Owning your Choices

A number of years ago I remember watching some talk show that was interviewing Charlie Sheen.

The timing of this interview was fairly significant.  He had just gone through a fairly public downward spiral, where he had displayed all sorts of strange and erratic behavior.  I don’t really follow celebrity culture, so I don’t remember the details, but I *do* remember some of the things he said in the interview.

He was asked about whether or not he had any regrets about the things he had done, and he said no.  He said the past was the past and he couldn’t change it, so he wasn’t going to worry about it.

 

I’m a big believer in the notion that our life is our own person journey.  Along the way we are having all sorts of experiences, and we are constantly making choices.  Our experiences and choices are sometimes good, and sometimes bad.  But they ultimately shape us into the people we are today.  This process never really ends, as we are always growing and changing.

So I understand the notion of trying not to get caught up in the past.

He’s right, the past IS the past.  For good OR bad, it’s already happened and can’t be changed; so it really doesn’t make sense to waste energy on something you can’t change.

In fact focusing on the past, getting caught up in it and refusing to let it go, is extremely unhealthy.  Often this is referred to as rumination, and it’s something that’s commonly found in both anxiety and depression.

But (and this is a BIG but)…

That’s not to say the past doesn’t matter.

The past may have already happened, and we may not be able to change it.  However we can ALWAYS learn from it.

We are always going to do some things well, and we are also going to make a lot of mistakes.  The value of this experience is LEARNING from it, and trying to grow as a person.  To improve, and minimize those mistakes moving forward.  To try and do better, and BE better, each and every day.

That is what growth and experience is all about.

And PART of that process is OWNING our mistakes.

Because if we can’t even own our mistakes, then how in the world are we ever supposed to learn from them?  How are we supposed to grow?

We don’t grow if we are blaming someone else or rationalizing away our behavior.  If we say “sure I did that, but it was because…” then we aren’t truly owning it.

To own our choices we need to be able to say “yes, that was me.  I did that.  It was MY choice”.

It’s only THEN, that we can recognize how our choices may have impacted or hurt others.  And it’s only when we do this that that we can truly apologize for something we have done.

 

That was my issue with the Charlie Sheen interview back in the day.

I didn’t sense remorse.

I didn’t sense learning or growth.

There didn’t seem to be any real ownership.

Rather, it was “yeah, I did that.  But I can’t change the past so it doesn’t really matter”.

He didn’t seem to get the impact his actions, his CHOICES, had on others.

 

We all do stupid things sometimes.  We all have moments where we will say thing or do things that will hurt the people we care about.

And these are moments that over time have the potential to seriously damage a relationship.

I believe that when relationships end, it’s usually not because of a particular incident or event.  Sure that happens sometimes, but more often it’s a series of smaller things that allow resentment to gradually build, and over time allows apathy to set in.  Most relationships die the death of a thousand cuts; and maybe there’s an incident that pushes things over the edge – but it’s really all the smaller things that have done the real damage.

And that’s where ownership comes in.

 

People talk about how they would never do anything to hurt someone they love.  Well, I have a different take on that.

We may not *want* to hurt those we love, but if you are around someone long enough you will hurt them.  That’s just human nature.

 

And once you have hurt someone, it’s already happened.  You can’t take it back.

That doesn’t mean you can’t try to make it right though.

Ownership to me is about recognizing what we have done, and how it has impacted those around usIt’s about showing remorse for how we have made the other person feel, and trying to learn from those moments.  It’s about taking steps to prevent those sorts of things from happening again in the future.

It may be true that we cannot change the past.  But we CAN avoid making the same mistakes.  And if we can do that, then we can use the mistakes of our past to build a better future.

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Why Do Guys not “Get It”?

JimCarrey

A while back I was talking to a friend of mine, and we were talking about those final sputtering gasps of relationships and how they often look the same.

Usually it looks something like this…

A couple stops doing things together, they stop having fun together, they stop having sex, and often even stop sleeping in the same bed.

The sense of “we” breaks down, and they increasingly become two people living separate lives; simply occupying the same space instead of being “a couple”.

Maybe they start fighting a lot, or maybe they just stop talking and interacting AT ALL.

 

Even still, when one person finally decides to initiate the breakup – the other person is often caught completely off guard.

 

The way the scenario was presented to me, it was the woman who was the one initiating the breakup; and the question was asked of me:

“why in the world are guys surprised when this happens?  You’re not getting along.  You’re not having sex.  Why is this a surprise?”

Yet for the person on the receiving end of the breakup, it often is.  Sometimes the other person is completely blindsided by the loss of the relationship.

 

As I thought about it, I realized it was a great question.

Why is it a surprise?

Why in the world doesn’t someone see it coming?  Especially when there are usually a significant number of signs that something is clearly wrong.

Is the person on the receiving end of the breakup stupid?

I suppose it’s possible that stupidity, ignorance or naivety plays a role here.  But often I think the issue goes a little bit deeper than that.

And I think it’s a sign of a relationship where there is very poor communication.

 

One of the biggest issues plaguing couples is an (often unspoken) belief that if your partner “knows you” then they will know what you are thinking, or be able to read your body language.

News flash – it’s not true!  People *aren’t* mind readers.  Well, I suppose some might be – and if you actually can then great, I’m not trying to downplay that ability.

