Owning our Part

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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

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I Promise to Hurt You

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In my writing, I generally try to have a positive look at relationships and marriage.  I’m a big believer that marriage can be a great thing, while acknowledging that often it ends up not being all that it can and should be.

With that, todays headline may seem like an error at first.  But it’s not.

Yeah, I am intentionally saying “I promise TO hurt you” (instead of I promise NOT to hurt you).  And no, I’m not talking about hurting someone in the “50 Shades of Grey” sense.

I’m talking about actually hurting someone.  Not physically, but emotionally or mentally.  And I’m not saying I may hurt you.  I’m saying I will – and so will you.

So what am I talking about here?

 

Vulnerability

Who can hurt you?

If you’re talking physically anyone can hurt you.  Periodically people will bump into me with their carts when I’m out shopping, and it hurts.  I play basketball, and sometimes guys will hit me with an elbow or a knee, and yeah, that hurts too.  Hell, my kids will sometime hit me with random toys while playing.

Those kinds of hurts?  Those are just things that happen.  Generally people say sorry (hopefully), bruises heal, and you move on.

But who can REALLY hurt you – the kind of hurt that lingers long after the physical hurt has healed?

The people who can really hurt you the people who are closest to you; the people who love you.  The people you never expect it from; parents, siblings, friends, children and most importantly your partner.

Why?

Because we care about and trust these people.  We believe they value us and want what is best for us.  We allow ourselves to be vulnerable with them, and as a result we open ourselves up to potentially be hurt.

 

Being Human

I consider myself a fairly good guy.  Based on my belief set I try to do “the right thing”, and when I screw up I try to take accountability for my own actions.

I try, I really do.

But I still screw up sometimes.

I have days where I’m frustrated and I inadvertently take it out on those around me.  I have times that I think I’m being funny, but in reality I’m being hurtful.  I have days that I can be self-absorbed, and not pay enough attention to those around me.

I know these things happen, and I know that when they do they hurt those around me – those who I profess to love the most.

And I don’t think I’m alone in this.

In turn, I can guarantee that I’ve been hurt badly by those who I care about the most.  My parents, my siblings, my wife.

It happens with my friends too, but that happens less frequently.  Why?  Honestly, it’s because I see them a lot less.

When you are around people a lot, they have more opportunities to see you at your worst.

 

A Higher Standard

Interestingly, I’ve been hurt by my kids too; but it tends to sting less because they are just kids, and I figure they don’t know any better.  To me those “teaching moments”, on how you need to be conscious of how you treat other people.

Here’s the thing though, at some level I hold those closest to me to a higher standard.  Subconsciously I figure that because they care about me, they should know better and they should DO better.  So when they hurt me, it shows they don’t care.

 

I think we all do this in relationships to some degree.  We hold our partners to a higher standard, and when they hurt us it slowly erodes the trust we have in them.  And as the trust erodes, so is our willingness to be vulnerable.  After all, someone can’t hurt us if we don’t let them in.

I’ve heard it said that relationships rarely die because of some big event.  Instead, it’s usually the death of a thousand cuts – a thousand times that someone has hurts us, and we don’t want to let them do that anymore.

 

Accepting Hurt

The obvious solution to preserve our relationships is for us to stop hurting each other.  To always be conscious of what we say, and what we do.  To always be considerate and take our partner into account with everything we do.

But that’s a pipe dream.

Don’t get me wrong – it’s a goal, and one we should all aspire to.  Thing is, we all have bad days.  We all have moments we wish we could take back.

That doesn’t excuse bad behavior, and it shouldn’t be a pattern.  But maybe we need to accept that sometimes our partners WILL hurt us.

And when it happens, we communicate it.  Maybe not right in the moment, but we tell them “hey, when you did this it hurt me”.  And then we let it go.

Because holding on to hurt allows it to grow.  That allows it to break down trust, break down vulnerability, and break down relationships.

 

I would never tell someone I promise not to hurt them, because I know that’s a promise I would not be able to keep.

Instead I would promise people that I would not intentionally hurt them.  And when I do hurt them, I want to know about it, and I want to be held accountable for it.

I can never change the past.  But I can always do my best to prevent the past from poisoning the future.

Doing the “Right Thing”

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A little while back someone at my work was fired for theft.  I’m sure this sort of thing happens all the time everywhere in the world, but I was still a bit shocked by it.  I work for a pretty good company (benefits, wages, environment), so I didn’t understand why someone would put their job at risk; especially when this guy lost his job over theft of an item worth around $25.  I mean, really?

I was talking this over with one of my co-workers, telling her I didn’t understand why someone would do it, especially when this will now be attached to his employment record and can impact his future.  My co-workers response was that this guy simply figured he wouldn’t get caught.

