Are You and Your Partner Compatible?

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I’m a big believer in marriage, and I’m pretty sure most people go into marriage with the belief that their marriage will succeed.

Yet roughly 50% or all first marriages fail.

And in the vast majority of divorces is North America (and presumably more of the world), the reason given for the divorce is irreconcilable differences.

So, what exactly are irreconcilable differences?

Yeah, the words tell you this means the couple has differences they can’t figure out, but what does that even mean?

I tried to find a good explanation for irreconcilable differences, and at this site (a divorce law site of course) I found the following:

 

What that this means is that you and your spouse’s basic fundamental differences make it impossible to stay married. For some couples, arguments over child discipline, politics, finances, or religion are severe enough to drive a permanent wedge in the marriage. Other couples may want a divorce because they fight a lot, have personality conflicts, or simply don’t trust each other. Whatever your differences with your spouse, they must be permanent enough that your marriage has become irretrievably broken.

 

So basically, at some point in time a couple comes to a determination that they aren’t compatible, and this incompatibility is significant enough that they can’t handle being together anymore.

 

How Does Compatibility Break Down?

You know, I’ve never gone to a wedding where the couple said things like “I’m looking forward to the start of our next few years together, until we realize our differences are so significant we have to hire lawyers to break down the life we will be building together.”

Guys supposedly aren’t very good at listening though, so that could be on me.

Realistically though, when a couple gets married they believe they are compatible.  I’m pretty sure they know they have differences, but when they stand up there and pledge forever to each other, they believe they have what it takes to make it.

Yet almost 50% of marriages fail.

What the hell are we doing wrong?

How does compatible become irreconcilable?

 

I guess at least part of it is change.

People are constantly growing and evolving, so the couple who stands there and exchanges vows is likely quite a bit different from the couple who later find themselves dealing with divorce lawyers and legal fees.

They changed.

They may have believed they were compatible on the marriage day, but as the years went by they were no longer those same people.

Another problem could be they knew they had differences, but thought they could “get past” them.  On the wedding day they figured those differences weren’t a problem, but over time they were proven wrong.

Thing is, people are different, and people change.  Those two things are among the few constants in life.  So unless we are willing to accept the idea that the institute of marriage is broken (and I’m not willing to accept that), we need to figure out how we can do a better job of accepting change, and find ways to stay happy together in spite of it.

 

Accepting Influence

A little over a year ago I wrote a post called Accepting Influence, and although my thoughts on it have changed a bit in the past year I think accepting influence is probably the most important thing you can do in order to have a successful relationship.

In fact, I think accepting influence is what relationships are really all about.

A marriage isn’t just a way of sharing living expenses, or having someone there to take care of you.  A marriage is not just about having your needs fulfilled.  In fact, it’s not about a “me”, and it’s not about a “you”.

It’s about an “us”.

When two people meet, it’s often some of their shared interests that bring them together.  They have some things in common, and these common interests give them things to talk about and experiences to share.

When talking about compatibility it is often these common interests that are talked about.

Hey, we both like to travel, we both like similar foods, movies, music… whatever it is.

But no matter how similar you are, people also have differences.  AND, they change over time.

 

Accepting influence is all about learning to navigate those differences, and expanding your world so that you start to care about things you normally wouldn’t have – BECAUSE they matter to your partner!

At a superficial level this can be things like activities and hobbies.  You aren’t trying to become your partner, or force yourself into all aspects of their life.  But you ARE trying to understand them, and have more common ground to share with them.  Maybe to be able to hold a conversation with them about one of their passions, even if you don’t share it.

At a deeper level this is something as important as love languages.  Couples don’t always share the same love languages – the things that make one person feel loved and valued don’t necessarily match their partners.  But it’s important to try and understand what matters to your partner and give them what they need to feel loved – even (and perhaps especially) when it doesn’t match your own.

This is a form of accepting influence.  Really, it’s about saying to your partner YOU matter to me.  I care about you.

On the flip side, refusing to accept influence is kind of like saying “Sure I care about you and your needs – as long as they line up with mine”.

Relationships shouldn’t be just about your needs.  You should derive happiness from seeing your partner happy and from contributing to that happiness, even when it doesn’t line up with something you personally need.

What if the happiness of your partner doesn’t matter to you?  Well, if that’s the case you probably shouldn’t be in a relationship.

 

Building Compatibility

The reason given for most divorces is “irreconcilable differences”.  Aka “we weren’t compatible anymore”.

However compatibility doesn’t just happen, it’s something you build into the relationship every day.  Every time you accept influence from your partner by putting their needs at the same level as your own and trying to do things for them, you are building compatibility.

And every time you put me ahead of we, you are building in incompatibility.  I’m not saying you should do everything together or never have time to yourself, as individual time and space is important to the health of a relationship.  But the needs of your partner should always matter.

 

When people cite irreconcilable differences, I think what they are REALLY saying is “I was no longer willing to work with you and try to meet your needs.  I was no longer willing to try and find a solution that works for both of us.”

Personal boundaries are good, and are a healthy part of relationships.  When those personal boundaries collide however, often the inability to find a solution together is more a testament to one or both sides wanting things their way.  To putting me before we.

Sure, they want to get to forever and they want the happy ending.  But they want it on their terms, and aren’t willing to move their position to meet their partner and find a place where both people can be happy.

And if you are in a relationship for you?  Then you’ve already failed.

 

Successful relationships aren’t about you, and they aren’t about me.  In successful relationships there is a recognition that both you and me matter, and the only way to do that is by putting we first.

