My husband, Ian, and I work on our relationship every day. Intimate relationships are the perfect training ground to work out how you want to be in relationship with other people. Sometimes we are successful and have fruitful, happy relationships, and in other moments, we crash and burn.
Well, we may not always be using all the tools in our relationship toolbox. We may have the tool, and we might forget to use it, or we might use it incorrectly. I wanted to share some posts along the way regarding relationship strategies that work really well and have been tested thoroughly by us. 🙂
This is a strategy I recently started using, and it has been a blessing.
Relationship Strategy 1: Forget everything that happened yesterday.
It is incredibly tempting to bring the past into a current argument. I do it all the time. I collect data along the way, and when I need to gain the higher ground in an argument, I spew every moment in time when my husband did something even remotely similar to the thing I am upset about now. This strategy does not work with him, and I keep trying it. He points out the irrelevance of the other events, or how they are not similar to the current challenge because circumstances were different. My other tactic is to bring in new topics to confuse the current topic or divert the attention away from me if I feel I am losing the battle. This also does not work on my husband because he is a master communicator.
There is very little room for forward movement in any disagreement if one or both parties are dredging up past issues of any kind. It’s like throwing gasoline on a dry haystack that is already burning. Pretty soon you have no idea what started the argument and no resolution to the current problem. Also, all arguments start to sound very similar. I end up asking myself, “How do we end up having the same argument over and over again?”
So, to avoid insanity by attempting the same fruitless strategies, I tried a new one. Every time I have something to discuss with my husband I resist the temptation to bring up the past. I stay focused on the present. I avoid statements like, “Well, 3 years ago you promised…” or “You never…” or “You always…” Simply avoid the words never and always in any discussion. It is never 100% true and discredits you as someone who lives in the land of exaggeration.
The past is not now, and we cannot go back and change the past. So, reliving it over and over is a form of self-inflicted torture. Stop! Leave the past in the past. If you need to, do some work to heal the past (a larger topic).
If you had a previously standing agreement, determine if current events require a renegotiation of said agreement.
Also important, stay focused on yourself and how you feel (actually, Relationship Strategy 2). “I feel hurt and angry when you do not pick up after yourself.” Don’t go into a dissertation about why you feel this way. It just opens all kinds of nasty tangents that will derail your need to express how you feel and to possibly work through once and for all an issue. Wouldn’t it be nice to have one difficult conversation and never have it again??? Certainly something worth working towards.
Also, do not attack the other person. No one wants to be judged regardless of what they did. Most people will instantly become defensive in effort to save face. Others may use what you are saying to them as fuel for their own shame. Neither are healthy. You certainly do not want to judge or shame someone you love. You would not want that done to you.
Keeping the past in the past will save you. It helps keep you clear and focused on what is present. The argument will be simpler and shorter. It may not even reach the argument stage (wouldn’t that be nice?).
This strategy also works with relatives, friends, and children. Wake up every morning as if everyone in your life has a clean slate. Through away your mental score cards of past indiscretions. Focus on what you are dealing with right now. This allows people to grow around you because you are not holding them in the past. There is enormous safety knowing that every day is a new chance to be more of the person you want to be. You want this for yourself. The best way to get it for yourself is to offer it to others. You will be modeling the very thing you want and need.
As I have said many times, people will pick up on how you operate and respond in kind. If you tend to yell or manipulate, people will respond with similar tactics. If you have people coming at you with these tactics, resist the temptation to respond similarly. Stand strong in how you want the relationship to function (Relationship Strategy 3). Set those boundaries for yourself. “I will not dredge up the past to strengthen my argument.” “I will keep the focus of my discussion on me and my feelings.”
One the biggest benefits of leaving the past in the past is that it helps to minimize resentment: the death of relationships. Resentment tends to grow slowly over time until it reaches the point where there is nothing left in a relationship. We see this occur often. Partners who collect data over the years about the other person tend to start to resent that person enormously. Resentment often goes unexpressed at first, however, as the years pass, all the love is overshadowed by the growing ball of resentment.
Stay angry about the now. Or sad or disappointed or whatever. Express that emotion, share what needs to be shared with your partner and make room for them to genuinely respond (Relationship Strategy 4). If you are beating them over the head with their past, you might not get the response you really want. When you give the other person the time and space to reply, you may just be surprised with the outcome.
You might hear something like, “I had no idea you felt that way. I am sorry. Can we find a different way of managing this issue?” Most people in a relationship that still has an ounce of love left want the relationship to succeed.
We just need to remember to bring our best selves to the conversation. It’s a “Do unto others….” moment for sure. We all want a chance to start fresh and not be reminded of our past mistakes. In our justice system, you can’t be punished for the same crime twice. If only this were true in our personal lives!