 

The Fable of Gyges Ring

This situation made me think of The Fable of Gyges Ring, from Plato’s Republic.  Just to be clear, I don’t normally go around reading things like Plato.  I HAD to read it for school years ago (but have to admit it was actually pretty good).  The Republic presents Plato’s ideas on justice and morality, and the part I remember the most is the fable of Gyges Ring.

In this story a shepherd finds a ring that makes him invisible and somehow this invisibility means the shepherd can take actions without consequences.  Ummm, invisibility means no consequences?  That seems like a bit of a stretch (and perhaps inspiration for Tolkien).  But hey, the story was written over 2000 years ago so I guess we’ll have to cut it some slack.

Anyhow, with his newfound power the shepherd seduces the queen, kills the king and takes over the kingdom (because of course, that’s what we would all do if there were no consequences, right?)

Now here’s the interesting part.  In discussing this tale, Plato theorized that if two of these rings existed, and one was found by a “just” man and the other by an unjust man, the ability to do what he wanted without consequence would cause the just man to become corrupted.

His suggestion was, it’s really only consequences that keep us in line and at our core we are all unjust.

 

What is Justice?

Are we inherently unjust?  And what exactly does that even mean?

Merriam Webster defines justice as “the process or result of using laws to fairly judge and punish crimes and criminals”.

I’ll acknowledge that sometimes there is a disconnect between law and justice, but for the moment let’s accept that law is an attempt at placing rules around what is “right” or “moral”, and setting consequences for the violation of those rules.

Based on that, is Plato right?  Is it really only the threat of consequences that keeps us in line and makes us act in a moral way?

Without consequences will people really just do whatever they want?

 

Learning Right From Wrong

In some ways I think Plato was right.  After all, I do think we are born selfish.  If you think about it, as infants all we understand is our own needs and other people are basically vehicles for this need fulfillment.

As a parent, my experience has been that right and wrong needs to be taught.

Children initially don’t understand why they can’t just do what they want, or take something they want.  They need to learn about boundaries, and ownership.  They need to learn the concept of exchange.  Hell, even empathy seems to be something that is largely learned.

I may wish my children would just “understand” right and wrong, but they don’t.  And while learning this, consequences are a practical way of helping them understand why they need to do the right thing.

Eventually I think people have to get to a point where we are no longer doing something to avoid consequences.  Instead, they need to do something because they have come to believe it’s the right thing to do.

There’s a distinction between these two things (avoiding consequences vs. doing what we believe is right); and although it may seem subtle I believe it’s extremely important.

When we are doing something because we believe it’s the right thing to do, we have internalized that value.  It has become part of our belief set.

At that point, the consequences from other people for violating that value aren’t important anymore.  Because overriding any fear of what other people will think is the betrayal of our own core valuesThe disappointment in ourselves far outweighs any concern about being caught.

After all, we can hide things from others – but not from ourselves.

 

Integrity

Which brings me to one of my favorite topics – integrity.

Integrity is all about how we live our lives.  It’s about whether we actually live the values that we profess.

It’s really easy to SAY things.  But to walk the talk, and to do it consistently?  That’s a lot harder.

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Now, I’m not trying to push my sense of morality on anyone here.

I readily acknowledge no one is perfect.  We all have a darker side to us.  We all have moments that we do things we later regret.  We are all sometimes petty, selfish, stupid, ignorant – whatever.

Having integrity doesn’t mean you never do those things.  Instead, it’s about how frequently do we stick to our values, and how badly do we stray from them when we don’t.

And because we know we ARE going to screw up sometimes, an important element of integrity is accountability.  When we screw up (and yes, it’s a WHEN and not an IF) how do we handle it?  Do we try to hide it?  Do we blame?  Justify?  Or do we own it, accept any consequences from our actions and then try to use the moment as an opportunity for growth?

 

Shared Values

In relationships, it’s important to find someone with whom you share similar values.  And I think a mistake people often make is they don’t actually get to know who their partner really is.  Instead, they just assume their partner shares a lot of the same beliefs.

Unfortunately, the world isn’t black and white and right and wrong can at times be subjective.  So when it comes to core values, simply assuming someone shares them can often lead to disappointment.

Here’s a little rule of thumb I have.  If someone does something “bad”, and you are shocked because it seems so out of character for them – that’s probably a good thing.  It means they either don’t do things like that often or they just rarely get caught (I’m a glass is half full kind of guy, so I’ll take it to mean they don’t do things like that very often).

If they do something and you find yourself going “sigh, again?”, then maybe that’s just who they are (or more accurately who they CHOOSE to be).  And in that case, you’ve got to ask yourself if that’s a person you really want to be with.