But by and large?  Ummmmm… no, things don’t work that way.

When you’ve spent enough time with someone you often can make some guesses as to how they will react to events.  And you probably get pretty good at reading their body language (when you’re actually paying attention) over time.  But no, you can’t read their mind.  You don’t actually know what they are thinking – it’s just guesses.

In fact, believing people should be able to read your mind (or thinking you can read theirs) is one of the leading thinking patterns (or cognitive distortions) associated with things like anxiety and depression.  Or on a lesser scale, unhappy relationships.

So if we can accept that the person who is caught off guard on the receiving end of a breakup can’t actually read minds, and we can accept that they aren’t necessarily stupid, then maybe something else is happening here.

Maybe, just maybe

They are caught off guard because although they knew *something* was wrong, they had no idea what it was, or they had no idea how severe the issue was.

 

Going back to the common signs of a relationship in distress, I mentioned things like a couple no longer  doing things together, not really having fun anymore, not really having sex, and even not sleeping in the same bed.

Basically, a couple ceasing to be a couple.

When this happens, usually one person has pulled away or started to check out of the relationship.

Depending on what is going on in their lives, maybe the other person doesn’t notice at first.  But eventually they clue in that *something* isn’t quite right.

And I think what happens next is what will likely determine the outcome of the relationship.

 

There’s a pretty good chance shitty communication and a dislike of conflict on the part of one or both parties has gotten the couple to this point.

So chances are, the person who notices things aren’t quite right will wait it out for a bit.  After all, people and couples have good days and bad days; maybe this is just something that will pass.

Maybe they try engaging their partner a bit more.  Or maybe they actually ask them something like “hey, is everything alright?”

No one *likes* to discuss difficult things.  No one likes conflict.

But the worst thing people can do is say “yeah, things are fine” when they really aren’t.

Issues and concerns need to be out in the open, and they need to stay out in the open as long as is required to either get things resolved, come to terms with the fact that this is an issue that will always be there (and you can accept that), or realize that the nature of the issue is one which means a couple may be better apart.

People may not like to admit that last one.  But really, sometimes couples are simply not good together.  Sometimes there differences are things that they will never resolve, and if they can’t accept each other for who they are then ending a relationship is actually an act of kindness and compassion.  Time is the one thing we can never get back, so if you don’t actually WANT to be there, get out.  Don’t waste someone else’s time.

 

If someone notices that their partner is withdrawing from the relationship, yet their partner claims things are “fine” or won’t talk about it; it becomes very easy to mentally fill in the blanks and find other reasons as to why they may be withdrawing.

Perhaps they are stressed with work.  Perhaps they are unhappy with something else in their life.

There can be any number of reasons why someone can check out for a while, and often those reasons can have nothing to do with the relationship.

And if they are telling you it’s not the relationship, not being clear about the issues in a relationship, or being passive aggressive in addressing these issues?  Well, it’s easy to tell yourself it’s something else.

Maybe it’s a form of denial or wish fulfillment, but when there are signs of trouble yet your partner won’t tell you what is wrong, it’s really easy to find other reasons to explain away their behavior.

And when you start to tell yourself that the issues are due to something else, then it’s easy to feel blindsided when things completely fall apart, even when there’s ample evidence that something is wrong.

So to me, it really comes down to communication.

 

Let’s look at this another way.

When you are the person on the receiving end of a person who’s checking out of a relationship, yet they aren’t articulating to you (in a way that you understand) that there are problems, what’s really happening?

Maybe they are scared to communicate and avoiding dealing with things.

Maybe they they’ve tried communicating, but they feel they haven’t been heard.

Or maybe they’ve communicated in a way that made sense to them, but really wasn’t understood by you.

Personally, I think it’s often the latter of these.

 

I’m operating from the premise that people aren’t actually stupid (alright, some are).  I also believe most people are in the relationship because they actually “want” to be there, and DO want things to work out.

People communicate in different ways, but communication is a two way street.  It’s not just about one person describing what they are thinking or feeling.  It’s also about the other person actually understanding those things, and not just hearing the words.  Without understanding, you have a monologue – not communication.  And without actual two way communication, a couple is in a world of trouble.

communication model

In the above communication model feedback is the key piece, and if you note the arrows, it’s a two way street.  It involves two people going back and forth, as much as they need to in order to ensure the message is understood.

It’s this feedback that is often missing piece with couples.

It can be frustrating and exhausting to go back and forth ensuring you are understood.  It may result in arguments, and your partner may never fully agree with what you are saying.

But that effort to ensure there is two way communication is incredibly important.  Because think of the alternative…

  • One person speaking but not feeling heard.
  • Resentment and apathy setting in.
  • The relationship slowly breaking down as one or both people emotionally detach, until you are two people occupying the same space instead of two people sharing and building something together.

No one should ever be blindsided by the ending of a relationship.  If they are, then somewhere along the way the communication has broken down; or it was never really there in the first place.

Communication isn’t always easy, but some things are worth fighting for.  And if you want your relationship to last, communication needs to be built so that both people know they are being heard.