If requires communication, negotiation, and accepting influence.

I think it’s best summed up by a line in this article:

Compatibility is an achievement of love; it must not be its precondition.

We start with a certain degree of compatibility, but after that it doesn’t just happen on it’s own.  It’s up to us to maintain it, and it’s up to us to build it.

So irreconcilable differences doesn’t mean there was an inherent problem with the couple. A lack of compatibility really means the couple couldn’t, or wouldn’t, build it in.

How Does Parenting Affect Your Relationship?

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A while back I read a post where someone was wondering how kids change your marriage. The guy who wrote it was fairly recently married.  He and his wife were thinking about starting a family and he was worried about how it would impact their marriage.

It was a thoughtful question.

What do kids do to your marriage?
Do they make it better, or worse?
Do they alter the bond between husband and wife?

I’m going to go out on a limb here and guess that most people don’t even consider this. They just think hey, we know we want to have kids one day (though they probably can’t say why they want them).

And so they do.

And then they find themselves woefully unprepared for what comes next.

At first, it would seem as though children should make the bond between a couple stronger; after all, children are a product of your love for each other, right? Fine, they may also be the product of one night of bad decisions; but let’s assume for the moment that they are wanted by the couple who decided to have them.

In that case, do they strengthen the bond?

Well, it seems the reality is a bit complicated.

In fact most studies state that relationship satisfaction decreases after kids are born. According to The Wall Street Journal:

About two-thirds of couples see the quality of their relationship drop within three years of the birth of a child, according to data from the Relationship Research Institute in Seattle, a nonprofit organization focused on strengthening families. Conflict increases and, with little time for adult conversation and sex, emotional distance can develop.

In theory a baby can help strengthen the bond between a couple. But for some reason when I think of “strengthening the bond”, emotional distance is not one of the things I think of.

So why does this happen? What changes?

 

Life Changes

When you go from being single to being part of a couple your life changes. But for the most part, you are still you. Yeah some people lose themselves too much in the relationship, but their identity is still as a person (who is fitting someone else into their life). When you need some “me” time, it’s usually not that difficult to do.

When you become a parent however, your life changes irrevocably. You are now a parent fulltime, 24-7, every day of the year.

And for the next however many years, the needs of the child will always trump your own.

It’s not better, or worse (though I suppose it could be argued that some aspects are definitely better while others are worse). Looking at it on the whole though, the best way to describe it is that it’s simply different.

And in addition to your life, it also fundamentally changes the nature of your relationship.

The needs of the baby/toddler/child don’t just trump the needs of the individual – they trump the needs of the couples as well.

So as a couple one of the biggest and most noticeable changes is that you no longer have nearly as much time for each other as you used to.

This seems obvious, and something people should know going in. I mean, it’s simple math. People only have so much time and energy, and kids take time and energy. So adding them to a relationship will reduce the amount of time the couple has to focus on each other.

But I don’t think most people really realize exactly how much it changes their “couple time”, or how much of a toll it can take.

 

Increased Stress

A while back I posted on stress, and on the impacts stress can have on relationships.

Basically, stress is corrosive to relationships.

When stressed, we tend to become inwardly focused. We see how the stress is affecting us and tend to forget that it is also affecting our partner as well. We are also more likely become more sensitive to and notice smaller things and allow them to become blown out of proportion. There are other issues, but basically high levels of stress can kind of make us selfish jerks.

Well, kids can be rewarding but they can also be a great source of stress.

First, they are a responsibility that doesn’t go away. In the early years they basically need us 24-7, and the weight of this responsibility can take a toll. We want the best for our kids, and we want THEM to be the best they can be. This leads to immense pressure on our ability to be a parent. When we are struggling, it can make us feel like we are failing our kids and this can make us feel like failures as parents.

Add in things like kids getting sick, fighting, trying to figure things out on their own and just being kids? Well, it can be at once stressful and exhausting.
All of which can make us less patient with our partners.

And this is even before you start looking at the breakdown of who is taking on the lion’s share of parenting duties (hint – it’s usually the woman).

 

Parenting Conflicts

Which brings me to the next fun part – parenting conflicts, which tend to come in a few different ways.

The first of these is the approach to parenting. It would be great if parents agreed on “how” they wanted to parent in advance, but chances are they haven’t even thought of it. Instead we often just go with what was modeled to us growing up without even thinking about it.

When we do this there are bound to be differences, and these conflicting parenting styles can cause serious conflict.

It’s usually pretty easy to accept that your partner is different from you and has different outlooks on the world. When those differences impact your children however, it’s easy to become possessive and defensive (mama/papa bear will ALWAYS protect their cub). Approaches to discipline is often a prime example of this

When we can’t agree on an approach to parenting, often each side is convinced that their way is right while their partner is wrong. This attitude is terrible for a couple, as instead of being a “we” it becomes a case of you vs. me.

 

Changing Roles

Perhaps the biggest change that happens when a couple becomes parents is a change in roles. Before they were both individuals and a couple – probably in fairly equal parts. This is not only a life change but also a role change, as the role of parent becomes the primary one.

As a couple you likely started as friends and lovers, but now you are primarily parents and this change can result in a sense of loss and cause conflict in couples.

Marriage counselors talk about how one of the biggest complaints couples have is that they don’t feel their partners make enough time for them anymore. While they understand that the kids are the priority, they don’t feel like they are a priority anymore.