Of course, WHAT they do is also pretty significant.

If someone is “mostly” awesome, but oh yeah they also happen to be a serial killer?  That MAY be a problem for you.

Or maybe not, after all different people have their own boundaries on what’s acceptable and what’s not.

Murderer/sex offender/drug dealer are fairly universally accepted as “deal breakers” for relationships.

For many, finding out their partner is an adulterer/cheater is also a deal breaker (though many who believe that find things are a bit more murky than expected when actually faced with that situation).

 

To me, affairs show a complete lack of integrity.  I see them as the ultimate selfish act, as they are all about choosing “me” at the expense of “we”.

I understand the conditions that lead to affairs.  I understand when a couple is struggling, when someone feels unhappy in their relationship and/or with themselves.  I understand that having other people show interest in you feels good, and when in a bad spot mentally/emotionally people want more of that feeling.  I understand the dopamine rush that comes with new relationships, and the sense of freedom that comes with being able to do what you want, and not have to worry about the restrictions that come with relationships.

When you hear stories of people who have affairs, there are a lot of things they are feeling and a lot of reasons they do what they do.  And I think I kinda/sorta get that.

Even still, I KNOW I would never have an affair (even if I had Gyges ring allowing me to escape consequences).

Because if you truly care about and respect the person you are with, an affair is completely disrespectful to that person.  So I would NEVER do that to someone else.

And beyond that what I would be doing to someone else, I simply think that it’s wrong.  And I know I could never live with ME if I were to do that.

 

Being You

I guess that’s the point of doing the right thing.  It’s not about someone else.  It’s not about consequences, and what other people would think if they found out.

It’s about you.

It’s about what you truly believe, and what beliefs you are willing to stand up for.

In the past while I’ve written about being authentic, and being true to yourself.  Well, integrity and doing the right thing is a huge part of that.

Not saying one thing, yet doing another.  Not hiding parts of yourself and presenting a different version of yourself to different audiences.  Not denying fault, blaming or rationalizing your actions when you screw up.

But knowing who you are, and owning your choices and actions.  Being who you are in all aspects of your life, and living a life you believe in.

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Your Most Important Relationship

When you think of all the roles we play in life, we have different relationships with many different people.

All these different relationships make up different facets of our life, and have varying degrees of importance. Often the most important relationships in our lives are the ones we have with our children, our partner, our parents/siblings and our closest friends.

These relationships are all important, and shape us in different ways. Because they all affect is, is it fair to say that any of them is more important than others? If you had to pick one relationship in your life and say it was the most important one, what would it be? Your partner? Your children?

In some ways it’s an impossible question. But at the same time, I do think there is only one correct answer.

The most important relationship you will ever have in your life is the one you have with…

You.

Who are You?

When thinking about relationships, the one we have with ourselves is often ignored. But it’s very important because it sets the tone for virtually everything in your life.

Think of the following:

    • How well do you know yourself?
    • How well do you understand yourself?
    • How honest are you with yourself on your strengths, weaknesses, and insecurities?
    • Do you love, and value yourself?
    • Do you believe in yourself?

In many ways I believe your success in life (however you define that) and even your own happiness depends on the answer to these questions.

In the past I’ve asked do you love yourself?, but in this post I want to approach this in a different way.

Knowing who you are, being honest with yourself about your strengths, weaknesses and insecurities but still accepting and loving yourself in spite of them is perhaps the most important thing you can do.

A Distorted Lens

One of my core beliefs is that we are the sum of our experiences. Everything we go through in life affects us. Sometimes in small ways, and other times in larger ways. And as a result of this, we are incapable of seeing things objectively. Everything we see is filtered through the lens of our own beliefs and experiences.

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That’s not to say that the same experiences will affect two different people in the same way.

Take an affair for example. When people have affairs, common reasons are that they weren’t happy, or they were looking for something that was “missing” in their relationship (At least that’s what they say.  To their partners it usually seems like they are narcissists who don’t care if they hurt others in pursuit of their own hedonistic urges).

I’ll acknowledge that there are a narcissists out there, but I would like to think that for most affairs people really were unhappy and trying to fill a gap of some sort – just in a very selfish and unhealthy way.

However many people aren’t as happy as they could be, and feel they are missing things in their relationships – and they don’t all have affairs.

So what will cause one person to do this and another person not to?

Psychologists say that affairs (and other behaviors like this) aren’t really about what is wrong with the relationship or their partner. Sure, there are likely issues that contributed. But really they are all about the person who engages in the activity, and what they are lacking inside.

I truly believe this comes down to a person’s relationship with themselves. We often can’t control the things that happen to us in life. But we DO have control over how we respond to these things.

