25 THINGS WE DO THAT HURT OUR RELATIONSHIPS
#1. MAKING CHARACTER ATTACKS
In relationships, it’s very easy for us to let each other down. This is because we all have expectations, and those expectations aren’t always met.
You expect your husband to take out the trash on Tuesday nights. He expects you to get the kids to school on time. And, when either one of you fails to meet the other’s expectations, you are left feeling disappointed.
You may even express that disappointment. You may say, “Hey, I’m disappointed that you didn’t take the trash out.” Or, “I’m upset that the kids were late to school again.” And, it’s okay to express disappointment that way. However, problems occur when we start to judge the other person’s character by their mistakes.
For example, if you were to say, “Why didn’t you take out the garbage? You’re so untrustworthy and careless.” Or, “Why were the kids late to school? It shows me that you are selfish — too absorbed with your own needs to give consideration to theirs.”
In cases like these, heavy assumptions are being made about each person based on mistakes that he/she made. But, those mistakes don’t provide enough evidence to support those assumptions. They may have just been human errors, caused by inevitable complications. Taking out the trash, in and of itself, is not a matter of character. Nor is getting the kids to school on time. When we make these things into matters of character, we are entering into dangerous territory.
Your partner may be able to admit he was wrong about forgetting the garbage. He may even be able to apologize for it. But, he probably can’t apologize for being untrustworthy. That may be more than he can (or should) admit to. You may be able to admit your mistakes in failing to get the kids to school on time, but you probably can’t admit to being selfish. Nor should you. That’s not what your crime makes you guilty of.
We should be careful not to attach personal attacks to our complaints. Even though it is tempting. Even though our anger often makes it feel warranted. Even though we may even think we know the other person well enough to justify our personal attacks, it is still a bad idea, and we’re far more likely to create bigger problems than to solve any.
Author John Gottman is truly is a master on marriage and relationships, and he’s written a great book, called:
#2. EXCESSIVE VENTING
Few would disagree that there is a time and place for venting. We can’t always keep our emotions bottled up inside us, expanding like vapor in a pressurized tank. That would be unhealthy, and it would leave us all feeling unable to fully express ourselves. So, for the sake of preserving our sanity, we occasionally allow each other to vent.
This is basically when one person decides to express anything or everything that he/she is feeling. It could be a single sentence. It could be a whole string of sentences. Whatever the case, it usually goes something like this: “This day is going to suck! We’re never going to finish the stuff that we need to do today. I am so tired of always being stuck in debt!”
Such statements don’t really add any value to a conversation. If anything, they are likely to distract the focus of a conversation. They more or less express one’s feelings about the conversation, or the topic they may wish to discuss. They often are only a reflection of what one person is feeling. The person who is listening may not feel that way at all. And, such statements often have no foundation in reality.
Because of this, they tend to quickly overwhelm the listening party. A partner will begin to feel as though his/her tolerance for the other person’s expression is being taken advantage of. Many of us have become so comfortable with our significant others that we bring our venting into every conversation. It’s part of our planning, our financial discussions, and pretty much every other talk we have throughout the day.
So, we should try to start recognizing when we’re venting and limit how often we do it. And, we should try to recognize venting for what it is. It is selfish. It is an indulgence in our own feelings. Usually, at the expense of someone else’s. When we are venting, we are having a “Me moment,” because we are bringing someone else’s focus to us and how we feel about the world.
While there is no written rule about how many “Me moments” we are allowed, they generally should not be a part of every conversation. If they are, our “Me moments” can quickly eat up all our “We moments.” If you have somebody in your life that you feel comfortable venting with, be glad for it. It’s a good thing. Just be careful not to abuse your venting privileges. Respect your partner’s tolerance for your expression, and realize that it is a limited commodity that you do not want to waste.
#3. EXCESSIVE ARGUING
Arguing is another thing that sometimes has a place and time. Because, we don’t always agree on everything. So, we sometimes have to make decisions together with somebody that we disagree with, and both parties have to put their best logic on the table. The aim of arguing is to compare the logic on both sides in hopes that the best logic will rise to the top. However, arguing tends to cause more problems than it solves.
It is rarely done well, and people’s motives quickly change. Rather than trying to find the best, most logical solution, they end up simply wanting to win. They usually become even more convinced of their own viewpoints and more resolved not to see anyone else’s. Not to mention, arguing often becomes personal as well. People take offense to their opinion being challenged. And, this often causes it to escalate into personal attacks that leave both parties wounded. So, because arguing takes place in such a high-risk territory, it is best to minimize the amount of arguing done.
In many cases, this is easy, simply because the argument isn’t very crucial. Somebody at your party thinks that the earth is flat. You could continue to engage in debate with him, but why? You’re probably not going to convince him of anything, and you’ll just waste your time, energy, and heart on something that isn’t really worthwhile. Some arguments (if not most of them) are better off left alone.
Usually, we have to pick our battles. Yes, you want to convince your husband that he doesn’t need to buy that motorcycle. But, you also want your time with him this weekend to be special, untainted by frustrating disputes. So, you’ll have to choose between the two. Either you can voice your argument with him, or you can spend quality time with him. You probably can’t have both. That is how it usually is in relationships. Our desire to engage in arguing usually comes at the cost of some other thing that we want.
The best thing to do when you’ve become caught up in an argument is to simply surrender. That’s right – let the other person win! Does that sound odd? It’s actually good advice, considering that arguing rarely accomplishes its goal. It rarely solves problems, changes minds, or brings people closer to making decisions. So, if you drop out of an argument, you literally lose nothing.
It may feel like you’ve surrendered your beliefs or your values, but you haven’t. You still get to keep them. Just because you dropped out of the flat earth discussion doesn’t mean you now think the world is flat. You are still allowed to keep on believing that it’s round and nobody even has to know. You also get to keep on enjoying the party, rather than allowing other people (and yourself) to get all heated up in a silly, pointless debate.
Are you an argumentative person? I’ve created a short test of 10 questions that will tell you. Click HERE to take the test.
#4. USING FALLACIES
Speaking of arguing, one reason it is so ineffective is because we tend to use bad logic in it. We make fallacy-filled arguments that do not have much substance. And, we do it with such passion that we scorch the earth of our closest bonds.
They say that the most convincing lies contain just enough truth to be believable. So do the most convincing arguments. They rely on fallacies for their persuasion, employing methods of distraction, biased sampling, or appealing to a naive person’s emotions. This is why it’s usually not the most factual people who win an argument, but the most competitive, passionate and intimidating.
Here are a few common fallacies. Try to see if you are ever guilty of using them.
Ad hominem –
This fallacy usually involves attacking the character of the person making the argument. It draws attention to some undesirable aspect of a person, rather than actually refuting that person’s logic or reasoning. For example, someone could say, “How can you agree with that politician’s immigration views? He’s just a womanizer and a liar!” Do you see? Instead of attacking the substance of the argument, one attempts to dismiss the argument overall by attacking the person who gave it.
