Thursday, March 7, 2013

No More Excuses

I've argued the case against letting other people tell you what or how you're feeling, and I stand by those arguments. But today I'm going to present the flip side of that coin.

While I would never presume to tell you what you're feeling about a situation, I can observe your actions. If you say, "You don't understand the way I conduct relationships," you may indeed be right. But when what I observe is that you give no value to the opinions or feelings of your partners, you act to protect your own interests at the expense of others, you tell other people what they can and cannot do in the relationships with people other than yourself, or you hold your partners to a different standard from which you hold yourself, I'm going to think that you are behaving badly, not simply loving differently.

It's time to stop making excuses for this bad behavior. "He does the same thing to me." "You just don't understand us." "I've always done this, and it's always worked fine for me." "If you don't like it, leave." "She finds it cute when I get jealous."

It can be hard to sympathize with those whose feelings you are totally failing to consider. You think, "Well, I would be okay if someone did this to me," and that makes it okay in your eyes. But if it's clearly not okay with your partner, you're not seeing the situation properly.

Here's an example: let's say there is a couple, Jenna and Alice. Jenna grew up in an abusive home, and Alice knows this. Jenna has been conditioned to do whatever someone says anytime they raise their voice, because consequences for disobedience when she was a child were severe. Alice had no such upbringing, and frequently yells during arguments. She's never upset if Jenna yells back, and she feels that yelling "lets off steam" and helps resolve conflict, because the argument always dies down immediately after the shouting starts. Jenna, meanwhile, feels manipulated and controlled, because Alice constantly gets her way by yelling whenever the two of them disagree.

This may be an extreme example, but it gets to the heart of the matter: just because shouting doesn't bother Alice, that doesn't make it okay. Alice knows that Jenna is sensitive to shouting, yet she does it anyway because it gets her what she wants.

Loving behavior would look like this: when Alice and Jenna disagree, Alice takes extra care to maintain a quiet, calm discussion, even when things get emotional. When she feels herself becoming angry and fighting the urge to shout, she asks for a break from the conversation so she can regain her composure. During times when no conflict is occurring, Alice makes sure Jenna knows that she may sometimes have to put arguments on hold in order to keep things calm, and if this happens it's because she wants to be sure everyone's voice gets heard.

Which of these two situations sounds more like your current relationships? Do you and your partner(s) take extra care to consider each other's needs and feelings, or do you insist on having your way regardless of the consequences? During arguments, do you try to force your partner to see it your way, or do you try to work towards a solution that satisfies you both?

Think for a moment about how you conduct yourself in your relationships, and examine whether you are behaving in a way that shows love. How might you make more effort to ensure your partners' needs are met and their voices are heard?


  1. "When [Alice] feels herself becoming angry and fighting the urge to shout, she asks for a break from the conversation so she can regain her composure."

    Arguments are reasoned exchanges of views. Quarrels are emotional contests for supremacy. In relationships, most arguments become quarrels.

    The problem with Alice asking for a break is that she is emotional, is seeking supremacy vice solution, and is unlikely to ask for a break. Jenna may ask for a break.

    The way to key in breaks from quarrels is to practice the procedure beforehand. To practice, each partner in turn lays a hand on the other partner's forearm and says, "I can't deal with this right now. We can come back to this later, but right now I need a break." Both partners have to respect such a request. (This means DROP IT. You don't get to follow your partner around continuing to make comments. If you do, by such actions you say that winning the quarrel is more important to you than the relationship. In such case, the relationship is over.)

    This requires an investment of time in relationship maintenance and preparation that most people never make. Furthermore, it requires a commitment. You really, really have to respect the request to let it drop for now no matter how hot your blood is running.
    In my experience, the results are worth every second I put into it.

    Also in my experience, 4 times out of 5 when I asked my partner if she wanted to return to the issue the answer was, "No, it's not important." The 5th time we discussed the matter and came to a joint solution vice fighting for supremacy in the relationship.

    I learned this technique long ago (Eli, you were 5 years old at the time). I do not recall where I learned it, and Google does not return a link. I know the technique works. I also know that -- sadly -- one day winning the quarrel will be more important to one partner than solving the problem. That is the day the relationship ends.


  2. Every relationship finds its own way, and in many, it may work better for the person feeling attacked to ask for a break. However, recognizing ways you antagonize a heated situation and stepping back from them when you notice what you're doing is definitely a skill people can learn, with practice. As this post is about not excusing your own bad behavior, I put the onus on each of us to examine what we do that provokes, attacks, or otherwise harms our partners, and take steps to correct it.

    I also don't feel that a single mistake is enough to end a relationship. There may come a time when winning an argument is more important to one of my partners than is resolving the conflict. That one instance is unlikely to be such an insurmountable obstacle that I would end the relationship over it. A pattern of this behavior repeated, however, would indicate that the relationship has become unsustainable. If, after repeated attempts to communicate clearly and effectively through conflict, things haven't gotten better, I would then consider ending things.