Differing Opinions

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As a boy growing up in the 70’s and 80’s, Star Wars had a huge impact on my life.  My buddies and I played with Star Wars figures, I’m pretty sure I had Star Wars bedsheets (it was either my brother or I, I’m not sure which), and I remember my dad making an awesome R2D2 birthday cake for me one year.  Luke, Han, Vader, the cool ships and creatures, Leia’s slave girl oufit (hey, that was pretty memorable as a 9 year old boy!)…

Star Wars was awesome, and in many ways I see myself as part of the “Star Wars Generation”.

When I was in my mid 20’s it was announced that George Lucas (creator of Star Wars) would be revisiting the Star Wars universe, and myself and a bunch of buddies were pretty excited.  A group of us got together and got tickets for the first of the prequel movies – “The Phantom Menace”.  I remember the anticipation and the excited buzz from the crowd as we waited in line to see it…

And, well, it kinda sucked.

Over the next few years two more prequel movies came out, and they weren’t very good either.  Sure they have some good scenes in them, and some of the character designs are pretty cool (Darth Maul was awesome).  But as movies?  Well, they are almost unwatchable at times.

I remember thinking maybe it was just nostalgia.  Maybe the early movies were just as bad, but I was a kid at the time and I have all these great memories of playing with buddies in the yard.

I don’t think that’s it though.  I know the original trilogy really well, and when I go back and watch them they still hold up as solid movies.

The prequels on the other hand?  Well, they weren’t great to begin with and the past 15 or so years have not been kind to them.

Over the years I’ve wondered – why are they so bad?

I won’t pretend to *know* why they are so terrible, but based on an interview I remember seeing I have a guess.

When the original trilogy was made, George Lucas was George Lucas.  By the time the prequels game out however, he was GEORGE FREAKING LUCAS!!!  He was this visionary genius who created a series that was beloved by millions of people and multiple generations across the world.  And I suspect he was at a point that people were scared to say no to him – or if they did, he probably didn’t have to care.  He was in full creative control.  He could make the movies he wanted, however he wanted

So he did.

 

Looking back at my early dating days, I remember an argument I had with my first serious girlfriend.  We had been out with a group of friends and she said something about one of my buddies (who was with us at the time) that was both inappropriate and out of line.  I was pretty upset with her about what she said, so I called her on it; and she didn’t appreciate it.

When we got home that day, we had a fight where she told me that she expected me to always back her up and support her.  I told her that in calling her out on what she had said, I *was* actually supporting her – just not in the way she wanted.

As a disclaimer here we were really young at the time, probably in our early 20’s.  And at that age she felt that part of “loving someone” was always agreeing with them.

I didn’t see it that way.

Even at that age, I saw value in having your own mind and your own opinions.  And in being both able and willing to stand up for them – even when it made things uncomfortable around the people you care about.

 

Most people don’t like conflict.  And perhaps as a result we find ourselves drawn towards people who have similar beliefs.  Things are nice and easy when people agree with us, and when we don’t have conflict.

But in some ways, we NEED conflict.  We NEED people to challenge us – our ideas and beliefs.  In fact, we should be willing to challenge them ourselves.  As we grow and change, we need to be willing to ask ourselves if the things we believed in the past are still true.

Maybe they are, maybe they aren’t.  But if we aren’t willing to challenge them and look at things differently, we will never know.

 

I’m not the same person I was at 20.  Or even at 30.  In many aspects I am, but in other aspects I have changed.  Sometimes I look back on the person I was, and I shake my head.  I wish I could go back in time and shake that younger version of me, and teach him some of the things that I know he struggled to learn.  And in another 10 or 20 years, I’m sure I will look back on who I am today and think, geez, I had so much to learn.

We should ALWAYS be wanting to grow, and learn.  But that doesn’t happen unless we see reasons to.

And often, to see those reasons we have to first accept that we are wrong.

 

Thing is, we don’t usually see that on our own.  If we knew that our ideas or beliefs were wrong, then we would likely adjust them.  But due to our own naiveté or ego, we don’t easily see that.

We only see that when we are forced to face it.  Because we have done something wrong or something that has caused harm, either to ourselves or those we care about.

 

I suspect that I’m no different from most people.  It’s nice when people like me, or agree with me, or say nice things about me.  And when people don’t, it can be difficult to hear.

But I know I’m not perfect.

I make mistakes, sometimes I’m ignorant, I say stupid things sometimes, and hurt others – just like anyone else.

So for me, I don’t WANT to be surrounded by people who will tell me how great I am.  If I had that, how would I grow?  Why would I need to?

No, I would argue that perhaps the most important thing in the world is having people around you who are willing to call you out on your bullshit.  People who are willing to say no, and to tell you when they think you are wrong.

I want that in all aspects of my life – in my work relationships, in my friendships, and especially in my romantic relationship.

I’m not saying I want to be around people who are disagreeable and will argue for the sake of argument.  But I want the people I care about to be comfortable enough with me to argue with me when they feel they need to.  And I want to do the same for them.

To me that’s a big part of what love is about.  Being each other’s editors; our balances, and our voices of reason.

It may not be comfortable, and we shouldn’t necessarily change our stance to accommodate others.  But we should always be willing to listen without getting defensive, and try to understand others points of view.

Because sometimes understanding alternate views will allow us to look at our own in a different light.

And only when we can do that can we truly grow.

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Owning our Part

looking-in-the-mirror

I’ve got a buddy who drives me a bit crazy.  He’s a great guy, he really is; and I love him to death.