Appeal to Authority –
This fallacy, also known as “ad verecundiam”, tries to give credence to a thought or idea by stating that a person or group of people of high status (or in high-position) support that same thought or idea. This would be like saying, “You should be a Cubs fan. A lot of geniuses are cubs fans too! You don’t want to disagree with geniuses, do you?” As you see, the flaw in this argument is that an idea cannot be justified simply because a person or a group of people adopts it. And yet, many of us use this to try and convince one another of our opinions.
Appeal to emotion –
An appeal to emotion relies on strong feelings to serve as evidence for a certain claim. For example, somebody could say, “Automobiles should be outlawed. I can say this because I’ve lost someone in a car accident. And, unless you’ve looked into the eyes of a dying car accident victim, held his hand, and watched him breathe his last agonizing breaths, then your vote on the matter should not count.”
This fallacy manipulates an opponent by creating a heartfelt case, rather than using reason. In this case, the argument didn’t actually offer any logic or evidence for why all cars should be outlawed, except for the fact that a person has experienced deep, personal loss.
Appeal to Ignorance –
This fallacy tries to make a claim simply on the grounds that there is no evidence to the contrary. In other words, it says “since you can’t prove me wrong, I must be correct”.
A man may say to his wife, “Hey, it’s a good thing we re-shingled the house. We haven’t had a single leak since ”. The problem is that the lack of leaks doesn’t necessarily prove that a new roof was needed. The house may not have leaked to begin with. Or, it may not be leaking now simply because it hasn’t been raining. For a plethora of different reasons, we cannot assume that something is true simply due to a lack of evidence to the contrary.
There are many more fallacies that we use, and it is definitely good to read about them. Most of us have no idea how often we use fallacies, and any education we can give ourselves will give us the power of wisdom. Here is one author’s book on Amazon that goes into much more detail on the subject:
Another thing we tend to do in our relationships is judge one another. We see our significant other doing something that isn’t quite up to our standards, and we let them have it. We tell them exactly what we think about their bad actions. And, we feel totally just in doing so. After all, we would never do what they are doing. We’d never forget to run the dishwasher when it’s full. Of course not. When we slam down the hammer of judgment, we are hurting our relationships. Because, the people we love depend on us more for love and support than they do for us to be their moral compass.
One problem with judging is that it is ineffective. Not only is the other person usually fully aware of what he/she is doing wrong, he/she also needs to go through the internal process of coming to that realization alone. Remember in high school when people told you that it wasn’t a good idea to keep smoking? How did that make you feel? Did it inspire you? Did it cause a lightbulb to go on over your head, compelling you to consider ideas that you’d never thought of before? No. It just made you feel judged.
Yes, you eventually quit, but not because those people got in your face and pounded on you with their wisdom. You quit because you eventually came to the conclusion that you wanted to quit. Those people who judged you may have actually slowed you down. Had you not been so busy resisting them, you may have come to the right realization sooner. The same is true for your partner.
Additionally, it does not help to point out a person’s faults because we all have faults, and if we want to open the door to having our own flaws pointed out, then all we have to do is Judge others. This warmly welcomes them to do the exact same thing back.
Perhaps you’re not aware of it, but even you have some standard that you are not living up to. Maybe you believe in eating healthy, but you sometimes eat junk food. Maybe you believe in exercising, but you sometimes neglect exercise. Maybe you believe in love and peace, but you sometimes allow yourself to speak out of bitterness or anger. Whatever the case, you have some standards that you don’t always live up to. And, unless you want somebody pointing those out to you, you should not make it a practice of pointing out their unmet standards to them. The best advice is, don’t judge. It is almost certain to backfire on you.
If interested, here is a book I found on Amazon called Making Judgements Without Being Judgmental.
#6. BULLYING (Unfair Fighting)
These days, we commonly hear the word bullying, and know that it means one person is being picked on by another. In marriage, bullying happens too. Usually, not by one person being shoved into a locker and losing his lunch money, but by one person being provoked by the other in unfair ways. These unfair fighting tactics can include the use of sarcasm, name-calling, mocking, or making character attacks.
The bully often uses one or more of these unfair tactics, thus, turning the other person into a victim of more than just an argument. He is now a victim of foul play within the argument. Because, arguing is no longer a safe arena for him when the other person has entered the ring wearing brass knuckles.
At this point, there is no longer a winning situation for the person being bullied, and he is likely to respond with the level of aggression he was shown. He may do this instinctively or out of self defense. Whatever the case, the result is that two people are now engaging in destructive behavior, rather than just one.
As students, we may have witnessed bullying at school. Perhaps, it resulted in two kids fighting. We usually then saw the principal breaking up the fight and sending both students to detention. At first, he may have punished them equally, because they both appeared to be guilty of the same crime. However, if he found out later on that one of them was instigating the violence, he may have decided to treat their cases differently. Because, even though they were both guilty of the same crime (fighting), one person’s crime only existed because of the other’s.
Of course, this wouldn’t mean that one of the students was totally innocent — especially not if he engaged in cruel or vengeful acts during the fight. It would just mean that the bully has additional crimes on his rap sheet. He didn’t just engage in the fight; he practiced the unfair standards that led to the fight in the first place.
We’ve all been told throughout life that “It doesn’t matter who started it,” and we seem to have turned a blind eye to the patterns that start our destructive conflicts. Maybe we should give some attention to the unfair ways we treat each other that provoke our significant others to follow suit.
Have you ever been a relationship bully? Have you been the first one to cross the line, provoking your partner to do the same? Try to realize the damage that this causes. And, that the solution for ending your nasty fights may be as simple as refusing to start them.
If you’d like to do more reading on the subject, here is a book I found on Amazon called
Being direct requires vulnerability, which is why many of us find ways to say something other than what we mean. When we have a request to make, a disagreement to voice, or a confrontation to handle, we often do it indirectly. We make implications. We hint at what we mean. We avoid risking rejection, because speaking honestly is a scary thing. It exposes us to some dangerous possibilities.
A man may want more time from his wife, for example, but he may be too afraid to ask her for it directly. He may instead criticize her for spending too much time with her friends, hoping that she’ll read between the lines and decide to spend more time with him. But, his approach is probably only going to upset her. And, make her more distant than she already is.
A woman may want flowers from her husband, but be too afraid to ask. Rather than asking, she may try to hint at what she wants. “You know, my friend Gina just received a beautiful bouquet of flowers from her husband, Steve. He must love her quite a bit. How wonderful that he’s willing to show her!” Her husband hears it, but will he be able to read between the lines? Who knows. Maybe; maybe not.
One reason why it’s so hard to be direct is because it spoils the element of surprise. It takes away from the value of the gift being given, which is, in a large way, the thoughtfulness that went into it. After all, what good are flowers if you have to beg and plead for them? That’s what many of us think. And yet, if there truly is value in the things that we desire (such as flowers and time), then it would be in our interests to learn how to acquire these valuable things. Otherwise, we’re left impaired. We become unable to obtain what we want. Even worse, what we need.
