I hope you’ll excuse the pointed title, and I sincerely hope your relationship is not falling apart, but if you have ever found yourself in dire straits in a relationship (as we all do), chances are that the trouble can be traced back to one or a few of these issues. If your relationship is all rainbows and sunshine dust, fantastic—this list will just be some good food for thought.
I’m not talking about you being glued to the TV while your partner is pouring his/her heart out. If that’s the case, it should be pretty obvious there is a problem.
Many of us believe we are listening when what we’re actually doing is anxiously and impatiently waiting for our turn to speak. When we “listen” from this perspective, we are not truly listening: we are resisting the anger, despair, anxiety, fear etc. inside of us.
True listening requires awareness of what is going on inside. Only when we are conscious of our inner-workings can we truly hear another person.
The next time you find yourself listening to your partner, whether in an argument or otherwise, see if you can notice what you’re feeling and thinking in response without having to speak immediately. See if you can allow your significant other to really be heard. Then, accept what’s going on inside you, no matter what the thought or emotion. From there you can speak with rational and relative calm, which brings me to my next point.
Many of us carry around little hurts and grudges all our lives. Often, we believe that acknowledging the pain is generally more trouble than it’s worth, and while it may seem like that in the moment, over the years those little indignities pile on top of each other and morph into a mound of resentment. And that is dangerous.
Perhaps there’s something that really bothers you about your partner. Why aren’t you saying anything? Are you afraid they’ll get upset? So what if they do? Maybe they’ll throw a tantrum. Maybe they’ll apologize. Who knows? Would you rather try to deal with it constructively now, or bury it and wait for it to explode out of you in a fit of rage? Let it be a learning process regardless of the outcome. You will thank yourself down the road.
As with listening, look inward. Accept what is there. If there is something that needs to be said, then say it. Understand that this does not mean verbally attack the other person. Calmly state what you’re experiencing in the moment, and don’t let it devolve into accusations, which takes us to number 3.
We often think, “if only he/she were this way, everything would be fine.” When we think this way, we are imposing an impossible ideal on our partners and we are avoiding the issue at hand: what is going on inside of us, the individual; the one who casts blame.
Remember, your significant other is not you. They are a complex being with their own thoughts, insecurities, dreams, and fears… just like you. Do not be so quick to eschew responsibility.
When you start to blame mentally or verbally, ask yourself if you are avoiding responsibility. Ask yourself if you are being unreasonable. Be honest. Then, if neither of these gels, don’t be afraid to speak up, and then be prepared to listen. Then, you’re on your way to constructive conversation, unless you fall into the next category.
This usually occurs in a relationship wherein one or both parties always think they are right. “My way or the highway” won’t fly in a relationship these days (not that it ever really did).
If you believe you are always right, then you never allow for someone else’s opinion or perspective to enter your mind. You label it preposterous before taking the time to examine it. As such, learning to compromise is a direct result of true listening, speaking, and side-stepping the blame game.
When we learn to listen and speak without fear, then we can develop a real understanding of our own needs as well as the needs of our partner. What follows is mutually beneficial compromise. We learn to live with or without some things for the sake of our relationship, and our partners learn to do the same. In turn, both people feel loved and valued.
Listening, speaking, not blaming, compromising; sounds easy, right? So why don’t we just DO
Once again, I do not mean physically. This is the line that ties all of the prior items together. Presence is complete awareness, or consciousness—if you do not find at least some amount of presence, it is impossible to listen, speak, compromise, and avoid the blame game.
You may have noticed that the suggestions for dealing with each point thus far have been to look inward, see, and accept. THAT is presence: learning how to be with yourself, see the cogs turning, embrace what’s there, and thereby put space around destructive thought and feeling.
The idea is that you must first attend to yourself before you can effectively communicate with or help another person. When we learn to cultivate awareness, we are laying the groundwork to deal with all of the aforementioned issues. Not only that, but difficulties in a relationship can be a gold-mine for this type of work.
One of the best ways to practice being present is meditation. I recommend it to all, however, if you’re not interested in that, or it’s not possible for you, this can be as simple as a few or multiple “breath check-ins” a day. All you need to do is sit quietly for as long as you desire. See if you can put all of your attention on the breath, and see what arises. Don’t judge or resist your inner-workings. Simply accept. Practice this a few times a day, and it will start to become a great habit. This way, when you are in the thick of some painful experience with your significant other, you can access that presence and listen without judgment or impatience, speak with clarity, disperse the urge to blame, and learn to compromise.
The bottom line is that it all comes down to the individual. Get right with yourself, be present, and you will begin to change the dynamic in the relationship.
Finally, these “reasons” do not necessarily apply to a physically, verbally, or emotionally abusive relationship: If the pain in the relationship has reached that level, I would advise seeking immediate professional help.
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