Monthly Archives: November 2016
How many times have you personally felt in your relationship that you were expected to be a mind reader? You were expected to just know what the other person was thinking or feeling, or know what you (according to the other person) have done wrong. It’s easy to start thinking that your partner is playing mind games and is just being vindictive. After all, they surely know that you can’t read their minds? Come on, they can’t read yours so how can you be expected to read theirs?
I challenge you, for the sake of your relationship to consider that this isn’t the case after all. Think about it for a second, when you know something is true, when something is very obvious to you, you assume that it is so for everyone else. This is why other people’s behaviour bothers you so much. We tend to think that everyone shares our beliefs, and has their moral compasses set the same way as ours, so when someone behaves in a way that you wouldn’t, you feel offended. Surely they know better? They don’t. If they did they wouldn’t behave that way, and who says what is better?
So now think about your partner in those moments when they get upset over something YOU did, and expect you to know what it is that you have done wrong. They are falling into the very same trap that you fall into on a regular basis, now you know that they probably aren’t playing mind games and really do believe that you know exactly what they are thinking. Let them off the hook.
How do you deal with this, though? Most people just attack the other person and it becomes one of many fights. You won’t like the answer, but it is the way forward. In that moment when you feel like attacking, take one for the team. Wait until cooler heads can prevail, and then when the moment has passed you can discuss it CALMLY and RATIONALLY. Don’t think you can deal with it in the heat of the moment, no one ever thinks straight in the middle of a furnace.
Back in the day, way, way, way back in the day. Joe, let’s call him Joe, or Susan (because it could have been a woman), was taking a power walk through the jungle when he (or she) heard rustling in the bushes. Now these being dangerous times (as they always are) he (or she) had a decision to make: run – because there is a tiger in the bushes; or, run – because there might be a tiger in the bushes. A mistake at this juncture could mean one less Joe or Susan on the planet. So, Joe (or Susan) decided that for the sake of all Joes (or Susans) on the planet that it would be far safer to make the mistake of thinking that there is a tiger in the bushes (when there possible isn’t) than making the mistake of thinking there isn’t a tiger in the bushes (when there actually is). In other words, Joe (or Susan) quite happily made the first mistake over and over and over to avoid making the second mistake (and thereby becoming lunch, after all, you are only lunch once). We have been following in Joe’s (or Susan’s) footsteps ever since. It is called the negativity bias.
Say I handed you a list call “5 Things about You”, and it read as follows:
- I like your generous nature
- I think you are very tolerant
- Your sense of humour needs some work
- You are an excellent cook
- You have great taste in clothes
What would you take away from that? If you are like most people you would be thinking, “So what is your problem with my sense of humour anyway?” If you thought you were pretty amazing after reading that, you can stop reading this now. See most people would gloss over the glowing compliments and focus on the one negative thing that was said about them. No, there is nothing fundamentally wrong with you if you do that so you can relax, remember the tiger in the bush? We are programmed to focus on the potential (if non-existent) threat. We are Teflon to the good things and Velcro to the bad.
Think about it, you are driving to work and for just about the entire trip everything goes a-ok, but then some #$@! cuts you off and for the rest of the day, you are thinking about how well the trip went, NOT! You are fuming and steaming about that idiot, what you should have said or done, and gosh darn it, your day is ruined! A bad event gets a lot more screen time in your mind than good events. Let me rephrase that, a helluva lot more. So basically, you go through your day glossing over the good things, obsessing over the bad, and anticipating the other shoe dropping. It’s not to say that you don’t enjoy the good times, but one bad event is equal in emotional power to about ten good events.
Ok so we have a predominantly negative focus, we tend to major on the minors, but surely this serves to keep us safe? Perhaps, but if you think of all the missed opportunities and shipwrecked relationships that we have left in our wake because we only think there is a tiger in the bushes it is in our best interests to face this bad habit head on. The truth is that there is very little in life that is really life threatening, and all the negative things that you tend to obsess over are really inconsequential. There is much in life that is not worthy of the f***ks you give them.
So how do we break this habit? Bad news folks, you don’t. It is a deeply ingrained evolutionary quirk (you can thank Joe for that). There is something you can do to shift the balance somewhat though. Firstly, you can let yourself off the hook for it, instead of thinking that you are just a pessimistic and hopeless case, realise that you just simply a regular Joe (or Susan). Secondly, when the good things come (and there are so many if you look) like the cup of coffee, the blue sky, the flowers, the birds, the smile of your child, the hug of your spouse etcetera, then allow yourself to wallow in the moment. Start training that brain to prefer the good things, to seek them out. Lastly, you can pursue inner peace like a cat chasing a laser pointer. If it doesn’t bring you peace (be it an experience, or if you can’t avoid the experience, then your thoughts about that experience) avoid it like the plague, and choose something that does bring you peace.
Choosing love over fear in this way can have untold positive effects on your life. Who knows what it will bring to you. If nothing else you will certainly feel a lot better about life, and when you feel better about life then you start making better choices.
Does your partner still get the best of you, or does he/she just get your frustrations and bad days, your fears and your temper? Are you giving your relationship your “supreme effort” or the dregs of what is left?
“Familiarity breeds contempt”, so the old saying goes. Perhaps we don’t grow to despise the person we are with, but over time we just take them for granted and stop making the effort. If that person isn’t going anywhere, then why should you work at it? “Life is full of stress and demands,” (we say to ourselves) “And I give my best to everyone else, when I get home I just want to dump my clothes on the floor, put on my slippers and stop caring!” You start to notice the effect of this thinking when you start snapping at each other for no real reason and when disagreements just turn into arguments that have no real point to them.
This is what happens, mediocrity in, mediocrity out. You are getting back what you are putting in. What you no longer feel you need to work for – you no longer work to keep! It isn’t like you woke up one morning and decided to stop working at it, it happened over time. Just like when you got that new car and you were pedantic about keeping it clean and safe, and then one day all that didn’t really matter that much anymore. It is human nature, but the fact is that if you want your relationship to continue being successful after 5 or 6 years, then you will need to work against that nature.
You have forgotten (as has your partner probably) how incredibly lucky you are to have found each other; you have stopped seeing the value of the other person (you once thought of them as a prize to be won); you have stopped being intentional about your relationship and you think it can survive on auto-pilot. So, if you are wondering why things are just not as good as they once were, ask yourself if your partner is still getting the best of you.