Maintaining being a couple even after kids is extremely important, and many counselors talk about the value of ensuring there is still time for the couple by carving out time in the schedule for things like date night.

Although most couples seem to understand why that’s important it is still something that often goes ignored. It’s one thing to understand why it’s important, but actually making time is not always easy when there seem to be a million other things that need to be done.

 

Diminished Sex Life

Going hand in hand with the changing roles comes a diminished sex life. This is an unfortunate yet understandable side effect of having kids – especially in the early years. It’s hard to feel sexy when you are always exhausted or worried about the kids. Stress has huge negative impacts on sex drive, and as discussed earlier kids are a source of stress.

Many couples say that after the first few years of kids they see their sex lives bounce back somewhat. Likely not to the levels they were at before kids, but generally to a level both partners can accept.

In some cases however, the sex drive doesn’t come back at all.

This is usually (though not exclusively) an issue faced by women. Last I checked I’m not a woman, so I won’t pretend to understand all the reasons. But from what I know it can be a combination of things, from body and hormonal changes, to feeling solely like a mom instead of feeling like a woman, to sheer exhaustion and resentment from the unequal burden that is normally faced by women when it comes to child rearing.

Sexual problems are often associated with feelings of guilt and shame, so this is an issue that often goes ignored. Some couples convince themselves that it’s not that important, or that it’s just a natural part of getting older. Or things will just come back on their own if they give it time.

It’s only true that it’s not important if both people in the relationship agree with that, and a lost sex drive is not simply a natural part of getting older. If this loss of sex drive occurs it shouldn’t be ignored as it is often a significant factor in the breakdown of relationships.

 

Support Systems

In a relationship it’s always important to have time for “me”, and making time for yourself is even more important once kids are in the picture as it allows people to retain a bit of their own identity and not get completely lost in the role of parent.

It’s still very important to balance this with time as a couple (without kids) though.

A challenge here is that many couples don’t have a strong support system that allows them to get time as a couple. So each partner ends up taking turns, going out as individuals while the other partner watches the kids.

This time is valuable, and important. The danger is that without sufficient couple time as well, each persons only real break or “fun” time comes as an individual. And when you start to associate fun, and a freedom from the stress and responsibilities of kids as also being time away from your partner it can start to create doubt about the relationship.

Family time is not couple time. And couple time is not me time. Finding a working balance between all three is needed to keep the relationship alive and well.

 

Financial Impacts

Another challenge presented by kids is financial. Adding kids to a family adds a new expense center. Food, clothes, activities; all these things cost a fair bit. And maybe it’s just my job, but I don’t think people get pay increases to offset these costs. So the end result is couples have less money to do things.

They also have less freedom, as things like holidays soon are limited to times that they kids aren’t in school.

It’s not that you can’t do the things you did before. It’s just that it takes a lot more planning, and you probably can’t do them as frequently.

 

Adding It All Up

Reading over this it probably seems as though I have a negative view on having kids, and that’s not the case at all. I’m a father, and I love my kids and wouldn’t change a thing. In fact I believe my children have enriched my life considerably.

Kids do introduce all of these things though, and they all require adjustments and take a considerable toll. In fact, indirectly I’ll go so far as to say that the additional stresses caused by kids are probably one of the leading causes of divorce. Which is ironic, as they are a product of the love a couple shares.

Kids put additional stresses on relationships, but I want to be clear that I don’t think this has anything to do with the kids themselves. They aren’t to blame, ever. What IS to blame is that people generally don’t talk about these things, so couples aren’t prepared.

They run into these challenges, and they start to believe that something is wrong. And since people rarely walk away from their kids the relationship is often blamed, when what they are going through is actually fairly normal.

Being a parent is a fantastic experience, and it can be very rewarding. But it can also be very hard, and many couples can’t handle the strain it puts on their relationship.

 

Making it Work

I’ve heard a lot of couples who have “made it” confirm the challenges of being a parent. And often I will hear them say things like “stick it out, and things will get better”.

Sometimes couples that are having troubles stay together “for the kids”. 90% of me is completely against that. You need to stay together because you love each other, and want a life together. If you no longer love each other for whatever reason, then it does the kids no good to have a loveless relationship modeled to them as they grow up.

The remaining 10% of me thinks that if kids give you another reason to stay together and stick it out through tough times, then that can be as good a reason as any. But that’s only if you then use this time the kids have bought you to actively work on and improve your marriage. I’ve heard of some couples who stayed together “for the kids” who then learned to love each other again and rebuild, and were happy they had done so. I think that’s great.

Ultimately you need to be with each other because you still love each other, and still want to share your lives.  Not just because of kids.

More often though I think couples who split up do still love each other. And it’s really just the stress that comes with being parents that has put emotional distance between them. I think often they do still want to love each other, and have just lost sight of how. In being parents and not making time to be friends and lovers, they have lost each other.

Broken Trust

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I’ve talked before about my love of basketball, and in the news recently there was an incident that hit headlines.

Although they are terrible these days, the Los Angeles Lakers are still one of the “glory” franchises in the NBA. They hit headlines though because a video was leaked where one of their top newcomers (D’Angelo Russell) was talking to another player (Nick Young) about his relationship, and in it Nick Young apparently admits to cheating on his fiance.

Interestingly, the furor over this video has nothing to do with Nick Young cheating on his fiance. Instead, it has been about the actions of D’Angelo Russell – filming and then purportedly posting this video (he denies posting it, and insists he doesn’t know how it got out).