Hard though it may be, it is actually better to simply be outspoken about our desires and frustrations. It is better to say, “I want flowers. I want more of your time. I disagree with that. I want you to spend time with me instead of your friends.” Such statements demonstrate a directness that cuts right to the heart of an issue, which is a thought that scares some of us just to consider. We’d far rather that other people figure these things out on their own. But, they aren’t figuring them out. That’s why we’re in the positions we’re in. That’s why it’s fallen upon us to learn the importance of being direct.
Of course, we have to do it in a tactful way. Directness quickly starts to work against us if we lose our kindness, our softness, and our courteousness. If we combine our direct statements with abrasiveness and harsh words, it will lose its impact very quickly. Just say what you mean, and say it nicely. You can do this.
Remember… your ability to get what you want is a large part of why you ended up in a relationship in the first place. You didn’t come to be with your significant other by making demands or by hinting at your desires. Chances are, you were direct, but kind. Truthful, but tactful. Sincere, but soft. And, in order to get what you want now, you can go about it the exact same way.
Chances are, your wife will be flattered to hear that you want to spend more time with her, even though it may not show on her face. Chances are, your husband will be glad to know that you would value flowers from him, even though he may not be direct enough to admit that himself. There is something refreshing about vulnerability. Most good people are inspired by it, rather than disinterested. There is something about being able to see the direct connection between the person that is asking and the request that is being made. That is something that is more powerful than all the hinting, arguing, and criticizing in the world.
One of the main causes for our indirectness is a desire to please people. This book, called Not Nice, talks a lot about that struggle and provides ways to overcome it. If that’s you, feel free to check this book out!
#8. EXCESSIVE ANGER
Anger is often a destructive force in relationships. Many relationships have ended because one person (or both people) in them have not been able to control their tempers. While anger is sometimes justifiable, and while it occasionally has its place, it generally is not a good thing. It often comes when we ourselves lack the patience and tolerance for the person we’re with. Or, the situations we go through with them.
Some people get angry about everything. It is their first response to hearing bad news. Their first response to disappointment and adversity. A bad weather report can literally make them angry. And, this becomes quite burdensome to the people who live with them.
There are many varying degrees of anger. There is everything from mild anger to full blown rage. Some anger can make people prone to destruction or violence. Obviously, such great levels of anger in particular are more harmful — especially in relationships. As a general rule, our relationships are better off if we can control our anger. Even in small ways.
Suppose that a man is trying to teach his wife how to drive a stick shift car. Such a process is time-consuming, and involves a steep learning curve. If he gets mad at her for not figuring it out quickly enough, or for occasionally grinding the gears, he could taint the experience for her. He could actually hinder her from learning as quickly, and damage her reliance on him for guidance.
A woman may get upset with her husband for not remembering to put the toilet seat down. He may have good intentions and legitimately want to please her, but he simply forgets from time to time. If she reacts angrily to him when he forgets, it could hamper his goodwill. It could cause him to lose his desire to please her, which would be far worse than occasionally forgetting.
It works in our interest whenever we get better at controlling our tempers. The more patient and tolerant we can be, the better we become at relating to others. Not only do we create an environment that is fertile for trust, learning, and development, we improve our own temperaments along the way, increasing our own chances at happiness.
In the end, anger tends to be a harmfulf force. We should learn to stay calm when things don’t go our way. It makes us better learners. Better teachers. Better employees. Better partners. Let’s try to work on our tempers, shall we? If we get angry too easily (or too often), it is not the problem of the people who upset us. It is our problem.
Note: Not to sound too self-promoting, but this is a subject I’ve actually spent a fair amount of time researching, and I’ve written a book about it, called HOW TO CALM DOWN. QUICKLY. EFFECTIVELY. BEFORE YOUDO OR SAY SOMETHING STUPID. Feel free to check it out if that sounds helpful for you. Or, for somebody you know.
We all know the importance of having time to ourselves. It’s something that we all want from time to time, and even need. Depending on whether or not you are introverted or extroverted, your need for alone time can vary from your partner’s. And, while it’s good to have that alone time, we should be careful to make sure that we aren’t getting too much of it.
Spending time together is crucial for relationships. You didn’t get to know your spouse by spending time in separate rooms, talking to everybody but your spouse. No. You and your spouse did things together – probably as often as you could. You went bowling, watched movies, and went for walks. All of this created the fertile grounds for a relationship to grow. And, in order to keep your relationship growing, you have to keep doing things together.
Granted, this can get a little trickier as time goes by. Because now, unlike when you were dating, you have kids and a house to keep up with. You may each have careers and maybe even second jobs. You each have your own schedules that you’re both trying to balance. The practical aspects alone make it difficult, to say the least.
Then there is the emotional aspect, which often makes the desire for “Together time” fade. You both feel like you already know each other so well. You’ve spent months or years seeing all of each other up closely. You’ve woken up next to each other with bad breath and you’ve washed each other’s dirty underwear. The mystery that once made your spouse appealing may now seem to have somehow faded.
Meanwhile, you’ve each both probably formed a bit of baggage. All of those unresolved talks about finances. All of those arguments and instances when hurtful words were spoken — they seem to take any remaining pieces of desire away from you to spend time with your spouse. But, it’s still important. In fact, it may be more important now than it ever was.
Your gestures of love mean more over time. They become more valuable the longer two people are together. It’s one thing to hear “I love you” from someone who is feeling high on a new relationship’s ecstasy. It’s a whole other thing to hear “I love you” from someone who you’ve given years and years worth of reasons not to say it. And, the same is true with spending time.
Spending time with someone can be the greatest gesture of love. It says, “I like you. I want to be with you. I want to experience life with you. Even after all we’ve been through!” So, try to remember that a relationship is something that you can’t go alone. Don’t become isolated. Make intentional efforts to do things together.
This is another subject that renowned Dr. John Gottman has great knowledge and insight about. To read more about this subject, check out his book, THE RELATIONSHIP CURE
#10.HAVING UNREALISTIC EXPECTATIONS
We know that quality time isn’t always easy to come by. In fact, the more we yearn for it, the more touchy and defensive we become towards anything that might interfere with it… including each other. We long for quality time most when we’re exhausted and worn out, especially when relational tension is the cause. Of course, this puts a sense of pressure on us to relax and have fun. There is no room for even the smallest of errors when quality time is so scarce and precious.
But, this actually increases our odds for arguing. Because, as we make plans that are grand enough to meet our expectations, we forget to factor in the normal aspects of life, like the occasional glasses of spilled milk or the unpredicted rain. And, because we haven’t made room for these things, they are all the more unwelcome when they come.
Most unwelcome of all, are those high-tension talks that pop up with your spouse from out of nowhere, regarding finances, big decisions, or that wrong turn you made four miles back. Such unwanted stress hits us harder than ever when we aren’t prepared for it.
The moral to the story is that we should learn to create more accurate expectations. Let’s remember to factor in the high probability that normal life will occur — even on the best days. This way, when normal life does occur, it will not seem so out of place and threatening.