Thing is, he also happens to be a bit of a slob.

Not a slob in terms of his appearance or anything.  But, well…

…he’s kind of lazy.

And where you see it the most is he almost never cleans up after himself.  I mean, the dude will eat his food and just walk away, leaving his plate behind.

Not taking it the 10 steps to the sink.  Not putting it in the dishwasher.

He just leaves it.

 

I don’t have to live with the guy, so I guess it really shouldn’t bother me.  But it still kinda does.

I like things to be fairly tidy; and seeing plates sitting around with leftover bits of food?  Well, that’s pretty gross.

It makes me think, what the hell man – how hard is it to put your stuff away?  Why do you leave your stuff out?  Why do you think it’s alright?

 

Let me ask you a question – do you like paying bills?  It doesn’t matter which type of bill.  It could be mortgage, utilities, credit card, or any bill really.

Unless you’re weird, the answer is probably no, you don’t like paying them (and if you DO, I have a bunch that you can pay if you want).  Nah, we pay our bills because we have to.  Paying the mortgage is preferable to having the house repossessed.  Paying the utilities is better than having them cut off.  If we want the thing the bill is for, we have to pay it.

But what if you didn’t?

What if you got that bill in the mail and you never had to pay it.  What if it just paid itself?

Would you cry?  Would you complain?  Would you cry out in indignation saying “hey, I WANTED to pay that electrical bill!”

No, probably not.

Rather, you would probably think it was pretty awesome.

Maybe the first time the bill “paid itself” you would wonder how/why it was paid.  If it was a mistake you may contact the electrical company and let them know, or you may just hope they wouldn’t notice.  And if someone paid it for you, you would probably be thankful.

Thing is, over time if they just continued to pay it and you never had to you would probably start to expect it.  And eventually you would take it for granted.

 

So, back to my buddy…

He doesn’t clean up after himself, and in all the years I’ve known him he’s never had to.  He doesn’t seem to even think about it, because he gets away with it.

It’s frustrating to me, but I think it’s also human nature.

No one wants to feel like a parent to their partner.  We don’t want to feel like we are nagging them.  We want our partners to do things because they are showing consideration to us and because they recognize it’s the right thing to do, not because they have to.  But at the same time, it’s human nature to do the least amount possible.

So looking at my buddy, yes he needs to own his behaviors.  Yes it’s his “fault”.

But it’s also the fault of the person who enables him to do it.

Bear with me a moment here…

 

When “bad things” happen to us or we are hurt by the people we care about, we often struggle to understand things like how could they do that to me?  How could they hurt me?  Don’t they care?

The focus is on what has happened to us.  And when we are hurt, it’s easy and even sensible to blame the person who hurt us.

The harder question is what did you do to contribute to the situation?

This isn’t a popular question, especially when people are hurting.  And in asking it in the past, I’ve even been accused of victim blaming.  I don’t see it that way though.

Trying to understand how you have contributed to something is not the same as taking blame for it.  People are responsible for their own choices and behaviors.

I am never *responsible* for someone else’s choices.  That’s on them.

So when someone has done something, whatever it is, it was their choice.

However that doesn’t mean I haven’t contributed to the situation in some way.

 

Let’s say your relationship is breaking down – does it really matter who’s fault it is?

I don’t think so.

It may be 50/50.  Or it could be 90% your partners fault and 10% yours.

Ultimately you have no control over what the other person has done.  The only thing you have control over is you.  Your actions, your response.

The only thing you can actually change is your part in things.

So be willing to recognize and own your own part.  Owning your part is very different from taking the blame for someone elses part.  That’s on them, and only they can own it.

Some people won’t own their own part.  Instead, they will blame others for their own actions and their own choices.  Saying things like “you made me do this”, or “I did this because you did that”.

 

When we blame others for the bad things in our life (and ignore our own part in things), what are we doing?

We are making ourselves victims.

And we are giving that other person control over us.

That doesn’t help us at all – blaming others keeps us trapped, or at least makes us feel trapped; when in reality we always have choices.

Even if our only choice sometimes is to walk away.

 

When do we learn?  When do we grow?

We grow when we struggle.  We grow when we fail.

We don’t grow when things are easy, and when our life is going down the happy path.

As I said, owning our part in things does NOT mean we are taking ownership of someone else’s choices.  It does not mean we are taking the blame for the things they have done.

It means we are accepting that our choices are our own, taking ownership of those choices, and realizing we have the power to make different choices in the future.

It means seeing how we may have contributed to the situations we are in, and looking for ways that we can change that moving forward.

 

Facing our own role in things is difficult.  It forces us to take a long hard look at ourselves, and sometimes what we see will make us uncomfortable.

This isn’t a bad thing though.  Rather, being uncomfortable with something about ourselves is often a sign that we’re on the right track.

And it’s a sign that we are ready to grow.

Be aware of your own bullshit

When Do You Actually “Know” Someone?

GettingToKnowOneAnotherHeader

 

I recently read an interesting post over at Lisa Arends excellent blog, lessonsfromtheendofamarriage.com, where she discusses a number of misconceptions about marriage (and relationships in general).

Her first “misconception” really got me thinking, and it’s about how long it takes to “get to know someone” before you know the relationship is solid enough to consider something like marriage.

