I don’t know what to make of this – It’s like my clients are talking amongst themselves.
Is there a memo going around that I never got my hands on?
Or worse yet, did someone have a hidden camera installed in my office that I am not aware of?
How is this happening?
It was one those weeks just a few weeks back. I don’t have to wreck my brain to remember that it was at least three different couples who walked in with THE exact same issue that week.
What was it, you ask?
Yep, that’s right – Transporting themselves (and/or other family members) from location A to location B. And how that caused problems.
For some of them it’s been happening for decades. For some, the annoyance was brand new.
And I am not talking about the ‘My wife drives me nuts’ kind of driving.
Just to be clear.
Nope – two wheels in the front, two wheels in the back (let’s not get too technical about it).
See for yourselves.
“He drives too fast, I am not comfortable with it. And it’s because we leave late everywhere go. Heaven forbid we would ONCE make it on time. And not have to go 20 miles over the speed limit. It’s out KIDS in the back seat, for crying out loud! Don’t you get that? And don’t even get me started on all the speeding tickets you got just in the last couple of years. It’s like the older you get, the more risky and stupid you behave.”
“Going from one common location to another, I told her when we would get there. She was on board with it. All is well. We had plenty of time. I know how to get there. And yet, the whole way down, she keeps pointing this way and that, telling me what to do: move into this lane. We’ll get there faster if you take this exit. At this time of day, lane X is unpredictable – we should have avoided this whole road to begin with. You never drive this during traffic, how would you know?”
“This is sort of an emergency, you would agree, right? We are driving the mother-in-law to the ER, she is not feeling well, she can barely breathe – Mind you, we don’t know what’s wrong. She is sitting in the back seat, literally semi-unconscious. And she (read wife) insists on driving. I am telling her, she is in the right frame of mind to drive. It’s like driving herSELF to the ER. But she doesn’t listen. Then, we take a red turn where there is a NO TURN ON RED sign. I ignore it. I know she is stressed out. I don’t say anything as she is speeding off at 75 mph on a 55 road. But then, what broke the camel’s back – She takes a left turn on a red light through two lanes of traffic. And I lose it. I offered to drive. I offered to call an ambulance. I even said we could just get a cab – but then we don’t have a way to drive back home. And then, instead of being supportive, calm and collected, I am freaking out and yelling at my wife until she drives herself and her mom to the ER, and I drive the car into the parking garage.”
With the last occurrence, before they are even done telling me what happened, I literally laugh out loud. (And of course, I let them finish.)
And, so as not to make things awkward, I tell them why.
They laugh with me.
There must have been something in the water.
What are the chances? Right???
So, we talked through it.
We looked at what was driving them 🙂 into this. And, we did a feedback wheel, like I always do in a situation like this, remembering to focus in on two things:
They did well.
There is always a solution.
You just have to be open to it and listen. And start the process by speaking up.
So for the record: NO, there is no hidden camera in my office.
It’s just life’s way of being funny sometimes.
I don’t know why, but this has been coming up over and over again lately.
To a point where I almost finish the sentence FOR them.
Seriously – have you ever had that happen?
Like, in the summer, when kids start whining, and you hear that dreaded noise that starts with “MOOOOM…”
And you know exactly what’s coming.
Kind of like that.
Only the phrase has to do with relationships – obviously.
And the phrase is the following:
But I am not doing anything wrong!
They come in all sorts of colors and flavors.
I never said I was going to be that way.
I have always been a person who exercises a lot, you knew that right when we met – it was on my profile. It’s important to me.
I need to see my friends every so often.
But going to the cabin every weekend with my friends is who I am.
You can’t ask me to do that – I don’t know how to be affectionate. That’s not who I am.
Only when I hear it, it sounds more like this:
Going to the cabin every weekend with my friends is who I am. I am not doing anything wrong.
I don’t know how to be affectionate. That’s not who I am. I am not doing anything wrong.