Not long ago, my wife and I were driving down a country road. It was wintertime and there was snow and ice on the ground. To our left, in a small creek, we saw about a dozen geese swimming. I decided that we should buy some bread and feed them.
We drove to a store and bought some bread. Then, we came back to the place where the geese were sitting. But when we got close to them, they flew away. They didn’t know our intentions were good. Because of it, they missed out on a free meal.
I think of how this story describes what happens in our relationships. How often are we unable to receive the goodness of others, simply because we don’t trust that what they’re offering is good?
A lot of times, this comes from insecurities that we bring into the relationship. As a kid, your dad’s compliments always had a touch of sarcasm… a drop of poison, which now makes you believe that every barrel is bad.
Your spouse says, “Good job fixing the gutters.” You fly off like a frightened goose, certain that she’s being sarcastic. You’re certain that she can’t possibly be paying you a compliment, or that there must be an ulterior motive somewhere in what she’s saying.
But to love someone, you must be able to trust them. You can’t hug somebody with body armor on. You’ll probably hurt them if you try. To love them and to be loved by them, is to let them in past your guarded gates. Into the place where you retreat to for protection.
Allowing someone into that place is one of the strongest ways of showing love. It says: “Not only do I love you… I put myself in your hands, believing that your hands offer something good… bread, not a stone.”
Because in order for any good thing to be received by another, one must first be open to receiving it. Trust is the starting point of love. Try to start giving your partner the benefit of the doubt. This doesn’t mean he/she has to be perfect. It just means that you trust his/her intentions. See what this does to improve your relationship.
One great resource I can recommend, who I know discusses trust in marriage, is Dr. Gary Chapman’s book,
Many of us will shame each other in hopes of changing each other’s behavior. That shaming often comes out in phrases like “You should be ashamed of yourself? What’s wrong with you? What kind of a person would do such a thing? If only you cared as much about X, Y, and Z as you do about your motorcycle.” Such statements actually aim to make another person feel bad about himself/herself.
Most of us have heard statements like “body shaming” and “toxic shaming,” and we are aware of the more blatant shaming tactics people sometimes resort to (as well as their devastating effects). And, we believe we would never use such shaming tactics on somebody that we love. However, we do use shaming tactics all the time. They just aren’t as blatant or as obvious as the ones we’re aware of.
Sometimes, shaming can be as simple as a look, a head shake, or a deep sigh. We do something small to hint or suggest that we disapprove — not just of a person’s actions, but of them. We tell them in some subtle way that they are the thing we are disappointed in. When we do this, our punishment is much greater than the crime.
Not to say that we always have to like what other people do. We can’t always give our stamp of approval for other people’s actions. But, we are wrong when we try to shame them. Because, shaming is a direct attack on a person’s worth and value.
It’s better to disapprove of a person’s particular actions. Suppose that your wife told you she would water the plants while you were gone last week, but she forgot to do it. When you pulled into the driveway, you saw your succulents bending over and drained of their color. An instant sense of frustration and disappointment overcame you. You were disappointed. Not just a little; a lot. And, you wanted to communicate that to her. How would you do that?
Hopefully, you would focus on that specific action. You would let her know that that action (neglecting the flowers) is what you are disappointed in; not her. You would express your disappointment in a loving way, without communicating that you think her value, her character, or her personality are corrupt in some way because of that action. And, you would be likely to get a sincere apology from her. Maybe even a valid explanation.
If you shamed her for it, however, then you would only widen the divide that is there between you. If you asked her why she can’t be counted on for such small, simple tasks. If you tell her that even a monkey would have been able to do the job. If you tell her that you should have known better than to ask her for her help, then you’ll probably only wound her and cause her — not to feel sorry, but to feel resentment toward you.
Be careful with shaming. Try to recognize it when you are tempted to make your complaints bigger than they really are. Try to recognize when you’re tempted to tie a person’s deeds to his/her worth. And, your relationships will be less likely to shrivel up like unwatered flowers.
#13. MIND READING
Many of us have formed a bad habit of trying to read each other’s minds. We presume to know each other’s motives, as if we could see right through them. The problem is that we’ve gotten sort of good at it. Good enough to believe that we are always right — even when we aren’t.
You’ve known your husband long enough to know that when he starts tapping his feet, he’s becoming bored with the conversation, and will probably soon be making an excuse to leave the room. You also know that when he leaves the room, he’ll probably just be on his phone somewhere playing games to cure his boredom.
Your husband knows you well enough to know that when something is wrong, you get quiet. You internalize the problem and try to deny that it’s there. He knows that when he asks you about it, you’ll say that everything is fine, and that that just means something really is wrong, and you’ll both be talking about it later.
Counselors listen to hours of therapy in which people complain about not feeling heard or understood. They feel labeled and misjudged by their significant other — unable to persuade them on certain issues. When asked, their partners commonly respond with, “That’s not true. I know what I know.” But, could it be that we don’t really know? Could it be that our certainty about each other may be a little biased? Could it be that some of the suspicions we’ve had about each other have kept us from truly knowing them? That is what many counselors would say.
Be honest. Isn’t it true that despite how good you’ve gotten at reading each other, there have been times when you both were totally wrong? Times when everything was just fine, but your husband didn’t believe you? Times when he really did have to leave the room and it wasn’t so that he could go play games on his phone? Maybe you’ve both been doing yourselves (and each other) a disservice by being too sure you know what the other is thinking. You’ve come to a place where you trust your own suspicions over what the other is saying.
Most of us are guilty of this, and we perceive our mind reading ability as a strength. But, it’s often a huge weakness. It’s what has kept us from knowing the truth on countless occasions, and from being able to see unique situations as something other than old patterns. We’ve built a wall around ourselves that blocks out any new ideas, keeping us comfortably trapped in our own pessimism about each other. That is not a strength — even if we can prove our pessimism has been correct on some occasions.
The bottom line is that it’s better to have an open mind. It’s better not to see new situations as nothing but recurrences of the past. This is true, almost regardless of what it pertains to. Even when it doesn’t involve your spouse, you are limiting yourself by thinking you know when you’re really just guessing. And, you’ll probably find a lot of great opportunities if you are willing to go beyond your well-formed presumptions.
Many of us have a bad habit of assigning blame whenever there is a problem. When the electricity goes out, when the car breaks down, or when the dog runs away, we instantly assume that the problem happened because some other person wasn’t doing his/her job. And, we look around the room to find who we can point our fingers at.
Why is this hurtful? For starters, because it is rarely a crucial part of problem solving to figure out who caused the problem. But also, it’s because our attempts to pin blame are rarely done in pursuit of objective truth. Usually, we blame simply so that we ourselves can avoid being blamed ourselves. It’s something that we do almost instinctively. Somewhere in our programming, it’s as though we’ve become wired to think that blame is always falling, and that we can keep it from landing on us as long as we redirect it to someone else. Of course, that is not true.
Not all accidents and mistakes are somebody’s fault. Sometimes, they are just part of life and can’t be prevented. Other mistakes are not the fault of a single person, but rather, of multiple people. The blame is shared by all parties involved.