See, regardless of what was being said the discussion between Young and Russell was private. And in letting it out there, Russell has violated his trust.

In the sports world the outcry against Russell has been considerable, with some even going so far as to say that Russell (who is a rookie) will never be able to recover from this, because his teammates will never be able to trust him again.

A sports team in many ways is the same as any other team. The players don’t necessarily have to be friends, and they don’t even have to like each other. But to be successful they need to be able to effectively work together. And that requires a degree of trust. When that trust breaks down, it damages the chemistry between players. And trust once gone, is very difficult to rebuild.

Breaking Down Trust

I’ve written before about honesty in relationships, and although I don’t believe anyone is always honest I do feel it’s important that our actions toward each other are characterized by empathy and respect.

In relationships trust can break down in different ways. Sometimes it is big events, and other times it is an accumulation of smaller events over time. At the end of the day though, trust is about the questions “can I count on you?”, and “will you be there for me when I need you?”

When the answer is no or there is significant doubt, then trust has broken down. When this happens, often our entire perception of the other person changes. They aren’t the person we thought they were. And this realization can leave us feeling betrayed and hurt.

If trust has broken down, can it ever really be rebuilt? Or is it something that once broken is gone forever?

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Making Mistakes

Are you perfect? Have you made mistakes?

We all make mistakes, both big and small. And it doesn’t matter how kind, or caring, or devoted you are – we all have days and moments where we are tired, frustrated, or selfish.

At some level we know this, but we still expect more from the people we care about the most. After all, we care about them – and we expect them to care about us. So we don’t expect them to be the ones who hurt us. We expect better from them.

However the ones we care about the most are often the ones we hurt the most. When I look at my life, overall I think I’m a pretty good guy. Yet I know I’ve done things that have hurt those closest to me.

It’s the law of averages – for the people who see us the most, they are more likely to see us at our worst moments. While being around people more gives us more opportunities to “be on our best”, it also provides more opportunities to hurt them.

Unfortunately, it’s often the bad stuff that people remember the most.

There’s No News Like Bad News

Take a look at any newspaper, or any media outlet. Sure, sometimes there are “feelgood” stories that get traction. But by and large it’s the bad news that sells. And it’s the bad news that sticks with people.

That’s just human nature – and unfortunately it’s bad news for relationships.
In his work on relationships John Gottman talks about this – and he even has a formula for what it takes to have a successful relationship. According to him, healthy relationships need 5 positive interactions for each negative one.

We remember what affects us more, and the bad often outweighs the good.

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Letting People In

As the saying says, trust takes years to build and moments to break.
There are definitely different degrees of bad choices, but if a person has done a lot of good for a long time and then does something bad, does that make them a bad person?

Some would argue that it depends on the severity of the bad choice, and there’s truth to that. Some choices are so terrible that it’s hard to ever accept. I still think history matters though. As does a person’s reaction after the fact.

If someone continually exhibits selfish or disrespectful behavior then that’s one thing. But if someone takes ownership for their actions, shows contrition and demonstrates changes in their behavior, we should be able to rebuild trust over time.

When we can’t?

I think that often issues with trust aren’t only issues with the actions of the person we are struggling to trust. Instead, they are issues with us being unable to let go and being unable to forgive.

When we’ve been hurt it’s good to be cautious, and it’s good to try to protect ourselves. But it’s important to remember that building walls and not letting the other person back in will ensure the relationship is never able to move forward.

 

D’Angelo Russell made a mistake, and that mistake cost him the trust of his teammates. Does that mean he’s untrustworthy?

I don’t actually know anything about the guy in question, but I would say no, one mistake no matter how big does not mean someone is untrustworthy. Right now all it means is that he made a selfish decision that hurt his teammate. If that mistake is part of a pattern of behavior, then I would say yes.

That’s not to say the affected teammate should just forget it and trust him blindly moving forward. Some mistakes are bigger than others, and Nick Young needs to decide if he is willing to even consider trusting Russell again.

Trust isn’t just about one person though. So if they do want to move forward as teammates Russell needs to consistently show he’s worthy of that trust, and Young also needs to let him back in. If Young doesn’t, then nothing Russell does will ever be enough, and trust will never be rebuilt.

What Affects One Person Affects Both

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I recently read an article on differing sex drives in a relationship, and while the article wasn’t anything new I thought the comment section was fascinating.  In the comments there were women talking about the changes their bodies go through after childbirth and the toll that being a mother takes on their sex drive and desire for any physical intimacy in their relationship – often extending to cuddling, hugging and basic touch.

There were a number of women commenting (at least I assume they were women, you never know online) and a few guys chiming in as well.  What struck me was a particular back and forth.

One lady mentioned that her husband wanted sex as part of the relationship, and that she just had no interest any more.

Another lady replied she had been through the same feelings, and she recommended the first lady “just do it”, as from her experience it was something her husband needed and cutting it out completely would put additional stress on the relationship.

The first lady was pretty incensed by this, saying that feeling like she needed to do something she didn’t want to felt like “emotional rape”, and that it wasn’t something her husband “needed”.

I have written in the past about the benefits of sex in a relationship. I have also written about the importance of sex to a relationship (from a guys perspective), and how sex isn’t really about sex. So yes, I’m definitely in the camp that feels sex is an important (and even necessary) component of a relationship – for both the physical and emotional benefits that it brings to the individual and the couple.