I have always been a person who exercises a lot. You knew that right when we met – it was in my profile. I am not doing anything wrong.
Do you see the trend?
And most often, it’s followed by: Why are you mad at me?
I have always done this, or that, or the other thing. Nobody has ever asked me to do anything else. It’s not wrong that I always want to drive. Or cook my own food (different than what everyone else is eating). I am not doing anything wrong by making this decision for myself. It’s my decision after all.
Well, guess what?
It’s not about being wrong. It has absolutely NOTHING to do with being wrong.
You may be totally right – you are not doing anything wrong by doing your exercise routine every day.
There is nothing inherently wrong with you wanting to spend time with your friends at the cabin every weekend.
There is nothing inherently wrong with you spending an hour on the phone with your mom when you get home from work.
BUT – your relationship – and everything in it – is NOT inherently about right or wrong.
It doesn’t really matter whether it’s right or wrong in your eyes.
What matters is that your spouse is asking something of you and you are ignoring that.
When they say – I would like to have dinner with you and the family – they are not saying you can’t talk to your mom.
All they are saying is: I would like to have dinner with you and for you to be present with me, instead of on the other line with your mom while we eat. I’d really like to hear about your day. I have so many things to share about mine…
When they say – I would like to have breakfast with you on Saturday – they are not saying I don’t want you to go for your bike ride that day.
All they are saying is: I would like to have one morning per week where we sleep in, be lazy, have coffee and eggs for breakfast and talk about our hopes and dreams. So maybe you can go biking earlier or later to accommodate that ask.
When they say – I’d really like to spend some time with you this weekend – maybe you and I can go somewhere we’ve never been? — They are not saying, I think you going to the cabin with your friends every weekend is wrong.
All they are saying is: I really miss you. I would love to spend some more time together not just during the week. There is this place I’d love to take you. Or for you to take me. Or maybe we can go to the cabin together but allow for some of the time to be spent just you and me?
None of this is wrong for you to do – or want to do. But if your spouse is making themselves miserable thinking, this person that I thought really cares about me seemingly doesn’t care at all – That’s something you should want to pay attention to.
Because you have a choice.
You keep doing what you have always done.
Because that’s the pattern.
That’s the rule.
You are accustomed to it and it’s easy.
And you ignore and hurt your partner in the process.
OR — you take it to heart.
You forget about what the pattern has been for you all your life.
You set aside what the easiest thing for you is.
Not because it’s really wrong.
But because you care that your spouse is upset by the situation and there is something that you can do to change that.
You don’t have to be doing anything “wrong” for you and your spouse to be pulling away from each other as a result.
Here is our challenge.
Next time you and I start thinking to ourselves, but I am really not doing anything wrong…
Forget the whole idea of what’s right and what’s wrong.
Toss it aside.
Face your spouse.
And whatever you say, start it by saying:
I don’t want to miss the mark again and continue to frustrate you. What is it that I am missing and what can I do to help you feel better right now?
Do you think you do??
Let me ask you this first:
Who says you want too much from it?
Who is it that’s asking?
Because it’s essentially irrelevant.
Wait – Did I just say it’s irrelevant?
I absolutely did.
It’s really nobody else’s business but yours.
And I am known to say quite the opposite to my couples about just about everything else.
Once you know what you want from your relationship , who is to say that you are asking too much?
Actually, never mind me asking.
It doesn’t really matter who the person is.
It could be the neighbor across the street, your best friend or family member – none of it really matters one bit.
Because of the bottom line.
Wait, what’s the bottom line?
The way I look at it, the only way that you would think you want too much from your relationship is that either
A. You are told you want too much from your relationship (from someone who isn’t willing to give more)
B. You see other relationships that just wouldn’t meet your criteria because of their lack of something or another
Am I right?
Here is why the bottom line matters.
Because the bottom line is this:
If this other person wants less out of their relationship, that’s on them.
If they are satisfied and can be happy with less, that’s just fine.
But just because that’s the case for them doesn’t mean it has to be the case for you.