So when you accept yourself (flaws and all) and are at peace with who you are, you are better equipped to deal with adversity. When you can’t accept yourself, then you look for that acceptance through validation from others.

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Self-Acceptance and Happiness

Why is this relevant? Because it has everything to do with your relationship with yourself.

When you can’t accept yourself for who you are and instead need to find validation of your worth from others, it leads to unhappiness. And when you can’t accept yourself, it is easy to look for reasons why you are unhappy.

But when someone is chronically unhappy it has more to do with them then it does with anything external.

We all have fears and insecurities, and it’s natural to build up walls and try to hide them.
To be truly happy and authentic to ourselves, we need to be willing to face the mirror and accept all of ourselves, both good and bad.

That’s not to say we have to accept the parts of ourselves that we don’t like. Change may not be easy, but it IS possible. However it’s impossible to change when we hide our insecurities and blame others for our own problems. It’s only when we can accept who we actually are that we can truly change.

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Impacts on Relationships

I usually write about relationships, and I think the success or failure of relationships is greatly impacted by a persons identity, or sense of self.

The idea that you have to love yourself before you can love someone else is very true, as how you treat others is often a direct reflection of how you feel about yourself.

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I have heard countless stories where a relationship fails not just because because of an incompatibility between the couple. But because one person never really knew who they were or loved themselves.

So they sublimated who they were and presented the “self” they believed was expected of them.

Over time this causes strain, as they aren’t being true to themselves and may come to resent playing a role.

Their partner has never seen their authentic self; but that’s not the partners fault, it’s because of walls they have built and what they have allowed them to see. And those walls were built out of fear. In some ways it’s due to fear of being rejected by that other person. But that fear is truly driven because they were unable to accept themselves.

Facing the Mirror

I think the strongest relationships are ones that are built on truth and authenticity. Where you have allowed yourself to become vulnerable and let the other person in. Where you have allowed them to see all of you – good and bad; and you know that they accept you and love you all the same.

That involves allowing them to truly see the authentic you, and for that to happen until you must first accept and love yourself.

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Passive Aggression

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In my last post I talked about Avoidance, and how avoidance is one of the most destructive things you can do. It limits quality of life and personal happiness while also doing damage to relationships.

Relationships require communication – even (perhaps especially) about the difficult things in life, while avoidant people withdraw or check out when confronted with anything difficult or uncomfortable.

The avoidant approach is, why deal with something if you can ignore it? After all, if you ignore something long enough it will just go away on its own right?

Spoiler alert – it doesn’t. Actually, things just get worse. And here’s one of the main reasons why…

Avoidant people may do their best to avoid conflict, and they may “think” they are succeeding. But everyone has emotions, and feelings; and eventually these frustrations find a way out. But since they have never developed healthy ways to express and deal with emotions and feelings, they find “subtle” ways to express them.

Ways that are very, very damaging.

The Four Horsemen

In his book The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work John Gottman says he can predict with a fairly high degree of accuracy whether or not a couple will succeed or fail. And one of his beliefs is the existence or amount of conflict itself has nothing to do with the success of a relationship.

What matters is HOW a couple fights.

He describes the following “corrosive negative behavior patterns” as being the strongest predictors of divorce, or as he put it – “The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse”.

  • Criticism: No relationship is perfect, and we all have things about our partners that make us unhappy. Complaints are fine and are about behaviors you want to change. A criticism is a way of expressing the complaint that becomes an attack on the other person. With criticism, the issue isn’t the behavior – it’s the other person.
  • Contempt: This is the use of things like threats, name calling and insults. Contempt is when there is an air of superiority, and the offending person focuses on their partners mistakes instead of appreciating them and seeing the good. The existence of contempt is the highest predictor or divorce in a marriage
  • Defensiveness: This is when any attempt at discussion of issues becomes interpreted as an attack. When people get defensive, they attempt to “protect themselves” by doing things like counter-attacking, denying, or re-directing the conversation away from the topic at hand. There is no acceptance of the issue, or acceptance of responsibility. If you think back to my post on accountability, defensiveness is the first few steps – denial, blaming/justifying
  • Stonewalling: This is when in a discussion the listener emotional withdraws or “checks out” on the discussion. They likely are feeling emotionally overwhelmed, or flooded by the discussion; so they don’t engage. They may listen, but they don’t focus or give any clues they are actually paying attention. For the person trying to have a discussion, they feel ignored.

The first two are predictors of early divorce (supposedly 5.6 years after the wedding), while the next two predict later divorce (16.2 years after the wedding). Defensiveness and Stonewalling are the hallmarks of avoidance, and they are classic signs of passive aggressive behavior.

 

What is Passive Aggression?