That said, I completely understand the first lady’s perspective. She’s right to say that she shouldn’t feel she has to do something that she doesn’t want to. Yeah, sometimes there are things in life you “have to do”, but doing so can breed resentment. Sex is supposed to be a form of connection and communication for a couple, and having it feel like a “duty” can destroy the connection that it is supposed to bring.

But although I believe I can understand her perspective, I think she’s overlooking one very important point.

Sex is not an individual act.

Making Choices

A marriage (or any relationship) is a partnership, and one member should never unilaterally make choices that affect both members of the relationship.

Imagine you are in a relationship and a great job opportunity comes up in another city or country. In a healthy relationship, you don’t just take the job. Instead you probably discuss it with your partner, and try to get their buy in. If you really want the job you try to sell your partner on it. Your partner needs to understand and agree with the move, and see how it benefits either them or the relationship in the long term. If, after discussion they don’t want to make the move you have a decision to make. You either don’t make the move (because although it may be what you want, it’s not right for the relationship); or you do it anyway. But if you do it anyway, there needs to be an understanding that it may cost you the relationship.

This applies to all sorts of things, and really is the primary “limitation” in a relationship.

When something affects both people, no one should expect to just do what they want. The wants and needs of the other person HAVE to matter. If they don’t, it’s not a relationship.

And I’m pretty sure sex affects both people.

So it’s not fair for one person to simply say that sex (or anything for that matter) is something that their partner doesn’t need. They can say that they don’t need it. And they can say that they don’t understand why their partner feels they need it. That’s all.

Differences in sex drive are normal, and are something most relationships find a way to navigate. Usually this results in one person having it a bit less than they would like, and the other person having to “just do it” sometimes when they might not really want to. As long as there is empathy and kindness for each others needs and some kind of compromise can be found, it isn’t a huge issue for most couples.

If a compromise that works for both people cannot be found however, then the relationship is very much at risk of failure.

 

Fidelity in Relationships

Most relationships have an expectation of monogamy. Personally I feel that’s a good thing; and when people step outside the relationship and have affairs or open relationships, I think they are kind of missing the point of sex. Sex isn’t just a physical act and it’s not just about your own pleasure. It is an act of intimacy, sharing, vulnerability and trust; and is symbolic of a special connection that a couple has.

Casual sex reduces it to a physical act, while in a committed relationship it is something more.

So monogamy is valuable component of a relationship (to me at least). But a sex drive is also a physical urge that differs from person to person. And for many, its presence in a relationship IS seen as a need.

When someone commits to monogamy they are committing to their partner, and from that point on their partner is the only person they will have sex with.

The unspoken part of that agreement is that sex will be part of the deal. It’s supposed to be a vow of monogamy – not a vow of celibacy.

 

Communicating and Caring

This brings me back to the lady who said that she doesn’t feel she should have to do something she doesn’t want to – especially something like sex.

She’s 100% right. Sex is something that should have connection and intimacy (at least most of the time). So if she’s not “feeling it”, she shouldn’t have to do anything to “appease her husband”.

At the same time, it’s perfectly reasonable for her husband to want and expect sex as part of the relationship.

Both people are right in this case.

This problem has a few layers to it. How big is the gap between what they want? What is the husband expecting? How often does he want/expect it? And how often does the wife want sex?

If one person wants it as a daily occurrence while the other person wants it weekly, that may be a problem they can figure out. If one person wants it daily and the other person want it…

…never. Well, that’s a bigger issue.

And truthfully, it’s probably not even an issue about sex.

It’s an issue of communicating, and listening to each other. And caring about and respecting each others needs. As a member or a relationship, you should care about your partners wants and needs – even when they don’t line up with your own.

That doesn’t mean you always have to meet them. But you do have to meet them sometimes, and you have to find a balance where each of you feel valued and respected.

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If someone no longer wants to meet their partner’s needs, then that indicates something has broken down. Either they don’t feel valued and respected themselves so it’s a form of punishment (he/she doesn’t do things for me, so why should I do things for him/her). Or the connection in the relationship has broken down to the point that they simply don’t feel enough for their partner to care about their needs.

Either way, if the relationship has hit that point the question has to be asked – why is the couple still together? If someone either no longer cares about their partners needs, or they feel that withholding affection as a form a punishment is acceptable, then the partnership has broken down.

A relationship has to be about more than just two individuals looking out for themselves.

 

Meeting in the Middle

A while back I wrote about the three keys to a successful relationship. Love each other, don’t be selfish, and communicate.

If someone wants sex on a daily basis and they expect their partner to meet their needs in that way, I see that as being selfish and not very loving.

However, I also feel the same way about someone saying sex isn’t a need and they should never have to have it if they don’t want it. If there is a large gap in sex drives that stance not very loving and is just as selfish.

If you want to be loving and unselfish, you communicate and find something that works for both people. One person should never be dictating terms of anything that impacts both people.

That’s not what a partnership is about. The couple needs to communicate, show empathy and caring for each other’s needs, and try to find a compromise.

Everyone has their own beliefs and boundaries; and establishing your own boundaries and sticking to them is important. So I understand the idea of never having to do anything you don’t want to.

But when those boundaries put a couple in continuous conflict, something has to give. They either find a way to make their boundaries overlap, or they need to accept that their relationship will not work.

To the lady who said she should not have to do anything she doesn’t want to – she’s 100% right. But that doesn’t mean she can expect things to be her way and also expect to hold onto the relationship. That’s a fairly one sided approach to relationships.

To hold onto the relationship, both she and her husband need to find a way that they can both be satisfied. He could accept things only on her terms (which will likely cause resentment). She could accept things on his terms (which will also cause resentment).