I won’t rehash her post as you can give it a read on your own.  But I do want to explore this idea of getting to know another person, and how long it can and potentially should take; not just for marriage but also before relationships “go through milestones”.

 

First, what are some of the milestones that relationships go through?   Off the top of my head, here’s a quick list (that I’m sure is missing some important things) in an order that is probably fairly common:

  • Holding hands
  • Kissing
  • Sex
  • Spending the night together (which may or may not include sex, but let’s be honest, probably does)
  • Introductions to friends
  • First fight
  • Meeting the parents
  • Living together
  • Making major purchases together
  • Marriage

 

Notice that I didn’t include “getting to know someone” as a milestone?

I left it off because there is no event or milestone for getting to know someone.  Getting to know someone is a continuous process that will probably go on for your whole life (or at least the duration of the relationship); I don’t think it’s something you ever finish.

You can never fully know another person, because they are always growing and changing.  Hell, I don’t think you ever fully know yourself!  I’m 43 this year, and consider myself to be a pretty self-aware guy.  But even now events occur that change me, in ways both big and small.  Sometimes things happen and how I respond surprises me.  So if I can even surprise myself sometimes, it’s a pretty safe bet someone else will never be able to accurately predict everything I will do.

We are always growing, and changing.  And our partners are too.

 

If accepting that continuous growth and change means we will never fully know our partner, the question becomes when do we know them enough (for whatever the next step in our relationship is)?

Going back to my list of relationship milestones, when do we know them enough to hold hands?  For the first kiss?  To have sex?  To meet the parents?  To get married?

Does it depend on the number of days/weeks you’ve known each other?  The number of hours you’ve spent together?  The things you’ve shared?

 

Looking at these milestones I’m not convinced there’s a “right” way to do this, or a “right” timeframe.

Don’t get me wrong, there is still a fairly common flow here.  I would say in most cases, a couple will at least kiss and hold hands before having sex.  The time gap between those things could be counted in months, weeks, or it could be counted in minutes.

If you somehow are having sex before kissing or holding hands, then you’ve probably got some sort of Pretty Woman thing happening where you’ve fallen in love with a prostitute.  Probably not common, but hey – if it’s happened to you who am I to judge?

Meeting friends, parents, living together – these are all things you probably don’t do until you have a belief the relationship has a shot at lasting a while.

And marriage (for those who go down that road) is something you REALLY shouldn’t do until you feel you know the other person fairly well; and have a high degree of confidence the relationship will make it.

But looking at marriage – what’s the “right” time?  How long do you need to know someone before you can feel you know them enough to have that confidence and make that sort of decision?

A year?  Two years?  Twenty?

 

I’ve seen it recommended that you should wait one of two years before getting married, and I guess that makes sense.

But I know a couple who were engaged on their first date, and 50 years later they are still together.  I can’t say I would recommend that, and statistically the chances of success are pretty slim.  But for them it worked.

I also know a couple who dated for almost 20 years before getting married (and are still together).

I know couples who dated for the commonly recommended one to two years and are happy 20+ years later.  I know others who married after two years and divorced a few years later.

 

Here’s the thing …

Almost 50% of marriages end in divorce, and often the very characteristics that endeared people to each other as they “got to know each other” in the first place are ones that contribute significantly to the relationship falling apart.

So it’s not like there’s some magic way of measuring whether or not you know each other “enough” for things to work out.

Things sometimes go wrong.  Relationships don’t always work out.

 

So, what do you do?

It seems obvious that how well you know someone DOES matter.  But how do you best position your relationship to succeed?

 

Let’s start with you.

If you need to know someone, then it stands to reason that they also have to know you.  For this to happen I think you always need to be willing to be authentic; which means you need to be willing to be you – whoever that is.

Of course this means you actually have to have some idea of who you are (which isn’t always the case).  Are you self-aware?  Are you accepting of yourself and your faults, and are you willing to let someone else see them?

A common paradox in relationships is we want to be accepted for who we are, yet at the same time we are afraid of being rejected for who we are.  So we often try to be who we think the other person wants us to be.

Some people will play a role and try to become someone else.  Other will be themselves, but will be careful about which sides of themselves they show – hiding the parts that they don’t feel will be accepted.

 

In the short term, these strategies may work.  But if they do, what have you really accomplished?  You’ve succeeded in convincing someone to like…

…umm.

Not you (at least not the real you).

Help me understand, how exactly is this a good thing?

Because eventually the real you will surface.  And if your partner doesn’t like the real you once they see you, then all you’ve done is waste time.

 

So being always being true to you is the best approach.  And if someone doesn’t accept you for who you are?  Then they probably aren’t someone you want to be with anyhow.  That doesn’t mean you should never change – because change in the form of self-growth is a positive thing.  But any changes you make need to be because you want them, or see a need for them yourself.

 

Let’s say you do everything right.

You accept yourself for who you are and go into a relationship being honest and authentic.  That’s great, and is (in my opinion) the best and healthiest way to approach things.

But YOU are only half of the equation – and you have no control over how the other person is approaching things.  For the best relationship to occur, both people need to be honest, authentic, self-aware, and willing to be vulnerable.

When that does happen and two people are being authentic and are willing to let each other in, I think you can know each other well enough to know if things can work pretty quickly.  Within a few days you can get a pretty good sense of each other’s core character and value.  Within weeks, you should have a strong idea if the two of you are compatible.

