Through the years I’ve witnessed friends and family build and destroy their relationships. I’ve also been able to look back over my own and seen where things have gone very well and very bad. I’ve come to understand that there are certain lessons that are universal. Age, sex, religion and nationality do not discriminate regarding these lessons, they are present in all of our lives if we are willing to take the time to see them and more importantly, learn from them. Here are the lessons I’ve learned:
- We tend to listen, not to understand the other person better or to really see where they are coming from, but to come up with the best reply to make ourselves feel better. And many times to make the other person feel worse.
Have you ever found yourself in a conversation that in your head sounds more like a Charlie Brown special? Blah blah blah….blah blah…blah blah blah blah blah blah. Then the second the noise stops you pounce on your next point without ever really hearing what was said to you. Or the other person is trying to get a complete sentence out but you just can’t help yourself from cutting them off after every other word to demand that they listen to what you have to say. I’ve been there myself and I’ve watched others do it. It’s either completely maddening or immensely funny to watch. I can tell you that the latter really pisses people off. Try having an argument with someone who just won’t listen and just start giggling.
We’ve become a culture that can no longer listen. We are living in a high tech world that moves faster than we can even imagine, we no longer have patience for anything. Least of all the relationships in our lives. We hear others, maybe even hear ourselves talking about ‘the good old days’ when life was a bit slower and people seemed to care more. We can actually get a piece of that back if we would just zip it and listen.
It really comes down to this, if you want your relationship to work then you need to acknowledge what the other person is saying. Stop interrupting, stop thinking of your response before they’ve completed their sentence. Don’t respond immediately. Just listen, take it in. Then take a deep breath, consider what they’ve said. Decide how you really feel about it and not just your immediate first reaction. Take some time to recognize if they have a point, if you may in fact be contributing to the issue. Maybe this is a conversation that needs to happen over the span of days and not minutes. And finally, once you’re sure you’ve really heard the other person, understand where they are coming from, then respond. When I do this, even if it’s with a relationship that is ending, it makes everyone involved feel better and move on more quickly.
- The other person may have been a lousy partner or spouse but that does not make them a horrible parent.
This is such a hard lesson. My ex-husband was definitely a lousy spouse. I have a much more colorful vocabulary when I speak about him but for the sake of age appropriateness for the audience, we’ll just say lousy. He was emotionally abusive. Period. He wasn’t nice or kind after we married. The signs went unnoticed by me until I was in the thick of it and couldn’t find a way out until I finally snapped and divorced him. Even then I went back twice to try to reconcile but each time just got worse. By the time I was pregnant with our son our relationship was over, with a capital O. I despised him, I still do. However, no matter how much of a louse he was in our marriage that did not mean that he didn’t deserve the right to be a father to his son. (I have a stomach ache just writing that sentence.) So we spent months emailing back and forth until we came up with an agreeable parenting plan before our son was even born. I didn’t really want to but I knew I could either do it this way or have a judge look at me like all those other vengeful mothers out there who use their kids as a weapon against the ex. I really didn’t want to be lectured in court by a judge.
I had to find a way to separate these relationships into two categories, lousy ex-husband and father of my child. They are two completely different relationships. I don’t look at my son and think of my ex. Whereas I may at times want to give my ex a little shove into oncoming traffic I’d lay my life down in a heartbeat for my son without a second thought to myself. My feelings about my ex and how I acted and reacted in our marriage has absolutely nothing to do with the feelings I have for my son and how I act and react with him. I needed to recognize that my ex most likely felt the same way.
- We know that living in the past isn’t a good idea but regarding relationships that’s all we usually do. If we can just get the other person to recognize ‘this, this and this’ I’ll feel better. I’ll feel vindicated.
Have you ever been accused of nagging? Constantly harping on an issue that you just can’t let go of because you don’t feel like the other person gets it. It is so draining and exhausting to keep that up but we just keep doing it to ourselves and everyone around us.
The old saying, ‘you’ll get more with honey than vinegar’ is so true. Some of the best parenting advice teaches us that in order to get a positive reaction from our kids we should discuss the problem or behavior with a solutions minded approach. We discuss the problem and acknowledge it, we listen (there’s that listening thing again) to find out what happened and why, then we immediately move into the ‘how are we going to fix it so it won’t happen again’ mode. No lectures, no nagging, no harping. We all know something went wrong and now we’re working together towards the solution. Our kids will not follow through with the plan or correct their behavior if we continuously make them feel bad for something they did in the past. When we do this the usual reaction is for our kids to come up with ever more creative ways to try and get away with it or not care if they get caught and throw the behavior in our faces.
