The Care and Feeding of Relationships

Syn­op­sis: rela­tion­ships need main­te­nance. There’s no magic–there’s com­mit­ment to a way of relating


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relationships
There is cer­tain­ly a bet­ter way to make your point…

Pri­or to Covid, I was sit­ting on the ran­cho at our place in Cos­ta Rica the oth­er day, talk­ing with a new friend, and got to think­ing about my books, specif­i­cal­ly Liv­ing Life in Grow­ing Orbits.

Before we came to Costa Rica that time, relationships stuff involving several of our friends was in the foreground.

One top­ic was “hon­esty.” As in, a friend of ours wasn’t being total­ly hon­est with her part­ner. The issue was not a big one, but her desire for secre­cy was ring­ing warn­ing bells for me.

That con­ver­sa­tion has stayed on my mind, espe­cial­ly after I see her again. And that led me to decide to write a cou­ple of arti­cles on relationships.

Background: I know this young woman very well. I remember back to her previous “big relationship,” and I talked with her a lot when it ended.

She described the fol­low­ing “con­flict process”:

We’d start to argue, and I don’t like argu­ing, so I’d go curl up in the bed­room while he sulked on the couch. Some­times we’d not talk for days. Then one or the oth­er of us would make an effort to be nice, and pret­ty soon, things were back to normal.

But I guess they weren’t, because the break-up, accord­ing to him, was due to all the unre­solved issues.”

You think?

Here’s how her resis­tance to talk­ing applies to what’s hap­pen­ing in her cur­rent rela­tion­ship: the thing she’s avoid­ing telling him has the poten­tial to have some emo­tion con­nect­ed to it, and she doesn’t like deal­ing with neg­a­tive emotions. 

But this time, she’s not hid­ing in her bed­room. She’s hid­ing the information.

Now, I’ve heard it all on the top­ic or whether hon­esty is required in rela­tion­ships. Many are the jus­ti­fi­ca­tions for “secrets.”

Typ­i­cal­ly, they boil down to, “I have the right to my pri­va­cy! Why should I have to talk about stuff that I’m uncom­fort­able talk­ing about?”

You mean I can’t just phone it in???

I have a solu­tion! If you don’t want to talk things through, don’t both­er get­ting into a relationship!

I don’t “believe” in secrets in rela­tion­ships. And yes, that means there are going to be some uncom­fort­able conversations.

But really, the issue here is “about” communication, pure and simple.

Dar­bel­la and I made a pact, back when were were dat­ing, about both hon­esty (we agreed on total hon­esty) and con­flict res­o­lu­tion. (We agreed to work our issues through to our com­plete sat­is­fac­tion, no mat­ter how long it took. The longest one took 18 hours. Straight. OK. We took pee breaks… 😉 )

The odd piece? After near­ly 40 years of doing this, it’s still dif­fi­cult.

When we hit a con­flict point, I go to arro­gant sulk­i­ness, and Dar goes to defen­sive­ness and deflect­ing. I revert to six, she to 8. I want her to admit I’m right and to do things my way, she wants me to admit that what­ev­er she did pales in com­par­i­son to what I did.

That’s our opening gambit.

Need­less to say, from that place, noth­ing is going to get resolved.

We’re not the only ones with faulty open­ing gambits:

  • Our friend hid in her room while her part­ner hid in the liv­ing room.
  • Anoth­er cou­ple, no longer mar­ried: she yelled and name called, and he sulked and sighed in silence. After 10 years, he pre­sent­ed her with a list of every­thing she’d done wrong (he, of course, thought he was inno­cent of any wrong­do­ing,) and end­ed things.
  • Oth­ers just fin­ger-point, blame the oth­er, and stop when the fight­ing or silence is over­whelm­ing. Noth­ing is dis­cussed, no ther­a­py is begun and then fol­lowed through with.
  • Some peo­ple think that the “right” rela­tion­ship has no con­flict. Mag­i­cal think­ing pre­vails: “If I am with the right part­ner, we won’t have issues, fight, get angry. Since we are in con­flict, I need to change partners.”

Well, phooey.

Pay attention, for Pete’s sake.

Our young friend knows that what she does that makes dia­logue impos­si­ble. She hides in her room, or hides the truth, and when she emerges, she buries the issue that she didn’t want to talk about. 

Why? Because she makes her­self uncom­fort­able over con­flict. She wants it to go away. By itself.

Here’s a hint. None of us like con­flict. How­ev­er, if you choose to live with some­one, there will be some. Con­flict. Because fun­da­men­tal­ly we each see the world differently.

So, what to do?

Well, in my / our case, we run through the sulk­ing / fin­ger point­ing stuff as rapid­ly as we can. Then, we sit down, and fol­low the Com­mu­ni­ca­tion Mod­el, and take what­ev­er time is nec­es­sary to come to a 100% agreement.

The nice thing about adopt­ing a mod­el, as well as mak­ing a com­mit­ment to talk things through even though we’d real­ly rather not, is that the dra­ma drains out of the sit­u­a­tion pret­ty quickly. 

Once we get over blam­ing, it’s pret­ty easy to own our own stuff, and to find areas of agree­ment that can be built upon.

You make this impossible if you refuse to get over blaming your partner for what you are feeling / doing.

One per­son we know, in all the time we’ve known her, has nev­er, not even once, acknowl­edged her role in her issues with her hus­band and kids. It’s always, “They’re not doing it right!” 

We point out (she asks us for help, which she then always ignores…) her lan­guage, and ask her what she can do dif­fer­ent­ly. She looks blank, then says, “You don’t under­stand. It’s him / them, not me!”

Yikes.

Self respon­si­bil­i­ty means own­ing my side of every­thing that’s hap­pen­ing in my rela­tion­ship. It’s not tak­ing the easy way out and blam­ing my part­ner, or utter­ing inani­ties such as “He didn’t try hard enough, and now it’s too lit­tle, too late.”

You mean… I have to do some­thing to get out of this???

Relating is a slog.

A fun one, but a slog. It’s a slog because, like walk­ing in mud, it’s slow going when things are “up.” But avoid­ance, blam­ing, hid­ing in your bedroom–not helpful.

The only way to get out of mud is to walk out. The heli­copter is not com­ing, and blam­ing the mud or the rain like­ly won’t help either.

Next time, more on how to communicate.


About the Author: Wayne C. Allen is known on the web as the Sim­ple Zen Guy. Wayne was a Pri­vate Prac­tice Coun­sel­lor in Ontario until June of 2013. Wayne is the author of five books, the lat­est being The. Best. Rela­tion­ship. Ever.

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