Passive aggression is perhaps the worst thing you can do in a relationship. If you aren’t familiar with passive aggression, here’s another term for it – treating your partner like crap (I’m not sure if that’s the official scientific term. If not it probably should be).

What does passive aggression look like?

I found a great description of it at this site:

Passive Aggressive behavior can be defined as conduct which is conflict avoidant. Anger is not openly expressed but manifests itself by way of covert resistance, procrastination, withdrawal, sarcasm and more.

Broken agreements, withholding emotional support and/or sex, sabotage, sulking and silent treatment are all common features of passive aggressive behavior.

Many Passive Aggressive people simply refuse to contemplate that they might be doing anything wrong and simply do not believe their conduct to be anything untoward.

Basically it’s “conflict avoidant” behavior, where the real feelings of conflict (anger/frustration/resentment) leak out in other ways.

Passive Aggressive Behaviors

Here are a number of common passive aggressive behaviors (cobbled together from a number of sources):

Refusing to say what you mean. This is when someone will say one thing (usually what they believe the other person wants to hear) even when they don’t actually mean it. Sometimes they will say Yes when they really mean No. Or they will say “We’ll See” instead of saying No outright. But then they show what they “really mean” through their behavior.

Putting on a false face. This is similar to the previous one, but at a bit different. Passive aggressive people will often appear to be kind and agreeable, while inside they are actually hurt, angry or resentful.

Afraid to be alone, but also afraid of being dependent. There are difficulties with communication due to a fear of rejection that make relationships difficult. At the same time emotional walls are built to keep close relationships at a distance because there is a fear of dependence. Passive aggressive people do want relationships, but only on their terms. There is a strong need for control.

Learned Helplessness/Victimization. When conflict arises (which it will), the inability to deal with it often leads to anger and resentment. However instead of recognizing the problem is due to a lack of communication, it is perceived as being the other persons fault. “They” did this, or that. They caused the conditions that led to the anger (which of course is seen as justified). There is no ownership by the passive aggressive person. They are a victim of others being hard on them, unreasonable or expecting too much.

Resenting Demands/Expectations of others. Relationships have expectations, and these expectations form the boundaries of relationships. Passive aggressive people will often view others demands/expectations as unfair or unjust. But rather than expressing this and trying to find a path that works for both people they will hold things in and allow resentment for the other person to build.

Procrastination. Everyone procrastinates sometimes, but for a passive aggressive person procrastination is a form of control and punishment. They don’t like “having” to do things, especially when this is related to the expectations of others. So they won’t. But instead of saying they won’t, they make them wait and come up with excuses on “why” they haven’t been able to. When someone calls them out on their lack of follow through on things they either promised of agreed to, the passive aggressive person will often find ways to turn it around and blame the other person for why things aren’t done.

Not giving honest answers. When dealing with uncomfortable topics passive aggressive people will usually try to change the subject. When they can’t, they often say a lot of things without actually saying anything. Often no real answer is given. Or instead of being truthful, they will withhold information, and be selective in what they say and how they respond. They may not “lie”, but honesty is not just about the words you say. The ones you don’t say are often just as important.

Sulking/Withdrawing/Pouting. When things aren’t going their way, or they are unhappy about a situation passive aggressive people will shut down emotionally and withdraw. They will withhold affection, kindness (and empathy really) as a way of “showing displeasure”. Again, this is about punishment and control. Silent treatment and “walking away” are common ways of “dealing” with issues. This may sound a lot like tantrums. Well guess what, they are. This sort of behavior is basically an adult tantrum by someone who has never learned to communicate and deal with emotion in a healthy way.

Keeping Score. Passive aggressive people have a very difficult time letting things go. We all have times people hurt or disappoint us. Instead of confronting the issues, dealing with it and letting it go; passive aggressive people will hold onto things. Not only do they not let go, they also often feel someone doing something to them entitles them to do something in retaliation/response. In relationships (especially ones that matter to us) taking this approach is destructive, and will only escalate things.

Silent Treatment. This is one of the hallmarks of passive aggression, as well as being one of the great killers of relationships. When someone is upset they withdraw – emotionally and/or physically. Passive aggressive people often tell themselves they do this to ensure they don’t “say something they will regret”, and there is some truth to that. But they never return, and never deal with the issue at hand. They avoid it, and this becomes both a way of dealing with things as well as a form of punishment and control.

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Take a good look at the items in the above list.

I’m pretty sure any rational person will accept these are all COMPLETELY TERRIBLE things to do to your partner. Hell, they’re terrible ways to treat people who you DON’T like; never mind ones you are supposed to be building a life with.