Or they could both love each other, not be selfish, communicate, and try to find a path that works for both of them.

sacrificetorelationship

The Last Mistake

brokenRock

I’ve played a lot of basketball over the years, and during that time I’ve been part of many wins and loses.

Often the losses that hurt the most are the close ones. The ones where we gave up a lead in the last seconds, or the ones where we made a run that just felt short. For those games, I can still remember some of those closing moments. I can remember the mistakes made either by myself or other teammates, and I can remember the feelings of loss and disappointment that came with it.

When you lose like that, it’s easy to look for what “cost you” the game. And often the things you remember are the mistakes made in those final moments, when it all fell apart.

The thing is, those mistakes are really just the last mistakes. The final ones. They may hurt the most, but in a close game they were never the deciding factors.
Basketball is a game with many possessions. And with all these possessions one of the things that often gets lost is this – every moment you are on the court, whether you are looking to score or looking to defend, you are influencing the outcome of a game.

Every. Single. Moment.

The final score is really just the sum of all the decisions made in the whole game. Positive or negative, each one counts.

So in a close loss, was a missed shot at the end of the game really more important than a miss that happened at the beginning?

Not really.

The final mistake often takes on more meaning because you know time is running out. When you are down two points with thirteen seconds left, you can feel the weight of your decisions in those seconds. You know this is your last chance.

If you are down two with six minutes left, it doesn’t seem as real, or as immediate. You can tell yourself “there’s still time”. And one unfortunate side effect of feeling there’s still time is a tendency not to take those early mistakes seriously, and to treat them like they aren’t as important as the later ones.

But no game is ever won or lost in the last moments. And on a team, no one member is ever entirely at fault.

Breaking Down Over Time

Often when relationships either struggle or fail, there are strong feelings of loss and disappointment. So we search for answers.

What happened? How did it go wrong? When did it go wrong?

In those moments it’s easy to focus on the latest mistakes. With the immediacy of “the game running out”, they often take on greater meaning for us. But although the final mistakes can be big ones, with people checking out emotionally, and displaying selfish and destructive behaviors, no relationship fails due to the final mistakes.

stone-cutter-quote

Like the stone-cutter hammering away at a rock, the final mistake seems to be the one that causes a relationship to fail. But the failure was being built in slowly, with hundreds of little decisions and mistakes over time. All the little times someone was hurt, or didn’t feel valued or appreciated. Taken individually these instances may seems small, but when you add them all up, the relationship has really suffered death from a thousand cuts.

It’s important to understand that for good or for bad you are influencing your relationship every single moment.

When relationships fail, it’s usually due to years of little problems and neglect, combined with poor communication leading to resentment. When this happens, instead of being a place of safety and security relationships become sources of tension and struggles for control.

Sometimes I read other blogs, and I hear people talk about withholding things from their partner. Whether conscious or subconsciously, this is a passive aggressive form of punishment. Sex is a big one, but often kindness, caring and even basic signs of affection and respect are held back.

At some level I understand this. When you are upset with your partner, you probably aren’t feeling loving or affectionate. But at the same time, when this happens I mourn for the people involved. Withholding is a form of control, and love and control do not go together. When a relationship hits this point, it seems it’s just waiting for that final mistake. And that final mistake will not be the one that caused the failure.

Winning and Losing

Thankfully, while a series of mistakes over time will cause anything to break, the opposite is also true. The initial bond of a relationship may be forged in the years when you are first getting to know one another, but to keep that relationship strong you have to work at it and maintain it over time.

In one of my favorite posts I talk about using this idea that every single decision matters, and applying it in a more positive way. If you truly want your relationship to last forever, it doesn’t just happen. You need to work forever into your life with the actions you take each and every day.

Time-decides-your-life

Behaviour. Decisions. These are choices that we make.

Don’t wait until your relationship is in the brink before you start fighting for it. Fight for it by not letting the little things go unsaid. Fight for it be accepting that no matter where things are, they can always get better. Fight for it by trying to let go instead of holding onto hurts and withholding affection. Fight for it with consistent effort, each and every day.

Every moment counts.

And it’s up to you to decide what you want to do with them.

Communication Is Hard

In life, communication is probably one of the most important skills we can learn.

But it’s also one of the hardest.

I recently had a bit of a back and forth with my sister, and it became clear that we were not “getting” each other. The communication was through email, and while written communication allows people an opportunity to get their thoughts out in an organized fashion, it is also prone to misinterpretation.

See, we all have our own triggers and filters. So no matter how clear one person *thinks* they are being, they can’t control how the other person will receive the message. This idea is summed up pretty well here:

what we see

It’s true, we don’t see things as they are presented. We see things as we interpret them. These interpretations are based on our own experiences, and sometimes they can be quite different from the initial intent.

This concept was definitely played out in our interaction.

She had some thoughts and ideas she wanted to share, I received them, interpreted them in a different way then what was intended, and responded accordingly. Sadly, this sort of thing happens all the time.

What makes matters worse though is that when she saw my response, she thought she had offended me. And because she thought she had offended me, she felt it was best to apologize and not address the issue any further.

How We Can Help

Maybe it’s just me, and my own poor communication skills – but I see this everywhere. We all have moments where we are scared to say the wrong thing, or do the wrong thing, and hurt someone we care about. So often, we say or do nothing.

It’s natural, and understandable. But I feel this approach is very broken.

When you care about someone, you will hurt them sometimes. You will piss them off sometimes.