For example, your wife didn’t water your flowers last week like she said she would. But, you forgot to buy her a garden hose like you said you would. It would be wrong of either of you to proclaim complete innocence. Or, to pin all the blame on the other person.
It would be better for each of you to own any portion of the problem that you can. Even if the mistake was only one percent your fault, own your 1%. Make it your personal mission to guarantee that that one percent isn’t owned by anybody else. And, assume that your 1% may have caused more than 1% of the damage done. After all, a foundational brick may only be 1% of a building, but if that brick is missing, the other 99% of the building is totally compromised.
More importantly, try to focus on results, rather than on blaming. In the end, finding out WHO did it is rarely as important as finding out WHAT can be done to fix it. Ask “What questions,” rather than “Who questions.” Whether the culprit was you, your wife, or the Easter Bunny, the important thing is solving the problem.
Later on when that problem is solved, and when saner heads have prevailed, it may then be worth finding the culprit. And, since you’re now all able to laugh about the whole thing, rehashing the incident won’t be as big of a deal. But, only do this if you agree that it’s absolutely necessary for preventing similar errors in the future. The point is not to rub your fingers in each other’s faces and make each other feel the magnitude of your errors. I know… this takes all the fun out of blaming, but it happens to be a lot better for your relationships.
I have written a separate article about blaming. If you’d like to read it, simply click HERE. Also, if you’re interested in reading more on the subject, one great book that talks about the drastic effects of blaming is Dr. David Burns’ book, Feeling Good Together. I highly recommend this book for getting out of the blame game.
Today, when you came in the door after work, your wife asked, “Why didn’t you wash the dishes last night? Why didn’t you take out the trash too? And, why is there $200 missing from our joint account?” You swallowed nervously, wondering how on earth you would answer her questions. You felt like a goalie, watching three giant hockey pucks whizzing right at your forehead.
But, the wheels in your mind began to turn, and suddenly, you came up with a brilliant idea. A perfect way to a plan to send those three giant hockey pucks away from your net, and into some other universe. Rather than responding to her questions (which you didn’t really have answers to), you deflected them. You said, “What the heck… it’s not like you wash the dishes every time I leave the house. Are you claiming to be perfect or something?” Hockey puck number one, perfectly deflected.
You then continued on, saying, “Don’t worry about the garbage. The garbage truck doesn’t come till Wednesday, and it’s only Monday night. Are you the garbage police or something?” Boom! Hockey puck number two, deflected just as well as the first!
But, one more hockey puck was still heading straight for your forehead. To deflect it, you said, “Why are you worried about the $200 I spent when you spent $500 at your friend’s bachelorette party last weekend?” Kabam! Hockey puck number three… another perfect deflection!
In all of these cases, you never really answered the questions being asked. And, that’s what many of us do as a practice. We have a thousand and one ways to effectively divert the focus of a conversation away from where we don’t want it to be. And, none of them make our relationships better. They all erode away at the trust, the patience, and the goodwill of the people we are trying to maintain bonds with.
Tempting though it may be, it’s best not to deflect during conversations. The discomfort you endure in the short term will be far less than the pain that deflecting causes in the long term. When asked a question, there is a much more effective strategy for handling it. Simply answer the question. That’s it! Your future self will thank you for it.
One mistake often we make is by being unnecessarily abrasive. This is when we have a message of some kind to deliver, but we deliver it in a harsher or meaner way than we have to. For example, rather than asking your husband for help, you say, “Um, hello… a little help would be nice over here! Sorry to interrupt your precious TV show!” Your intended message was conveyed, but the abrasive way you delivered it slightly changed its meaning. It was as though you said, “I need help, you moron!”
People don’t like being talked to in a condescending way. It makes them feel as though their intelligence is being insulted, or as though their help is being taken for granted before they even give it. Not to mention, it often backfires on the person who is acting abrasively.
Now, when people feel attacked, they are most likely to retaliate. Usually, to whichever degree they feel they are being attacked. Your husband, not liking your tone, responds with, “I don’t want to help you. Help yourself, you jerk.”
Many of us don’t realize that we use an abrasive approach. In this case, your abrasiveness may have only been a kneejerk reaction. Perhaps you were simply acting out of frustration. You were carrying groceries into the house all by yourself while your husband and kids were just sitting there, watching TV. Nobody noticed that you were about to drop the eggs or that the cat was about to escape through the front door. You simply said what you did to sound an alarm for your situation.
Maybe your abrasive tone even felt just a little bit justified, because your state of need seemed obvious. You didn’t mind adding a little sting into your verbiage, because you felt like your husband should have noticed your needs and volunteered his help without you having to ask. And yet, despite the fact that your insulting tone felt warranted, it still didn’t bring you the results you wanted. Because, your approach chased all your would-be-helpers away.
Here, we see a strange (but common) trend that occurs in our communication – we tend to do our worst communicating when good communication is most important. Why is that? Heaven knows that when you’re calm and gathered, you have no problem talking sweetly to your husband and kids and asking them for exactly what you need. But, when you’re a little bit stressed, your tones decrease a bit in their softness. And, when you see the cat escaping under a carton of falling eggs while nobody is doing a darn thing? Well then… all of that softness quickly goes right out the door (along with the cat).
Fortunately, most abrasive talk can be forgiven – especially if people understand why you spoke abrasively (and, if it’s the exception; not the rule). As a general rule though, it’s better to learn how to eliminate any and all abrasiveness from your words, tones, and gestures. Try not to lose your patience with people, and they’ll be better at giving their patience (and help) to you when you need it. And, trust me… you’ll need it.
If something is worth saying, it’s worth saying well. Try not to be abrasive – even if you think the world is full of boneheads that are too blind to notice your needs, and too selfish to bother caring. It will still benefit YOU to be gentle as you possibly can.
#17. EXCESSIVE CRITICISM
Many of us are able to find faults in just about anything. When we look at a rose, we only notice the thorns. When we see a beautiful blue sky, our eyes are drawn to the one tiny cloud floating off in the horizon. That is how we go through life. And, it’s how we injure our relationships.
If this describes you, then you may not have noticed the ten times your husband has remembered to wash the dishes this past month; you’ve only noticed the one time he forgot. And, you may look at that time he forgot as though it represents him – as though it defines him in some way. If so, then let me climb out on a limb here, and say… you are probably being too critical.
Criticism is an interesting thing. While it sometimes seems like a necessary evil (and while it can even be beneficial at times), it tends to be a more destructive force in relationships. But, perhaps we should go over some of the pros and cons of criticism. To start, let’s first discuss some of the ways it can be productive.
Criticism can help you find flaws and faults in a project or an idea. A critical eye is more likely to spot areas that need improvement, whereas an optimist may glance over those faults, hoping and believing for the best.
Criticism can lead to a more thorough and thought out plan. Once you’ve considered all of the worst-case scenarios, you can be better prepared to face an even broader scope of challenges that could potentially come your way.