That said, we ALL do these things once in a while. But people with healthy communication and conflict skills realize they are being an asshole when they do it, while passive aggressive people don’t seem to see a problem with it – or they have a long list of excuses and reasons (usually someone elses fault) as to “why” they are doing it.

At least at some level though, even the people exhibiting these behaviors have to KNOW these are self-destructive behaviors that are damaging their relationships; as many of these behaviors are selfish, petty and cruel. These behaviors don’t belong in a “loving relationship”.

So why?

Why willfully engage in behaviors that at some level they know are destroying their relationships?

Why do it?

An Inability to Cope

There are two main reasons people are passive aggressive.

  1. They don’t realize they are doing it
  2. They don’t know any other way.

One thing to be clear on…

…when you look through these behaviors it can make it seem like passive aggressive people are horrible monsters. They’re not.

Often they are good, kind people “most” of the time. They simply been taught conflict is bad, so they have spent their lives repressing feelings and negative emotions, and have never learned how to effectively communicate and deal with conflict. As a result they are emotionally crippled, and shut down in the face of negative emotions.

Passive aggressive behavior often goes hand in hand with anxiety and avoidance, because at it’s root it is about a fear of conflict, and a feeling of powerlessness and helplessness that comes with being unable to deal with conflict.

Conflict happens though. It’s a natural (and needed) part of life. So passive aggressiveness is really about an inability to cope with the reality of life. This is why many passive aggressive people try to present an image of perfection. It allows them to create and escape to a fantasy world where conflict doesn’t exist.

Healthy Conflict

At the beginning I talked about John Gottmans book, and how he believes there are behaviors that are good predictors of divorce. Passive aggression is one of the biggest ones.

Well, what does a “healthy” relationship look like according to him? Gottman says the signs of happy couples are:

  • Couples who behave like good friends and handle their conflicts in gentle, positive ways.
  • Couples who are able to repair negative interactions during an argument, and are able to process negative emotions fully.

See the key words in those two things?

Handles conflict.
Deal with negative emotions.

These are things the avoidant and passive aggressive person either can’t or won’t do.

There is good news though.

People are not avoidant or passive aggressive by nature. It is a communication and coping style that is learned. Because of this, it is also something that can change.

I’ve written on change in the past, and although it’s not an easy thing to do is CAN happen. But for it to happen, the person making the change needs to truly understand how their behavior is hurting them. They need to face the mirror, and realize the way they have approached things has not been working.

If you are someone who defaults to avoidance or passive aggression as your default coping mechanisms, here’s something to consider:
Avoidance and Passive Aggressive behavior are among the most damaging behaviors one can have. When you look up “Toxic Behavior” the behaviors listed are usually lists of both passive aggressive and avoidant behavior.

If having your default coping mechanisms defined as “toxic” doesn’t convince someone to try and change, I not sure what will. However avoidance and passive aggressive behavior ARE toxic. They are behaviors we all should be aware of, try to recognize when we do, and try to minimize.

For our relationships, our happiness and for those around us.

Learning to Love

Learning-to-love
Love. We all use the word, but there is no real consensus on what it is or what it means.

One of my first posts was my attempt at figuring out what love is, and looking back on it now I think I had a lot of things right, but at the same time it seems somewhat lacking.

Some say love is a feeling. Others say love is a choice. I think it’s probably a mix of both.

Maybe it’s best to say that love is a feeling that comes with certain choices, and the ability to maintain love (and feelings of love) over a long period is a result of continuing to make loving choices towards your partner.

I don’t think love just happens. Attraction may just happen, but you still have to choose to get to know the other person. To look at them, to listen to them, and to be with them. When you make those little choices, you are letting yourself allow love to develop.

And once love has developed, it needs to be maintained. I’ve talked before about whose responsibility love is. I truly believe that it’s not your partners responsibility to keep you feeling in love with them – it’s yours. You need to nurture your love every day, in countless little ways.

And if you choose not to express love? To turn away from love and not let it in? Or to not accept it when it’s given? They you only have yourself to blame if feelings of love fade away.

Deep Roots

I like to think of love like a tree. Trees need nurturing (sunlight, water, soil) to stay alive. When they are young they are fragile, and need more attention and care. As trees age their roots start to run deep, and they no longer need the same sort of care.

Even when their roots are established though, they still need nurturing. They still need sunlight, water and nutrients in the soil to stay alive. Established trees are strong, and can weather difficult periods. Trees can even be cut down. But as long as the roots are alive, the tree can survive, and come back. It may look a bit different, but that doesn’t make it any less beautiful.

Other times the tree can start to die from the roots, and although the tree may still appear healthy at first it has started to rot from within.

The key is the roots, and keeping those roots alive and healthy.

sapling photo

Nurturing Love

So how do we nurture love?