And within a few months you should start to see if there are any “red flags”, showing that perhaps the other person isn’t being as authentic as you think they are – because it’s hard to keep a mask up over extended periods of time.

 

Looking at relationships, what are the things that actually matter?

  • Are your core values aligned?
  • Do your personalities complement each other?
  • Do you accept that a relationships is about more than just you?
  • Are your love languages in alignment with your partners, and if not are you willing love your partner in the way they need to be loved?
  • Do you know enough about each other’s hopes and dreams that you can see the two of you growing, building and sharing together?
  • Are you both willing to accept that periodic issues in relationships are normal, and are you willing to deal with them when they occur?
  • Are you both self-aware – willing to accept that you each have faults and willing to take responsibility for your own contributions to the relationship?

 

If you can answer yes to at least most of those, then I think you have a pretty solid foundation and everything else should be pretty easy.

 

Thinking back to the question of when do you know each other enough; it doesn’t matter what the milestone is – whether it’s holding hands, living together or getting married there will always be risk involved in taking that “next step”.

But there is no magic timeline.  What works for one couple may not work for another.  I believe that if both people are self-aware, authentic and open with each other, they will quickly know enough about each other to know with a high level of accuracy if the relationship can work or not.  When things feel natural and easy, you know that it’s a good fit no matter how long it’s been.

After that, it’s up to you.

Because the success of a relationships is less about how well you know each other than it is about how well you accept that you will need to grow together and choose to continue to choose each other each and every day.

FeelingofLoveAsChoice

Showing your “True Colors”

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I’ve been blogging for around 3 years now, and in addition to writing I try to follow a number of blogs.

One of the blogs I follow regularly is another relationship blog, written by a guy who went through a divorce a number of years back.  His divorce broke him; so he started writing about all the things he did both consciously and unconsciously that ultimately led to the breakdown of his marriage and his divorce.

It’s refreshing, and self-aware.  Like myself, the guy who writes it seems to believe most relationships can be improved by looking inward at the things you are doing as a person, and BEING BETTER.  And a big part of being better is gaining an awareness of what often goes wrong and trying to better understand and accept the other person.

Anyhow, his blog seems pretty successful, and has a really active community in the comments section.  Great group of people by and large, but like any “family” it sure has its own dysfunctions.  And a few months back the comments section broke down.

A new reader came along with a very different set of beliefs compared to most readers.  Beliefs that were frequently offensive and hurtful to others.  These comments started to disturb what had been a pretty happy/healthy commenting community, and many (myself included actually) became upset that this one commenter was, for a lack of a better term, poisoning the comments.

Some asked for this commenter to be banned, or at least something to be done.  But nothing was, and things became worse for a while.

Eventually, when multiple requests to do something to improve the comments section were ignored, one readers suggested that by not doing anything the author of the blog was “showing his true colors.”

Communication can be difficult and frustrating at times; so I can’t say exactly what was meant by that.  But my interpretation of that assertion was, in writing his blog the author talked about things like equality and improving relationships between men and women.  However by allowing dysfunction in the comments section he was showing inconsistency with this.  So perhaps the reality was, he really didn’t care.

This post really has nothing to do with the issue with the comments section story.  Similar to how my last post opened up with a story about renewing a mortgage, and then went on to actually be about how people can place differing values on the same thing; that’s just a backdrop to a larger idea (or at least that’s my intent).  And that’s the idea that in life, there are always nuances.  And things are rarely as straightforward as they may seem.

 

Patterns of Behavior 

I like to think I am a good person.  I have a strong moral compass, and I try to live my life with integrity.  Truly, I try to do “the right thing”, whatever that is.  And I would *like* to think I’m a fairly empathetic person, who does his best to think through the consequences of his actions before he does them.

But you know what?  Sometimes I hurt people.  And sometimes it’s a lot.  In fact, even for the people I care about the most, I PROMISE I will hurt them.

I hurt people in different ways too.  Sometimes by something I do, and sometimes by something I don’t do.  Sometimes I do things that get interpreted in ways I never meant.

Does that make me a bad person?

 

If I do 50 “good” things and 5 “bad” ones, do those bad ones show “the truth” about me?  Do they show that I’m actually a bad person?  That my “good” actions were just a show?

Yeah, I’ll acknowledge there are differing degrees of what good and bad are.  So yes, I suppose it’s possible that one bad action (particularly in the case of extreme behaviors, which again is subjective) can completely undo the good.  But by and large, I say no.

 

In statistical analysis, there is the concept of outliers.  Outliers are values that “stand out from other values in a set of data”, because they are aberrations in some way.

We are all going to have good days and bad days.  We are all going to do things that hurt others sometimes.

What REALLY matters is not each discrete individual action.  A bad action is a bad action.  A bad choice is a bad choice.

What matters is the PATTERN OF BEHAVIOR, and it is these patterns that speak to a person’s true character.  How you consistently act is a much more accurate measure of who you are than any specific action.

 

All or Nothing Thinking 

Cognitive distortions are broken thinking patterns that are often found in mental illnesses and mood disorders.  They are commonly found in anxiety disorders and depression, and are also believed to be part of why it’s so hard to break the cycle of anxiety and depression – these thinking patterns reinforce negative thoughts and emotions, “feeding” the issue (as an aside, one of the most effective ways to deal with/manage depression and anxiety is cognitive behavior therapy, which is intended to rewire the brain to correct these thinking patterns).