We aren’t trying to constantly point out mistakes to our kids and force them to apologize over and over again to the point that they become resentful, so why aren’t we applying this same technique within our relationships? We know it works. We know that if people did that more often with us we’d feel much better about our mistakes. We’d be more willing to step up to the plate and take responsibility for our actions. We’d respect others more if that was the attitude and approach they brought to us. Why not with our relationships? What’s the worst that can happen? They actually listen and do what they know will make us happy! Oh no!
Maybe you have tried this but still don’t feel better about it. Is that really the other person’s issue or is it really yours? We all have deal breakers when it comes to relationships, the things that so completely destroy our trust that we can’t recover from them. Maybe they crossed the line into one of your deal breakers and you can’t forgive. If this is the case, the issue still lies with you and how you are going to move forward. You have a tough decision to make and maybe getting some professional advice is in order to help you work through the decision. We just have to remember that turning it into a nagging war will always make the relationship worse.
- We all claim that we want to be happy but we concentrate the majority of our time on the worst parts of our relationships.
Why is it that it takes so many of us decades of having someone out of our lives to recognize that there may have been some good mixed in all that mess? Or even more drastic, they die and only after the funeral do you see all the good that the other person had to offer.
We really need to take a lesson from our grandparent’s and great-grandparent’s generations. Where there’s a problem, you don’t destroy it, you fix it. We don’t throw out our favorite sweater just because a button fell off, we sew it back on. So why is it that we are so willing to lovingly sew a button back onto a thing that can easily be replaced but destroy our relationship with the person we said we loved which can never be replaced? Something to think about the next time your thoughts keep running over all the bad stuff in your relationship.
This is where making gratitude lists can help. Start listing the things you are grateful for when you feel happy, then when things hit a rough patch you can go back to the list to remind yourself that there are good things there before the relationship becomes unfixable.
- We hang on to past relationships with a vice grip long past the time when we should have just let them go.
I honestly believe that not all relationships are meant to last forever. I think many of them come into our lives to teach us something about ourselves and then fade away. Once that relationship has faded there’s no reason to cling but so many of us do exactly that. We have a thousand ‘what ifs’ running through our head and we just can’t let it go. We’ll never get the answers we’re seeking and even if we could sit the other person down and force them to answer each and every one of our questions we wouldn’t like the answers. So why do it?
Do we feel like we need justification for the relationship ending? That we need to convince ourselves that it wasn’t our fault? Why? It’s over, it’s done. We need to take the lessons from that relationship and move on so we can be happy again. Living in the past and clinging to what’s gone and what ifs will drive us crazy. We know this. Some of the most miserable people I’ve ever met are so stuck in the past that they can’t even let anyone new in. It’s sad to watch and I don’t want to wake up one morning and see that sadness in my mirror.
- We don’t tell our partners how we feel the first time something happens, we remain silent and let the feelings build up to something more than it ever needed to be.
We don’t pay enough attention to our feelings. We brush off incidents that make us feel bad until they have become so enormous that we can’t see around them. The worst part is that our partner has no idea until one day we snap and tear into them for something they had no idea they were doing. We need to listen to our bodies and emotions on a daily basis so this doesn’t happen and communicate with our partner. Even if it’s something that seems small and insignificant. If they want to know why you want to talk about something so small, just let them know that you want to do this before it becomes something so large you can’t see past it and it damages the relationship.
I’ve seen all of these in friends, family and most definitely in myself. I think the only reason I’ve recognized them is because I’ve had to learn these lessons over and over and over again. And over and over again so more just to make sure I understand. I’m tired of waking up to my very own reality tv show of Immaturity in Action. I’ve made the decision that I don’t want that life. Now, in my second marriage I still make mistakes but I like to think I have more of an ability to see these things coming and take action before it causes any real damage. I’m hoping the others in my life can see the example I’m trying to make and head in the same direction. Everyone, even my not so favorite people, deserves to be happy and enjoy their lives. It makes all of us happier and better people. It’s also the best example possible to make sure our kids know how to speak up, find solutions and know how to be in a healthy relationship.