How do we ensure our roots run deep, to allow us to weather the storms of life?

And how do we keep the roots of our love alive?

It seems obvious to me that love requires nurturing. And this nurturing comes in the form of action.

But what actions are needed, to not only maintain but also to grow our love?

A while back I came across a great article on the characteristics of love. Look at the following quote:

Loving involves being in a relationship with another. In a functional loving relationship there are mutual expectations. If I love you and you don’t accept my love then the relationship is dysfunctional because the primary purpose of love is not easily accomplished. If you don’t let me love you, then my love will be squandered on you.

As such, to be in love is to be engaged in an activity that can be done well or not so well. One can be good at loving or poor at it depending on how good (or bad) one is at accomplishing the purpose or goal of loving someone. The statement, “I love you very much” may sometimes be a deep expression of a feeling that comes with being in love; but it can also be uttered by people who do not know the first thing about how to love another. This is because this statement, if it is meaningful, is not simply a report about a subjective feeling going on at the time that it is uttered.

To be meaningful, you must put your actions where your mouth is. This means doing things that promote the other’s happiness, welfare, and safety

So how do we nurture our love? What actions do we need to take? This article talks about love as being shown with the following core actions:

  • Being there
  • Being beneficent
  • Being considerate/non-maleficent
  • Making a commitment
  • Being loyal
  • Being consistent
  • Being candid
  • Being trustworthy
  • Being empathetic
  • Being tolerant

Let’s look at each of these…

The Actions of Love

Being there. This means you are there for the person in times of need. They know they can count on you, and they can rely on you. Sometimes they may need you at times that aren’t convenient to you, but that’s fine. Some sacrifice may be required, and you may not always be able to be there. But you should always want to.

Being beneficent. This goes one step further than just being there. This means you want to do things FOR them. You want to see them happy (in fact, I think true happiness comes not just from the things that make you happy, but from deriving happiness from seeing your actions bring happiness to someone you love). You value their welfare, and want what’s best for them.

Being considerate/non-maleficent. This is about not wanting to do things that are harmful towards the other person. Trying not to hurt them, or embarrass them. It’s about taking them, and how your actions impact them into account. Over the long term, we all screw this up occasionally. Everyone has moments that they are selfish in their actions, and they end up hurting those they love. But those sort of things should be exceptions, and should be accompanied by remorse when we realize we have hurt the other person.

Making a commitment. This is pretty obvious – you are committed to the relationship.

Being loyal. This involves being loyal and faithful to the person you love. As the article says, “loyalty is not optional if one is to enjoy a happy relationship”.

Being consistent. Consistency is very important. Love and relationships aren’t something that you only engage in when it’s convenient to you. They aren’t a part time job, and you can’t just take time off when things get tough. This goes hand in hand with commitment – and means that acting in a loving way is the normal behavior.

Being candid. Love requires openness and honesty. Lying and deception damages relationships, while honesty (even about difficult things) tends to bring people closer together. It’s important to be careful how you word things though – there’s a difference between honesty and being rude.

Being trustworthy. In loving relationships, you need to be able to confide in the other person and know that they are able to confide in you.

Being empathetic. This is about trying to see things from your partners perspective. We are all different, and “my way” isn’t necessarily the best or the only way. You need to be able to value your partners perspective an opinion even when it doesn’t line up with your own. Relationships require meeting halfway sometimes, and that requires empathy.

Being tolerant. Relationships also require patience, and the ability to let things go, forgive, and move on. Insisting things need to be “your way”, or holding on to grudges and resentment is one of the quickest ways to poison a relationship.

All of these are important characteristics in a loving relationship. And more importantly, all of them are things that can be developed and improved.

Choosing Love

I think it is these actions that people talk about when they say love is a choice. Yes, there are feelings associated with love. But these feelings need to be shown, and we show them through the actions we take and the way we treat our partner.

If you say you love your partner but you strike them out of anger, are you showing love?

If you say you love your partner but you are having an affair, are you showing love?

If you have no interest in spending time with them and connecting with them on an emotional level, are you showing love?

How does your partner know you love them? Should they “just know”? Or do they know because of the way you treat them and interact with them?

Love may involve feelings, but it is more than that. Love is actions.

It may not always be declarations of undying love and passion, but love still needs to be present in all our interactions. We can learn to love, and we can get better at it each and every day.

still learning to love

Honesty

honesty
Honesty.

We all want it in our relationships.

But is dishonesty ever “alright”?

It seems like a simple question at first.

Of course dishonesty is not alright – we want honesty all the time. After all, if you can’t trust someone about the little things then you can’t trust them about the big things, right?

But when you really look at it, it’s not really that straightforward.