Criticism can be a guideline – it can tell you something about the path you are on. If somebody criticizes you, it could mean that you are doing something wrong. Or, if that criticism comes from somebody whose ideas you oppose, it could be a sign that you are doing something right.
Criticism offers opportunities to learn something new. Every time you find out you were wrong, you have a chance to reexamine your options and make a more educated hypothesis. As Thomas Edison once said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
Criticism can teach you about how others think. If they find fault in your words, thoughts, or actions, it can tell you something about how they think, act, and speak.
Now, on the negative side, criticism can have some very devastating effects — especially on young children. One major cause of inferiority complexes is when children are overly criticized during their developing years. They grow up believing that everything they do is wrong, and have a hard time making crucial decisions.
Criticism rarely achieves its intended purpose. In relationships, the main reason people criticize is to change the other person’s behavior. However, that rarely is the effect. More commonly, criticism only creates resentment and anger towards the critical person.
Communication tends to shut down communication (as well as ideas). A person comes to perceive communication as a minefield — peppered with hidden explosives. Thus, he/she becomes reluctant to venture out into that field at all, or to even ponder possibilities if he/she knows that the other person is likely to perceive them as wrong.
Criticism is more likely to be vocalized than other forms of speech, simply because it is motivated by dissatisfaction. This is why frustrated, upset people are more likely to leave a review than satisfied, content people. Satisfied people have already had their needs met, and their motivation to say anything is gone. The frustrated people, however, still feel motivated by their dissatisfaction, and are far more likely to give you feedback (which is probably going to be negative). In relationships, this tends to lead to frustration, polarization between people, and disharmony.
When you weigh out all the pros and cons, criticism seems to be a risky thing at best, and a destructive thing at worst. As for what comes our way from others, we have less of a choice in the matter. We cannot control whether or not people will see the best in us, or whether they’ll zoom in on our flaws like amoeba under a microscope. But, we can choose whether or not we accept their criticism of us. Because, criticism is sort of like a pen. Somebody can offer it to you, but it’s up to you whether or not you choose to accept it.
As a general practice, it’s safe to say that criticism should be minimized in relationships, and that its effects are more harmful overall. In your own relationship, you may want to practice the two for one rule. That is, whenever you feel you have to say something critical, combine it with two affirming statements. It may go something like this. “Great job at coming home on time. And, thanks for taking the dog out. But, I’m a little frustrated that the dishes aren’t washed.” You get the point.
Most people will be more receptive to your criticism if they know that their flaws aren’t the only thing you’re noticing. You’ll build up some credibility in their eyes. Long story short, when it comes to criticism, our moms seemed to have some pretty good advice. That is, “If you don’t have anything good to say, don’t say anything at all.”
Defensiveness may sound like a good thing, because it’s often referred to in positive ways. When a team is said to have a strong defense, for example, it is a compliment to that team. When a country is said to have a strong defense, it is a positive statement about that country. However, there is one place where defensiveness seems not to have a positive implication. That is: in relationships.
In relationships, defensiveness somehow becomes a bad thing. Why exactly is this? Well, it probably has something to do with the fact that none of us are perfect. And, since we aren’t perfect, we’ll each have to endure some criticism for some of imperfect acts. And, if we aren’t able to endure that criticism, or if we become defensive when it happens, then we typically end up doing even more imperfect things that only injure our relationships further.
This morning, you used up all the hot water, and your wife was upset about it. She called you and vented her frustrations about it. But, if you acted defensively, then you probably didn’t hear her message. You probably defended yourself, making cases for how it wasn’t your fault, or how it may have something to do with the cold weather. Maybe you even through something in about how she shouldn’t be so critical over trivial things. Or, you reminded her of a time when she inconvenienced you, hoping to show her that the score was even, and that she had no right to be upset.
Such defensive actions erode at a relationship’s stability. They keep people from being able to effectively speak and listen to each other. And, when people realize that they aren’t getting through, they typically end up trying harder and harder, using bolder language, louder voices, and harsher accusations. But, all that does is make both people more exhausted, hurt, and resentful, and the relationship suffers (and could even end).
Another problem with defensiveness is that it encourages defensive reactions in others. When you tell your wife that she’s being overly critical, you put her in the receiving zone for criticism. That means, she is now likely to defend herself too. She probably doesn’t want to hear that (especially if her goal was to relay a message to you), and she may resort to all the same defense mechanisms that you turned to when you were the one being criticized. It can become a nasty cycle, and it’s best to just learn how to swallow a bit of pride, accept critical statements from other people (regardless of whether or not you agree with them 100%), and allow them the satisfaction of knowing they’ve at least expressed themselves and been heard. That is a more healthy way of going about it.
I’ve created a short test (10 questions) to help you see if you are a defensive person. To take the test, click HERE.
You can’t really talk to a stone. Or, maybe you can, but the stone can’t talk back to you. It will sit there cold and lifeless while you waste your physical and emotional energy expressing yourself to it. This is why it is said that when you are acting like a stone during a conversation, you are “stonewalling” the other person.
This may not sound like such a bad thing, but it actually is. Because, consider that a conversation actually requires something from you. It requires a certain amount of reciprocation and engagement. It requires you to offer feedback at certain points and to acknowledge what the other has said. If you simply sit there silently while your spouse is going on a rant about this month’s financial statement, you could actually be doing quite a bit of damage.
Silence isn’t always golden. Whether or not your silence is a good thing depends largely on your motives. If you’re being silent with good intent, simply wanting to give the other a chance to voice his/her thoughts, then your silence is most likely beneficial. But, if you’re being silent because for some other reason, it could be a brutally devastating thing.
If you’re simply letting the other person go on and on, sadistically enjoying the fact that he/she is becoming enraged by your lack of engagement, meanwhile gaining a sense of self-righteousness by the fact that he/she is acting crazy while you look perfectly innocent, then your silence is anything but innocent. And, anything but beneficial.
In fact, according to John Gottman, author of Why Marriages Succeed or Fail, stonewalling is one of the most harmful things we can do to our relationships. He refers to it as one of the four horsemen of the relational apocalypse. Because, when stonewalling is present, it may be a sign that the relationship is near its end.
By the way, I highly recommend Gottman’s book to any couples who are experiencing turmoil in their relationships. Here is a link to the book on Amazon, if you’d like to read more: Why Marriages Succeed or Fail.
Bob comes home from work. He walks straight to the TV room to watch the 6 O’clock news. He sets his dirty briefcase on the coffee table and unwinds after a long, hard workday. But his wife, Jill, notices the dirt he tracked in. The dust on the coffee table from his dirty briefcase and the footprints on the floor. So, she plugs in the vacuum and begins to tidy up.
But the sound of the vacuum cleaner is so loud that Bob can’t hear the news. He turns the volume up all the way just so he can hear it over the noise. He suddenly begins to feel frustrated that his attempt to relax has become very unrelaxing.
Frustrating thoughts race through his mind. He tries to figure out why Jill has to be like this. Why does she always start vacuuming at times when it interferes with something he wants to do? Can’t it wait? Aren’t there a thousand other opportunities for her to do this? Bob decides to say something about it.