There are a number of different cognitive disorders found in anxiety and depression, and perhaps the most damaging is Splitting, or All or Nothing Thinking.

 

All or Nothing Thinking is kind of self-explanatory.  It is a form of thinking where we look at things in extremes, or as black and white.  You are a success, or a failure.  Someone loves you, or they hate you.  Something is perfect, or it is broken.

To be clear, we ALL fall into this sort of thinking once in a while (so when I reference the “comments” situation at the top I am in NO way suggesting anyone there is mentally ill).  But although we all do this sometimes, this type of thinking becomes a HUGE problem when it becomes a common or default form of thinking, or a pattern of behavior.

 

A while back I talked about the primal brain, and how the primal brain overrides reason and logic.  Well one of the big issues with all or nothing thinking is that it’s rooted in emotions, and normally extreme emotions.  It’s part of the automatic fight or flight response that you generally see with depression and anxiety.

 

Impacts on Relationships

Hopefully it’s clear that an automatic form of thinking, which overrides rationality and is rooted in extreme emotions is unhealthy.  But just in case it’s not, here’s a common way it impacts relationships:

In the early days of relationships, we all have a tendency to idealize our partners.  We see them as we want to see them (not as they actually are), and are often blind to their flaws.

This is normal, and science has shown that in the early days of love, brain chemicals are actually altered, contributing to this.

Eventually though (generally between 6 months and 2 years), this altered chemical state goes back to normal and we are able to see the person more clearly.  Normally we see a few rough edges, but are still able to accept the other person for who they are.

With all or nothing thinking however, these “flaws” often become proof that “something is wrong with the relationship”.  And if something is wrong, then this person is not “the one”.

 

All or nothing thinking has a perfectionist view of relationships; where there is a belief that if you can just find the right person, everything will be perfect and you will be happy forever.

But no one is perfect, and not being perfect doesn’t mean someone is a failure.  A relationship isn’t good or bad, rather it will have good and bad elements.

 

Popular dating site eharmony even talks about this thinking pattern and what it can mean to relationships:

Rather than seeing people as having both positives and negatives, overly critical people hold their romantic partners to an unrealistic expectation of having no faults whatsoever. Sadly, this type of “all-or-nothing” behavior can repeat over and over in one relationship after another until a person realizes that they themselves are the problem.

 

Basically, all or nothing thinking does a lot of damage to relationship.

 

And in addition to doing damage, it also makes is so people fall into a sense of hopelessness and a belief that things can never get better.

I’ve talked about loss of hope before and how destructive it is to improving a relationship.  With all or nothing thinking, the mere existence of problems shows that the relationship is flawed.  And if it can’t be perfect, what’s the point?

It makes it hard to see or appreciate incremental improvements, as the relationship is all or nothing.

 

 Seeing Shades of Grey

All or nothing thinking puts tremendous strain on relationships.  And unfortunately, people who suffer from it usually don’t even realize that their way of thinking is unusual and damaging.  It’s a thinking pattern, so for them, that’s their reality – or just who they are.

A question to ask yourself is, do you often think in terms of extremes?  Do you get caught up in thinking that things have to be perfect, and if they aren’t they are ruined?  Do you give up on things easily because you “know” you can’t do them, or you feel they are impossible?  Do you think in terms of “always”, or “never”, “terrible” or “awful”?

If those sorts of thoughts are common, you may deal with all or nothing thinking.  And it may be doing a lot of harm to your relationships, and your personal life in general.

 

Life isn’t all or nothing.

You can love some parts of your life and not others, and still have an amazing life.

You can be terrible at something, but still be able to improve it.

Your partner can love you, but still be a bit of a jerk sometimes.

 

And nothing in life can ever get better, until you can accept that it doesn’t have to be perfect.

The “Easy Road”

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My last post was about living in fantasy land, and how dating and affairs are really a form of escapism.  They aren’t real love, and they aren’t even real life.

And I think sometimes problems can occur when people get confused about what “real life” actually is.

When people have online profiles (like facebook), they only present the things they want you to see.  It’s usually a “sanitized” version of their life.  They show the good parts, the celebrations, the parties, the trips.  If you looked only at peoples profiles, you would think they all had the perfect life, where everything was happy all the time and there were never any problems.

But that’s not what life really looks like.  Real life isn’t just the image of ourselves we portray.  It’s not the like the movies, and it’s not about escapism.

Real life can be messy.  It has highs and lows, and it requires us to face challenges and overcome them.

 

Looking for Fun

In the comments section of my last post, commenter wordsaremylife wrote (about her husband leaving):

my father summed it up perfectly, “He wants to be a college kid again. Fun without responsibility.”

 

This is a common thread in almost every story of a failed marriage or an affair.  Someone eventually seems to come to the conclusion that a marriage is just too much like work, and for some reason they believe it should be different.

They seem to think:

  • Life should be easy.
  • Love should be easy.

So many people seem to want life to come with an easy button, and when they find it doesn’t because things have gotten difficult?

They quit.

They walk out, and go in search of something simpler.

In search of fun, without responsibility.

Because it’s easier to walk out than to work on improving what you already have.