And that should be alright.  That’s part of what a relationship is about.

When you genuinely care about someone, you care when you see them hurting. And you want to support them and help them however you can. Thing is, you can’t actually “do” anything. With the people we love, we can be there to listen and support them. And we can try to make suggestions and advise them. But that’s about it.

Incidentally, this is one area that guys seem to get themselves in trouble. Guys are “fixers”. We have a hard time listening without thinking solution. Not sure why, but it seems to be something that’s hardwired into us. And from what I read/hear/see, women don’t actually like that. Sometimes they want to talk and have us guys just listen and not say anything. Ladies, I have to tell you – sometimes it’s really freaking hard to do that.

In any case, everyone has their own battles to face, and only they can face them. So even when someone you care about is hurting, or you think they are making poor decisions, or you think you can help them – you can’t actually do anything more than listen, support and advise.

It’s the advising part that gets us in trouble though.

 

Dealing with Advice

When offering advice, how you do it is very important. It always has to be done in a way that is about the issue or behavior at hand, and not the person. No matter how careful you are though, you still have no control over how the other person will interpret what you say.

And sometimes the recipient will not to be receptive to what you have to say.

People don’t like being criticized, told they are wrong, or feel they are being told what to do.  And advice can often feel like all of those things.

It’s important to remember advice is often an attempt at constructive criticism, and not the same as being critical of the other person. It’s only when it is poorly presented or when we are oversensitive that they things can appear the same.

If you are someone who can’t take criticism (constructive or not), consider this. People often provide advice for two different reasons:

  • they feel they know everything, and they are more than happy to share their opinions (solicited or not). Often trying to force their ideas on someone else
  • they feel they may have experiences/knowledge that gives them insight into what someone is going through, and they want to share that to try and help the other person

These are two very different approaches. And when in doubt, it’s probably a good idea to assume that someone is giving advice because they do actually care, and want the best for you.

Learning to accept criticism is very important.

Everyone’s experiences are different, and no two situations are exactly the same. Even if they were, we are all different so what works for one person won’t necessarily work for another. But we can still try to learn from each other. Learning is all about doing things, seeing flaws in our approaches and learning from them.

We can’t learn unless we accept the flaws and limitations in how we do things. And sometimes we are blind to those flaws, and need some guidance from the people who care about us.

criticismImprovement

If someone can’t take criticism, often this is more an issue with them and their own insecurities.  But it means they often remain stuck, and unable to improve on where they are.

 

Afraid to Offend

When people care about each other, they shouldn’t be worried about hurting each other. They should be careful about what they say and not hurt the other person intentionally, but hurting each other is part of caring about the other person. They tend to go together.

It’s only when you do care about someone that they have the capability to hurt you.

I think good communication is about being able to say what you feel is right without fear of how the other person will interpret it. And also being able to accept that your thoughts may or may not be accepted the way you want, and that’s alright.

A big issue with communication is that people worry too much, and end up scared to say the important things because they feel the other person will not see it as information/advice, and will instead take it as an attack.
So instead they say nothing.

When it comes to the people we love and the people we care about, I think one of the most important things we can do is learn to say “no”, or to say “I disagree”. If I’m being selfish, a jerk, or an idiot – I WANT the people I care about to call me out, to tell me that how I am acting or what I am doing is not acceptable.

It may hurt, and it may piss me off. But that’s alright.

To my sis, I know she cares. We won’t always see eye to eye, and that’s alright. If there’s something she wants to say, I don’t want her to ever be scared to say it. If I think she’s out of line I will tell her. But I’ll also listen, and consider what she has said.

And to me, that’s a big part of what relationships are about.

avoidingCriticism

The Best of Both Worlds

easybutton

One of my co-workers is a first time grandfather, and recently spoke on how much he’s been enjoying the experience. In his words:

Being a grandfather is great, I get to have all of the fun but I have none of the responsibility.

It was said in humor, but there’s a lot of truth to this.

A grandparent is able to have a small window into the life of their grandchildren. They only see them occasionally, so it’s easier to make those limited moments special. It’s much easier to put in the energy to keep things special when the grandkids are only there for an afternoon, or maybe overnight and then they are back to their parents. And in those limited moments the grandkids are more likely to be on their best behavior.

Parents still have fun moments, but they also have to worry about all the little things. Food, care, homework, discipline, etc. And they need to do this on a consistent basis. Parents have all the little tasks that can be exhausting and thankless. As my co-worker said, grandparents get the fun parts and have the knowledge that they can return the grandkids when things get hard.

Think about that for a moment.

All of the fun with none of the responsibility.

In some ways, isn’t that the holy grail in life? At some level, aren’t we are all looking for the big “Easy” button?

Look around today, and you see all sorts of advertising that preys on this. Everywhere you turn you can find testimonials like:

  • my friend earned (insert some crazy amount of money) last week while working from home
  • This diet pill will let you lose weight fast (likely while still eating whatever you want)
  • Build muscle fast with this product
  • Make someone fall in love with you with these quick easy steps

Even politicians sometimes provide some variation on this, with platforms like “I’m going to decrease taxes, while increasing social services.” Which sounds great, until you take into account the fact that social services cost money, and if you decrease taxes you have less money to pay for things.

All of the fun with none of the responsibility.

We would all love to have a job where you can come and go as you want, have no responsibilities, and get great pay and benefits. We would all love to eat whatever we want without putting on weight. We would all love to look like models or athletes without having to exercise.

But that’s not how things work.

