I overheard this conversation the other day at a coffee shop:
-Tell me about us!
-Tell me as if I would be a person you have never met.
– Well, we were lovers at first, then got married, then had a child, then another.
– And then? Did we take care of each other?
– What do you mean? Yes, we did. I provided for this family.
– But then one day….
– Then one day what?
– Can you tell me what happened so I can understand?
– I don’t think I can. No, I don’t want to.
– Do you want me to tell it instead? Then I most certainly will.
The couple started to fight and left shortly after. I love to listen to people’s conversations. Occasionally at the playground, I hear stories about seemingly harmonious and conflict-free marriages and how everything is so “wonderful all the time”. Part of me cannot help it but be suspicious of such accounts, trying to figure out if they are curated or selective images. What I have seen so far and experienced with either marriages or relationships is that both are most certainly not always easy, harmonious and conflict-free. Just think about it: How can it ever be? Two completely separate people with different personalities, preferences, sometimes nationalities, family backgrounds are forming a life together where things need to be negotiated on a daily basis. This person next to me is supposed to be my partner in crime, my lover, my personal chef, my mentor, my best friend, best listener and vice versa. I think it is impossible for one person to fulfill all these tasks.
These days I believe that the happiest and strongest relationships are not those conflict-free-perfect-look-how-much-in-love-we-are-ones. I reckon those relationships are the ones where partners have the most struggles and drama and cannot work through an argument or conflict at all since it is just a show. What I learned is that good relationships or marriages are created and nurtured and not automatic. Good things take time, long good conversations and by giving it this important time, things will nourish. Like raising anything that is alive – form a child to a pet to a plant, we must tend to it constantly.
Whenever there is a conflict, it is the working and tending through it that trip most people up. Tending and conflict resolution? Tending and conflict resolution comes in the form of spending quality time together, being honest and empathetic, communication, playfulness, independent inner growth, philosophizing, support, self-awareness and this sweet extending forgiveness for little things that either of the partners does wrong. In any case, communication is key, silence is not. In addition to these somewhat basic relationship hacks of tending and conflict resolution, I have discovered some ways that turn out pretty helpful when I am at my limit.
We all know these moments when fair-arguing or reasoning is just not possible with the partner. I want to share what came in handy for me in those last couple of weeks of insanity, what I learned, what saved my day(s), what kept me sane and how I have been able to defuse my piercing anger and somehow infuse me with a sweet spirit of generosity in the midst of an emotional nuclear meltdown.
Making a Positive/Negative List. Making a list of all the moments in your relationship that confirmed for you that you wanted to be in all this and how much you loved the person for certain qualities. This list obviously can include a wide range of things such as first love letters, first dates, conversations that were special, movies watched together, food shared, restaurants, concerts, trips. Then write or think about what happened along the way that started to change things. Maybe your partner has entitlement issues that exude a delusional degree of self-confidence which can be alluring to you or others at least for a little while. Mark Manson said that “in some instances, the entitled person’s delusional level of confidence can become contagious and help the people around the entitled person feel more confident in themselves too. Any attempt to reason with them is seen as simply another ‘threat’ to their superiority by another person who ‘can’t handle’ how smart/talented/good-looking/successful they are'”. Mark Manson adds that “Entitlement is impervious. People who feel entitled view every occurrence in their life as either an affirmation of or a threat to, their own greatness. If something good happens to them, it’s because of some amazing feat they accomplished. They keep their mental façade standing at all costs, even if it sometimes requires being physically or emotionally abusive to those around them”. But guess what? Entitlement is a failed strategy. It is just another high but it is not happiness. Entitled people are incapable of improving their lives in any lasting or meaningful way because all they have to do is “chasing high after high and accumulating greater and greater levels of denial”.
What I learned is that entitled people hide from their problems by making up imagined successes for themselves at every turn. And because they cannot face their problems, no matter how good they feel about themselves, they are weak. A person who actually has a high self-worth is able to look at the negative parts of their life and admit, “Yes, I messed up here”, or “Yes, I cheated”, and “Yes, sometimes I exaggerate my own success and what I have achieved or what I can do”. Guess what? Eventually, reality hits.
Remember, these items on your lists can be as dumb or meaningful as you want them to be. These are the things you write; things that only matter to you. They are reminders of why you love or don’t love this person, or why you chose to leave him or her. Once the lists are written, they are great tools to question things or to be reminded how much you love your partner and appreciate all those times he/she can still give you butterflies when thinking of them.
One more relationship hack I would like to share is to let go of “your victim story”. We all have been through some rough times. We all have a story. But many times it is the same story that repeats itself. He is late again, she ignores me, he cheated again. Each time your partner does whatever it is that you are super sensitive to, your brain goes on auto-pilot and endorses that narrative you initially created about the person. To constantly tell an “entitled person” for example what they did wrong leads nowhere. Constantly telling your partner that they are this or that, they may even start acting in ways that confirm your ideas of them because of the things you are saying. Lastly, always telling your partner they did X, Y and Z wrong are usually self-created narratives that don’t usually have anything to do with your partner. It has to do with you and your own fears and insecurities that are magnified as you misinterpret your spouses’ behavior and actions. Isn’t it that oftentimes, you are the one who has issues and you subconsciously choose external evidence to prove what you are afraid of rather than looking inward and critically examining those fears and insecurities.
Always keep in mind that these strategies or tips don’t mean you won’t get hurt. For as long as you are together with someone, from time to time, they will disappoint, hurt and enrage you. It is important to feel those emotions, talk about it and accept the pain in the situation. Just drop the bullshit. Feel the feelings, drop the story and deal with the actual issue at hand rather than going down a rabbit hole of imaginative narratives and paranoia.