“Excuse me, Jill,” he says. “I don’t like that you choose to vacuum right when I’m trying to unwind. I wish you’d try to be a little more considerate. You know this is the moment I look forward to all day, and you’ve ruined it for me.”
Bob sits back and waits for Jill’s apology. But an apology doesn’t come. Instead, Jill retorts back with a tone of pent up aggression; “Do you think this is something I want to do? The only reason I vacuum is because you never take your shoes off when you come in.”
Now Bob only feels more frustrated. He raises his voice defensively. “What? How come whenever I voice a complaint, you somehow end up turning it around on me? I’m tired of your deflections.” The conversation goes from bad to worse as each person begins to let loose their long-held complaints towards each other. What can we learn from this?
For one, we can learn that there are many ways in which people can differ from each other. I’m sure you’ve discovered this to be true between you and your spouse. Don’t worry… it’s true for every couple. Any person we end up with is bound to do things we won’t approve of or understand.
You may not like that your spouse hits the snooze button eight times. She may not like that you text people while you’re laying in bed. Yet both of you agree to overlook certain small things out of courtesy to each other and for the harmony of the relationship.
As we see in the case mentioned above, when one person becomes intolerant, he often breaks the unspoken agreement that exists between both people. It opens the door for the other person to be intolerant as well. If a person shows intolerance towards you, it becomes a little harder to be tolerant back.
Sometimes, our criticisms towards the other point back to ourselves. As we saw, Bob complained about the vacuuming, but Jill was only doing this because Bob tracked dirt in. Jill wasn’t even going to say anything until Bob started complaining. The only reason she criticized him at all was to show him he was causing his own grief.
This is one reason why it’s important for us to be tolerant. Because, we want other people to be tolerant with us. The best relationships are the ones in which both people stop trying to change each other and find true acceptance of each other.
Go out knowing that even if your spouse isn’t making any complaints about you, it doesn’t mean you’re doing everything right. It may just mean that he/she is extremely tolerant or supportive of you. If this is the case, realize you’ve found somebody special. Love her by being just as supportive back.
#21. KEEPING IT HEAVY
Most relationships begin in a lighthearted setting. You and your spouse probably ate out while you were dating. You went for walks or did things together that you both enjoyed. You probably talked as well about a lot of fun things. You laughed and were intentionally light hearted with each other, and this allowed the relationship to grow.
But as time goes by, couples often find their lives becoming fuller of demands. Their time together may be squeezed out by all of the more pressing, heavier topics. Bad times don’t need planning. They happen whether anybody plans them or not. Lighthearted times, however, must be intentional, or they diminish. Worse, they may even disappear altogether.
So what does a lighthearted time look like? A lighthearted time is one where bills, to-do lists and heavy subjects are set aside, and fun, uplifting subjects are focused on instead. While this sounds like a fun and easy endeavor, creating lightheartedness isn’t always easy.
One reason is because it’s hard to check our worries at the door. We get so used to stewing on bothers and frustrations that we don’t know how to let go of them when we want to. Other times, we can’t let go of the heavy matters because that’s what the light matters remind us of.
A talk about dreams can easily turn into a talk about disappointments. A talk about travel can become a talk about finances. A talk about the future can become a talk about the past. There seems to be a gravitational pull on conversations to slide into heavy territory. We must be aware of this if we ever want to rise above it.
We must also consider our distinct differences in our attempts to find lightheartedness. Not everyone finds the same things lighthearted. You may unwind bowling, but bowling might be something that stresses your wife out. She may love walks through the forest, which may be something you’re bored by. Find something you both consider light-hearted. Then, go do it.
Lighthearted moments must be intentional. Even the way we ask for them is important. You can’t just say, “Listen… I want us to have fun tonight, if we’re still able to do that” because such a statement includes negativity and criticism. It’ll probably only provoke defensiveness, as well as that heavy talk you’re trying to avoid. Make sure your requests for lightheartedness are lighthearted themselves.
Sometimes being lighthearted feels like being fake, because all your honest feelings are dark or heavy. But remember… lightheartedness, first and foremost, is not about honesty. It’s about having fun. In order for you and your spouse to have fun, you simply must create moments together that don’t include heavy subjects… even if they’re what are most genuinely on your mind.
The best way to get lightheartedness is to be lighthearted yourself. Make a funny face. Tell a joke. Give a playful push. If you set the tone, you invite the other to join you. Prove to him/her that you yourself are feeling lighthearted. Be convincing. Finding lightheartedness has a lot to do with how you pursue it.
If you’re looking for ways to bring the fun back into your relationship, here is a book called 10 GREAT DATES TO ENERGIZE YOUR MARRIAGE. I personally have not read this book yet, however it is on my list of books to read!
Exaggerating has to be the world’s greatest catastrophe ever known to man – in this universe and outside it. Just kidding. That’s an exaggeration. But, it’s an example of what many of us do when we want to make our points. Do you live with an exaggerator? Or, could you be one yourself?
Rather than just saying, “Honey, will you please slow down,” perhaps you get frantic and shout “Oh my gosh, you’re about to pass Mario Andretti! If you go any faster, we’ll break the sound barrier. And then, we’ll start going back in time!!!” You use large words and tones to inflate your message. While this seems to convey the point you are trying to make, your wife doesn’t hear you.
Instead, she hears, “Blah blah blah, I’m angry, and I’m willing to dramatize my point and risk hurting you in order to make sure that I (the important one) feel heard.” That is, if she hears anything at all. Chances are, your outburst has created a defensive forcefield around her, making her unreceptive to anything you (or anyone else) might have to say.
Many of us feel the need to exaggerate our messages. Usually, this comes from a feeling of inferiority. We doubt our message will be perceived as important. So, much like an animal that puffs out its chest in order to make itself look larger, we dress our messages up with drama to them appear more important. We do this – not just with our word choice, but with our tones, gestures, and body language as well.
Obviously, this is damaging because the exaggeration typically comes at the other person’s expense. It is also slightly untruthful. Consider how in a court of law, you’re asked to “tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.” When you exaggerate, you are adding your own spin of dramatization to the truth. You are also focusing on just part of the truth (rather than the whole) and blowing that tiny part way out of proportion. Is that truthful? No. It’s exaggerating. So, try to remove exaggerations from all of your words, gestures, and tones. And, your relationship(s) will be better off for it!
For a good book on better communication strategies, I highly recommend Crucial Conversations. I have read this book multiple times and each time, I find a TON of value in it!
#23. HOLDING GRUDGES
Many of us have a problem with forgiving. No doubt, forgiveness isn’t always easy. It usually isn’t just — that’s why it’s called “Forgiving.” You have the right to another person’s debt, in some way, but you choose to pardon them of that debt.
Some of us wonder “why should we forgive? Shouldn’t the focus really be on the crimes committed and ensuring that they don’t happen again? After all, if we let things go, aren’t we just encouraging bad behavior?” Shouldn’t we let our forgiveness depend on the other person’s remorse? Those are all good questions. But, as it turns out, forgiveness isn’t just for the guilty party. It’s also for the person who was wronged.