Usually higher pay is reserved for jobs that have higher responsibilities and educational requirements. Cheeseburgers and Doritos are delicious, but if you eat too many of them you WILL gain weight. And looking athletic and fit requires a combination of diet and hours of dedication to exercise.

Sure, there are some cases where people are just lucky. They are in the right place at the right time, or are they hit the genetic jackpot. It does happen sometimes.

Hell, the whole lottery industry is built on the idea that if you make the cost of entry small enough, a LOT of people will take a chance in the hopes of winning the big prize.

But the odds are astronomically stacked against you. In the real world there are no short cuts, no easy buttons and no magic wands.

When something seems too good to be true, it probably is.

Responsibility in Relationships

If you take the premise of “All of the fun with none of the responsibility” and apply it to the world of relationship, you know what you get?

Dating.

Isn’t that really what dating is? It’s the early stages, where everything is new and exciting. You get to go out and just “have fun” – which can mean anything from a walk through the park to dinner and movie to casual sex. There are hopes and expectations on the part of both people, but there is no pressure on anyone to meet them. If you don’t feel like going out you don’t have to. And if things aren’t going well you can just walk away. No commitment, and no responsibility.

When things start to get more serious, two individuals start to become an “us”. Suddenly it’s not just about you any more. Responsibility starts to come in. The needs and wants of your partner have to matter as much as your own. Plus you are usually building towards something, which involves having to make some sacrifices in the short term for long term game.

Now when conflict occurs you can’t just walk away. Commitment forces you to work on issues – hopefully addressing them and sometimes acknowledging them as simply differences between people that you need to accept.

Add managing a household, a budget, maybe a couple of kids; and suddenly, it’s not all about “fun”, and doing what makes you happy.

And this is where the challenge comes in.

Stuck in a Rut

People often talk about wishing that things were “like they used to be”. They want to recapture those feelings of the early days of a relationship.

In long term relationships it’s easy to get so caught up in day to day life that we take each other for granted and lose track of what brought us together in the first place – things like fun, attraction and excitement. In fact, this is probably one of the biggest issues with long term relationships. So I understand wanting to recapture the early days, and think it’s understandable and even admirable.

It’s a positive thing when you realize you are in a rut where you have lost sight of each other as a couple, and you want to work to rebuild that connection and spark. This is a time when some couples start carving out more time for each other, maybe plan some date nights, try to have fun together again and reintroduce an element of romance that has been lost.

Unfortunately, some people take different approaches.

Instead of working to improve the relationship, some people look for easy ways to find that excitement again, so they look for it outside the relationship.  Some have affairs, others propose things like “open relationships” (which to me is simply an affair where you have asked permission first).

These are simply escapes. Ways of trying to escape from the pressures of life into an imaginary world where they can have all the fun without any of the responsibility.

Best of Both Worlds

I don’t think people who have had affairs are necessarily bad people. But they are people who have made bad choices.

Selfish choices.

In my last post, I listed 3 keys for a successful relationship. Love each other, don’t be selfish, and communicate.

I think affairs (or pushing for open relationships) pretty much lead the pack in selfish behaviors.  Often the people who do these things DO actually love their partner/spouse. It’s the selfish part they struggle with (and probably the communication).

So they try to have “the best of both worlds”. The comfort and stability of home and family, while also having the freedom to do what they want.

Instead of putting the effort into improving their relationship they take the easy route and look for the fun and excitement on their own terms. They want the relationship, but they also want to be able to act like they are single.

relationshipandsingle

When you take the easy way out, you are escaping into an imaginary world, and one that is not built to last.

Most affair relationships last less than two years. When they fall apart it’s usually because the imaginary bubble has been burst. They realize that the new person also has flaws. They were exciting and new, but now they are known.

Their escape may have started as all fun, but it started to have responsibility, problems and expectation as well.

Some people are serial adulterers, because they are always searching for the easy way out. The quick fix, the easy thrill.

But eventually most people realize there are no magic wands. There are no easy buttons.

Putting in Effort

Success in life isn’t an accident. It takes planning, and dedication.

People seem to understand that to get a good job they (usually) need to put in time to get schooling or learn a trade. They understand that if you want to excel at a sport or a musical instrument, you need to put in time to learn. And the more time you put in, the better you get. Olympic athletes don’t achieve that level by chance. Sure, they may have good genetics but it still requires dedication and sacrifice.

It’s a pretty simple formula – what you get out of something is dependent on what you put into it. You may not be able to guarantee your level of success, but you CAN guarantee that additional effort improves your chances of success.

Yet many people seem to believe that a successful relationship should “just happen”. That you shouldn’t have to work at it. That if you simply love one another, everything should be rainbows and butterflies.

I think that’s insanity.

A relationship is no different than anything else – shortcuts don’t work.

So if your relationship is in a rut or in a bad spot, it’s up to you to decide how you want to proceed. You can wait, and hope it magically gets better. You can check out on the relationship and start living largely independent lives (pretty much assuring things never get better). You can tell yourself that “this is just what happens in long term relationships”, and accept it as normal. You can escape the relationship issues by having an affair. You can even end the relationship, and tell yourself that things will be better in the future if you just find the “right person”.

There are all sorts of paths you can take.

And one of those paths is to work on things. To focus on the three keys – love each other (even when it seems hard), don’t be selfish, and communicate.

There are no easy buttons.

You only get out what you put in. If you work at your relationship, it can improve. So instead of trying to have the best of both worlds, work to make the world you do have the best it can be.

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