If your relationship is on life support, it’s time for serious remediation. You can’t just hide your relationship problems under the rug, because they will only fester and worsen over time.
For a relationship to work, you need to address your relationship problems — just as you would work on a problem at school or at work.
So if you’re ready to get down to work, here are two “must-do” assignments for you.
1. Stop the zero-sum game. Start a team effort.
A zero-sum game is one where there’s a winner and a loser. It’s a great model for competitive sports but a miserable model for personal relationships.
If you’ve been playing a zero-sum game — or a game of tug-of-war — with your spouse, quit. Right now. Quit. Simply drop the rope.
Yeah, right. Like it’s that easy. Almost as easy as quitting that cigarette habit you still have. Wait! Maybe you have quit that habit. At least you probably know somebody who has. So it’s possible. No, it’s not easy. But it becomes easier when you’re dying for a smoke (pun intended) but have something else to do to help you curb your urge.
When you’re absolutely certain that you have a monopoly on the truth and that your partner doesn’t know what he or she is talking about, here’s what you can do to avoid slipping into a zero-sum game: Believe that something, even if it’s a small thing, about what your partner believes is valid. The simple phrase “you’ve got a point” will help you accomplish this.
Saying “you’ve got a point” does not mean you’re caving in or giving up. It’s simply creating a climate for respectful communication, despite your differences. It will help you end the polarizing tug-of-war game. And it will help you start a team effort to deal with whatever issues you are facing.
2. Curb your impatience.
Remember when your kid’s antics used to seem cute but now they’re downright exasperating? Remember when your spouse’s innocence used to seem appealing but now it’s just annoying?When others rub you the wrong way, you may get impatient and want to scream,
- “Why can’t you program the DVR?”
- “Why can’t you cook a decent meal without messing something up?”
- “Why can’t you keep track of your things so you can find your stuff without a crisis?”
- ”Why can’t you figure out how to balance a checkbook? It’s not brain surgery.”
Yes, it’s easy to get impatient with others for their failures. But know that what seems easy to you is actually a practiced skill, a strength, maybe even a talent. If that weren’t true, you’d be more empathetic with your criticism, responding with something such as:
- “Yup, it’s so hard to keep up with the new technology.”
- “I’ve got my own kitchen disaster tales I can share with you.”
- “We’ve all got so much stuff; it’s tough to keep track of it all.”
- “Balancing a checkbook is easier online once you get the hang of it.”
Next time you find yourself losing your patience with your loved one, instead of laying on the criticism, compliment yourself on what you do well. And know that not everyone can do what you do or know what you know, even when it seems oh-so-simple.