The old adage that it is always too late when you realise that that which you had and its significance is gone, has been weighing on my mind. I’ve been confronted with a couple of scenarios in which couples are, in my opinion, being idiots.
Yes, I said it: idiots. They love each other but they complain. They can’t imagine life without one another, but they do downright detrimental shit to each other. They put on a big show and dramatize situations and issues that everyone else can see is nonsense. They destroy relationships over things that they don’t actually CARE about; they claim they want ‘out’ when that’s the last thing they actually want.
So what’s with all this shit? And can we do something about it?
SCENARIO 1: STUBBORNNESS
A timeless classic, we-both-agree-but-we’re-too-stupid-to-admit-it.
Yeah, okay, it’s not how a psychologist would put it, but I’m calling it: you’re both just too pig-headed because you’re proud, because, like principle, man.
I’m guilty of this too often than I’d like to admit, and it’s something I’ve been trying to work on. Let’s face the facts: we all do this to some extent. Human nature dictates us to ‘compete’ with each other. Winner takes all – that is, until you realise that winning can become so costly that you lose everything. My advice? Do you love him/her? Is it an issue you can be flexible on? If you do and you can, take 20 minutes (the length of time scientists say it takes for your heart rate and body temperature to calm down when you’re upset) and consider the detrimental effects a constant stand-off can have on you and your partner. Normally, that kind of defensiveness leads to stonewalling and silence, which is damn-near impossible to recover from. Try not to make your partner the enemy – instead, make the issue a mutual enemy.
SCENARIO 2: PETTINESS
I won’t because he doesn’t.
If you don’t say sorry first, I refuse to.
Oh, you don’t love me? Well I don’t love you, either!
If you don’t invite me over, you’ll never get an invitation from me.
The ugly sister of stubbornness, this one can really derail a relationship. People who are petty often claim they’re acting on principle when in fact, their feelings have been hurt by some trivial matter. Arguments that break out over pettiness, don’t concern “big” issues (like marriage or children or moving to another country). Instead, they’re about the little things that people get bogged down in because they’ve lost sight of the forest. The trouble with pettiness is that partners often reach blanket conclusions that, when left unchecked, can ruin them. Often, these conclusions are founded on an assumption.
Picture this: You’re on your way home from work, and your other half sends you a text to let you know that they’re meeting friends at the local pub – will you meet him/her there? You get quite worked up because this means you have to make a detour on your way home to feed the cat. You’re upset because your partner has assumed that you’ll stop on the way home to do this, and you feel that is unfair and selfish. You respond to the text by saying that you’re not going to meet him/her at the pub because SOMEONE has to go home and feed the cat and if he/she isn’t going to make the effort to do that, you’re not going to make the effort to show up at the pub.
This is the kind of situation that stems from pettiness (feeding the cat) and leads one to make a blanket conclusion (my partner is selfish) based on an assumption (that there is a correlation between not offering to feed the cat and selfishness). A much easier approach would be to trust your partner to be the person you fell in love with, feed the cat and leave it be. Sometimes partners are selfish, yes. We’re all human. Just because you’re selfish once (and I think in this case it’s actually laziness), doesn’t mean you’re a selfish (or lazy) human. There are many instances in which your partner isn’t just lazy or selfish – so if you can’t let it go, then at least try a softer approach to the situation: you could, for example, make a joke out of it.
SITUATION 3: FEAR
While I may have downplayed the importance of situations 1 and 2, this one is actually quite lethal. And whilst every situation in a relationship that has an element of fear to it, seems like it’s vastly different, they all come from the same place: you’re bracing yourself for a reaction. If you’re too afraid to tell your partner you love them, it’s because you don’t know how they’ll react (or you don’t know how you’ll react). If you’re too scared to confront them over the dishes that have been piling up, it’s because you’re scared of their reaction. You dread how your partner will react in a fight, during a conversation or to a surprise. Unfortunately, we all respond differently to fear: either we fight or we flee [I recently found out there’s a third option – stay – but for most people, it’s impossible to do that].
I don’t run or give up – ever. I fight.
I stand my ground. If you push me to the floor, I get back up. People whose response is to flee, don’t know how to deal with this, so they run a bit faster, and under normal circumstances, I chase them. Recently I’ve decided to stand still and wait for people to run towards me. I can be solid; I can wait. I can take the punches. Even when I’m trembling in fear, I don’t back down from a fight. It can be a wonderful and a horrible quality. Sometimes, it makes people run faster. Other times, they like knowing that while they run circles around me, I’ll stand and wait for them to slow down.
There’s no right answer here – no ‘standard’ approach to dealing with fear – but there are ways you shouldn’t deal with it. What it comes down to, at the end of the day, is two things: 1) What can you live with? 2) Can you stand down?
People who fight, do so because they HAVE to. It’s their (scientifically-based) reaction to a threat. People who run, do so because that’s all they know; they aren’t being purposely difficult. No one necessarily likes the actions they take when they feel under attack. We are, all of us, just trying to get by, so if you can show compassion – do so. I will always advocate that you fight for what you believe in – even if everyone is running. Equally, run towards what you believe in – even if everyone else is fighting.
That being said, though, sometimes those of us who fight have to learn to lay our weapons down because not everything you desire, can be attained by waving around a gun. And sometimes, those of us who run have to slow down because if you’re always running, you’ll always be alone; if you want to be held, you need to stand still long enough for someone to wrap their arms around you.
If you want ‘out’ – and I’m not saying you shouldn’t get out – you might want to take a moment to consider whether it’s a tree or a forest that’s on fire. We can plant new trees; we can fix a defective watering system; we can take care to spray poison on insects. Once you’ve set fire to a forest, though, there’s little anyone can do but stand and watch it burn.