us to believe in magic and that all of our dreams will come true. Bogus!