Thing is, often what they are walking out on is simply “real life”, and they are leaving it in pursuit of something that doesn’t actually exist.

 

Accepting Responsibility

I’ll be the first to admit that people often get so caught up in the “responsibility” side of life that they forget to have fun.  And when you ARE caught up in responsibility, it can be overwhelming.

But quitting is not the answer.  Escaping is not the answer.

Here’s a few important things that often get overlooked:

  • Life isn’t always easy.
  • Life doesn’t always work out the way you expect it to.
  • Life doesn’t mean you have to be happy all the time.
  • Life is not all about you!!!
  • Responsibility isn’t a bad thing.

Not only is responsibility not a bad thing, I actually think it’s a great thing.  Being able to be responsible, and take responsibility for things means you are taking ownership of your own life.  And what could be better than that?

Responsibility means you aren’t a victim. 

Things happen in life, sometimes good and sometimes bad.  And usually we have no control over those things.

But we ALWAYS have control over ourselves, and how we react.  How we respond.

That is something that is always up to us.

We choose what situations we put ourselves into, and we choose how to respond to those situations.

 

Putting in Effort

If you’re an adult (legally, if not mentally) you have bills.  So I’m pretty sure you have a job too.

I’ve had a number of jobs over the years, and in all the time I’ve held a job I have yet to find one that doesn’t expect anything of me.

I’ve yet to see a job description that says something like “We will pay you a fantastic salary to do things the way YOU want.  You can come and go as you please, with no real duties and no expectations on you.”

*Maybe* jobs like that exist.  I kind of doubt it though.  If they do, I’ll guess there aren’t very many of them and they’re probably in high demand.

No, generally the jobs that pay more also have higher expectations and responsibilities.  That’s kind of the way it works.

With most things in life, if you want to get more out of something you need to be willing to put more in.

Putting in effort in everything in life is key to maximizing what you get out of it.

This is why I can’t understand the mentality of people who are looking for the easy road in life.  People who are looking for fun without responsibility.  And people who just quit and walk away when things get hard.

If everything is supposed to be easy, where is the sense of accomplishment?  Where is the sense of ownership in having built something that matters?

 

I’m not saying people should NEVER quit.  Because there comes a point in time where you have to accept that things aren’t working, and you have to be willing to go in a different direction.

But I am saying there’s a HUGE different between putting everything you have into something, and being able to accept when it doesn’t work, vs quitting when things get hard or when things make you uncomfortable.

 

The Color Red

Years ago I took some philosophy classes in university.  University was a long time ago, so I don’t remember much; but periodically bits of Philosophy classes pop up in my head.

One of my classes was Epistemology (the study of knowledge), and in it I remember my prof presenting a hypothetical world where everything was red.

Paraphrasing here, he asked us:

“in a world where everything was red, would you be able to see the color red?  Would you even be able to conceive of it?”

That’s always stuck with me, and I think it’s especially relevant here.

Life isn’t always easy, and not only is that alright – it’s also NECESSARY.

We need to experience good AND bad, pleasure AND pain.  It’s the opposite side of the spectrum that allows us to appreciate the differences in life.

 

When people are looking for the “easy road”, they are trying to avoid the parts of life that make them uncomfortable.  Fun, without the responsibility.  Which is similar to pleasure, without the pain.  Or love, without the sacrifice.

 

But that’s not the way life works.

One of the more formative books I’ve read in recent years is Brene Browns “The Gifts of Imperfection”.  And beyond the discussion of trying to live an authentic life, one of the most important moments in it is when she talks about numbing behaviors.

We all have issues, and we all have pain to deal with in our lives.  But if you’re looking for the easy road, it’s because you want to avoid that pain.  So people turn to different things in order to numb the pain.  Drugs, alcohol, gambling, sex (affairs can be big ones), there are a number of numbing behaviors people will use.

But all of these are just escapes, and they don’t deal with the actual problems.  Because as Brene Brown says, we cannot selectively numb emotions. When we numb the painful emotions, we also number the positive emotions.

Fun without responsibility, pleasure without pain?  These aren’t sustainable.  They are short term “fixes” that do more harm than good.

 

The Keys To “Real Life”

Real life is complicated, and messy.  In real life we can’t selectively choose what we want to deal with and what we want to avoid.

But this also makes real life wonderful.

Earlier I mentioned that it’s the opposite side of the spectrum that allows us to appreciate the differences in life.

The key word there is APPRECIATE.

 

In real life, we need to be able to appreciate what we have, and not just look at what we are missing.  In fact, practicing active appreciation is probably one of the most important things you can ever learn to do.

 

People who can’t appreciate what they have tend to be chronically unhappy, while people who practice active appreciation tend to be happy, or at least content in life.

Active appreciation means living in the moment.  And when I say that I don’t mean being a selfish hedonistic a$$hole.  It means looking around you at what is REALLY important.

I guess that means different things to different people, but to me that means family and friends.  It means trying to do the right things and live with integrity.  It means facing issues instead of avoiding them.  It means BUILDING something instead of just using something.  And it means trying to appreciate what I DO have in my life instead of focusing on what is missing.

 

That doesn’t mean things are always good or I’ll get what I want.  And that doesn’t mean I’m always going to be happy.  But it means I can always put forth effort, and influence my situation in a positive way.

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