What is dishonesty? There are three main forms of dishonesty:

  1. Lies
  2. half truths
  3. lies by omission

Some people think of honesty only in terms of lies, but it seems very clear that it’s more than that. Honesty is not only about the words you say and the actions you take.

It’s also about the things you don’t say.

You can be 100% honest in everything “you say”, while still being very secretive and deceitful. Half-truths and lies by omission are as damaging (if not more) than the things that you say.

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Intimacy vs. Autonomy

Intimacy is all about closeness, and the way to build intimacy is through the sharing of your thoughts and feelings.

No one shares everything however, and we shouldn’t want them to. It’s important to balance intimacy with autonomy. Even when we are part of a relationship, we are still an individual and it’s important not to lose sight of that.

When you see your partner at the end of the day, it’s common practice to ask about their day. When we do this we don’t actually want to know everything. We aren’t looking for an itemized list of what your partner did during the day, minute by minute (at least I hope not). What we are really looking for is a summary, with maybe some of the highlights and lowlights of that day. We want to know what was important to them, and by them sharing that with us they are both maintaining and building a sense of intimacy.

It’s up to each person to determine what the “relevant” details are, and this is one of the places we get ourselves in trouble. What it relevant to one person may be different from what is relevant to another.

Let’s say you had a cheeseburger for lunch.

Now let’s say you had sex with a co-worker at lunch.

Maybe it’s just me, but these seem like they are pretty different things. Having sex with your co-worker is kind of a big deal, and sharing that knowledge would probably have a different impact on your relationship then telling your partner you had a cheeseburger.

One seems a wee bit more important in terms of relevance to your relationship than the other, and although the fallout would be considerable, I think it’s a safe bet that your partner deserves to know about the lunch sex.

But what about the cheeseburger? Is there any need to tell them about that?

Normally the answer would be no. But it comes down to context.

What if you and your partner are on a diet together, and the cheeseburger was a way of “cheating” the diet?

What if you are saving up for something and you promised to brown bag a lunch in order to save up money?

Well then perhaps the cheeseburger IS actually relevant. Maybe your partner WOULD be hurt if they knew about the cheeseburger.

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Intent

When withholding information from your partner (either through half-truths or complete omission) it comes down to intent.

WHY are you withholding information?

Is it because you truly thought it wasn’t important and it didn’t even occur to you to tell them? Is it because you want to surprise them with something? Or is it because you were feeling guilty and you didn’t want them to find out?

Sometimes people have disconnects on what “is important”, and this is an area where communication comes into play. Over time these sorts of disconnects will be sources of conflict for a couple, and this is natural and even healthy conflict.

When there are disconnects on what is important you can use them as opportunities to understand your partner better, and be a better partner to them in the future.

But if you are ever withholding information or keeping secrets out of shame or guilt, then you KNOW you have done something wrong. If this happens, any withholding is intentionally being deceptive.

Drawing the Line

Is it ever alright to intentionally be deceptive?

Sure, if you want to surprise your partner with something. It’s kind of hard to surprise them with things if you can’t keep some secrets.

But what about secrets that would hurt them?

I think there probably is a bit of a grey area here as well.

We all run into problems and issues in life. And sometimes we don’t want to share those. Sometimes we need to be able to work through things on your own.

That’s understandable to a degree. We don’t want to be the person who is alarming our partner by crying wolf every time we have concern or a fear. Sometimes we realize our fears are nothing, and it’s best not to stir the waters by raising them.

It’s important to be very careful with this though.

If these fears persist for a long time, or if they start to spill over into and affect the relationship, then they are pretty damned relevant. At that point choosing to keep them to ourselves will only ever do harm. It will break down trust, and damage the integrity of the relationship. And the longer it goes on, the more damage will be done.

Being Honest

I think being honest in a relationship doesn’t mean you are always truthful. It doesn’t mean you have to share every little thing. There are cases where you will hold things back, or even outright lie in the short term (with surprises for example).

To me it comes down to three very important things:

  • Intent
  • Empathy
  • Respect

We all choose our own actions. If we are in a relationship, then we need to think about our partners in the things that we do.

If our intent is good in the sense that we are considering our partner and being respectful towards them, we may still get ourselves in trouble if there is a disconnect between what is important to one versus the other. But those sorts of conflicts are fine.

We should never hide behind lies and partial truths or omissions out of shame or guilt though. Those sorts of things will only do long term harm.

And we should never do things that are disrespectful to our partner, or we know would hurt them if they found out. If we are doing that, then our relationships are built on a rotten foundation. And eventually, they will crumble under the weight of our own deceit.

Acting with respect, empathy and good intent is always the best approach.

The truth isn’t always easy to face; but it’s always the right answer.

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