It has been said before that bearing grudges is like drinking poison and hoping that another person will get sick. Others have said that forgiving is like setting the prisoner free, and discovering that the prisoner was you.
Some medical books classify unforgiveness as a sickness. A lot of research actually shows strong correlations between unforgiveness and physical ailments, like cancer and heart disease. One statistic says that over half of all cancer patients have forgiveness issues.
Harboring bitterness and anger creates a state of constant anxiety, which alone is known to have many adverse physical effects. So while the other guy may not seem to deserve our grace, we sure aren’t making our own lives better by withholding it from them.
In close relationships, there seems to be a constant need for forgiveness. It’s not the “one-time-fixes-all” thing that we may have once thought it to be. It’s a process of learning to let go… over and over. You may have told your wife that you forgive her for those things she said, but there’ll probably still be a strong proneness to drift back to begrudging her for them. You subconsciously cling to your old pain, defaulting back to old grudges that you thought you had let go of.
I realized one day that unforgiveness was taking its toll on my own joy. And, my wife’s, as both of us had accumulated some heavy amounts of hurt from each other. So I decided that a firmer plan needed to be made and implemented in our marriage. I was looking for ideas.
I’d recently read about Alexander the Great, and how when he came to Persia, he did something unexpected. There on the shores he planned to invade, he set flame to his own ships. It was a symbolic way of demonstrating to his men that “we either go back in their boats, or we don’t go back at all.” This, I saw, was a real act of letting go.
Here was a man who knew what it meant to eliminate contingencies. While most of us say “I forgive you” and act like we’re letting go, we’re really only stashing our hurts and disappointments away in some secret inner place, like boats hidden at bay, tied up at our ready should we ever need to use them.
I decided that I didn’t want my love to be like this, and to use the same symbolism to demonstrate the type of forgiveness I wanted between me and my wife. I invited her to do the same with me. She saw the need as well, and was glad to. I wrote her a letter explaining that I wanted her love more than I wanted to feel just in my own eyes for the ways I felt wronged.
Together, we drove down to the riverside and I read her the letter I’d written. In it, I asked her to restore her picture of me. To fight for it at all costs, even until death. Even against her own heart. I said I would do the same for her.
We lit a candle and took out two pieces of paper. On them, we wrote down the things we still felt angry at each other for. Our lists were long. Both of us had a lot of offenses to forgive. Then, I took each of our lists and placed them into tiny paper boats. We set the boats in the water and I lit each one on fire.
They slowly burnt up and sank, being taken down current. It was a small thing, but to us, it was powerful. It symbolized that our love was the prospect we were fighting for, and that we didn’t have contingencies either. We acknowledged that we were choosing to keep our love over our reasons to feel hurt. Because ultimately, we couldn’t keep both.
For a great resource on the subject of forgiveness (as well as apologizing), you may want to check out Dr. Gary Chapman’s book, The Five Languages Of Apology:
It can become burdensome to a relationship whenever the people in it become overly pessimistic. That negativity drags us down and drains our energy. So, it would help us out (as well as our partners) if we learn how to be more optimistic. This means: thinking positively. Acting positively. Speaking positively. Of course, this may be a challenge.
One reason we’re bad at speaking positively is because we’re bad at thinking positively, and our verbal expressions are really only reflections of what’s going on in our inner worlds. If we’re constantly stewing on frustrations, disappointments, and doubts, then our countenance will merely be a manifestation of all that inner negativity.
As humans, we tend to focus a lot on negativity. We remember the bad aspects of our day. The smug looks people gave us. The rude comments they made to us. We notice all the dings and dents on our cars, failing to appreciate them for times they got us from point A to point B. It usually indicates a lack of gratefulness. If we aren’t seeing good things, we probably aren’t thankful for them either.
So, to become more optimistic, we can start by looking around us for things to be grateful for. The truth is that there is a lot to be grateful for. Need help? How about being thankful simply for the air you’re breathing? Or, the colors you’re seeing. The use you have of your bodily functions, like your ability to think. The rights and privileges you have. The fact that you are here, living another day! Does it sound silly? It’s not. What’s silly is taking these things for granted… over and over. Day in and day out.
Worse yet, we can hurt the people we’re with by being bad at seeing the positive. They become the victims of our bad perspectives. So, if you’re in a relationship (and even if you’re not), check yourself from time to time to make sure you’re not forgetting to see the good.
Here is a well known book on overcoming pessimism, called Learned Optimism. Description: “The father of the new science of positive psychology and author of Authentic Happiness draws on more than twenty years of clinical research to demonstrate how optimism enchances the quality of life, and how anyone can learn to practice it.”
It has often been said that an ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure. Many of us would benefit by applying this principle into our relationships. There are a lot of things we commonly do to dig ourselves out of the holes we’ve dug. We buy roses, chocolates, and leave sweet apologetic voicemails. But, none of that would even be necessary if we just spent a fraction of that energy being more careful in the first place.
Think about how this is true in your relationships. When was the last time you found yourself trying to dig yourself out of a hole? What was it that put you in that position? Did you show up late when you said you’d be early? Did you forget about something that was important to the other person? Did you let words slip from your mouth that weren’t the best choice? How might an ounce of prevention have saved you from later on having to look for a pound of cure?
Perhaps you’ve been the recipient of someone else’s careless words or actions. Most of us have, at some point, been scarred or bruised by someone else’s carelessness. If so, we should understand the importance of being careful ourselves, because we know that pain all too well.
One major reason we should practice care in our relationships is because we hurt ourselves when we hurt the other. Being careless with somebody is like being in a boat with him/her, and puncturing holes in his/her side of the boat. Their side of the boat starts to fill up with water, but that obviously affects us too. Our side of the boat fills up with water just like theirs, and we all eventually sink at the same time. It doesn’t matter which side the damage was done on. If you are in a relationship with someone, your fate is tied to theirs, and it’s worth preserving the well-being of both parties in order to preserve the whole.
The main reason we should be careful, however, is because a lot of the damage we do cannot be undone. Some of the holes we puncture are too big to plug up. In a short amount of time, we can do an irreparable amount of damage. Think of how we mess up our careers with just one frivolous act. We can blow our lives savings with just a single irresponsible purchase. And, in our relationships, we can mess up everything we’ve worked so hard with just a single act of carelessness. And, none of our chocolates, roses, or sweet voicemail messages may ever be enough to help them recover.
Yes, it’s good to apologize when we’re wrong. It’s good to make those efforts to reestablish trust and respect whenever they’ve been broken. But, it would be a whole lot better for us to simply learn how to be as careful as possible. This way, we’ll have more quality time with the people we care about, and a whole lot less cleanup work to do.
Finally, one more book I might recommend is The Four Laws Of Love, by Jimmy Evans. In this book, Jimmy Evans tells the story of his own marriage, which was headed for divorce, but spared. Here is the Amazon link, if you’d like to know more.