And just because they are happy with less doesn’t mean you can’t expect or desire more for your own relationship.
And, like I said before, you are the only judge of that.
You are the one walking in your shoes.
You get to do this on your own.
Or with your spouse, likely.
BUT – You get to make this decision for yourself.
And then you sit with it OR you act on it.
This is real.
Real life sort of real.
That’s why we are talking about it.
So, here goes:
–Just because your sister or brother doesn’t care about their significant other’s education doesn’t mean that you can’t be looking for someone with a PhD.
–Just because your best friend is fine with her husband being out of town hunting every weekend doesn’t mean that you have to be.
–Just because your buddy at work doesn’t need occasional PDA from his wife doesn’t mean that you should lower the bar for yourself.
–Just because your parents were used to not talking for weeks after a big fight doesn’t mean that’s something you have to get accustomed to.
Do any of these resonate?
The only two people that matter in this equation is you and your spouse.
And really, when you and your spouse are not in agreement about some of these things, you are the one and the only person who has to figure that out for yourself.
Ain’t nobody coming and doin’ it.
Here’s the good news.
Once you have it figured out, then you know exactly what you are looking for.
And what you are not.
You’ve got to pay attention to this one.
Maybe you should write it down.
There is no. one. right. answer.
That also means – there is no wrong answer.
What you want and what your best friend wants may not align.
And that is just fine.
‘Cause you are not the same people.
And you are bound to want different things.
What you wanted in your relationship a decade ago – or whenever it was that you two first met – may or may NOT be what you are looking for in your relationship now.
That’s not to say that some of it can’t be the same.
Another part of it may need to shift.
Because we change, our relationships change.
And so do our expectations and desires.
What may have worked for you even a year, month or a week ago – might not work today. And if it’s not working anymore, you had better raise your hand and address it.
The better you are able to communicate that to your spouse, the more likely you are to get what you want.
The more of what you both are able to get from each other, the more real and meaningful your relationship will end up being.
So stop looking around.
Stop obsessing and overanalyzing and triple-checking.
Treat the rest of the world is as if it were non-existent.
It’s just you and your spouse.
How good can you make it?!?
(And yes, that is a Dare.)
Let me be clear about two things from the start:
Disclaimer No. 1:
I did not watch the debate when it ran live. For better or worse, I had decided against it. Having seen the ripple effects everywhere around me in the days that followed, I decided otherwise and took some time last night to watch it afterall.
So, if it seems like I am late in arriving to the party, that is why.
Disclaimer No. 2:
I am not interested in making any sort of political statements. This is also not to be seen as endorsement of either candidate. I have no desire to point fingers. I am not looking to start a discussion for or against any party.
I am just a couples therapist who couldn’t help herself but take what was delivered to her on a silver platter and make some use of it for my life and yours.
For your marriage or relationship and for mine.
No matter what side of the spectrum you are on, this applies to us all.
Here’s me to hoping that we can learn something from this.
That’s it. End of story.
So – Here we go.
These are in no particular order. [Don’t miss the BONUS item at the end – It’s my personal favorite.]
Really. Just stop doing it.
It never served anyone. Believe me.
Figure out whether it’s your time to speak or your time to listen and stick to that. When you interrupt your spouse (or anyone, for that matter), it shows disrespect.
It’s as simple as that.
Unlike the presidential campaign, your ultimate goal (and yes, I am somewhat making an assumption here) is to get along with the person you are talking to. Your spouse, your partner, your fiancé.
Am I right?
It’s to communicate with your spouse in a way that makes things better for your marriage.
So, really. Just quit it.
There is no way around it.
There is no secret message hidden in those three simple words.
Answer. The. Question.
When you are asked a question, don’t answer by saying what you think the other person thinks or believes about this or that matter.
When your spouse asks a question of you, they don’t need (or want) you to state (or start guessing) what their response would have been.
You don’t need to learn how to master the art of reading somebody else’s mind.
(Trust me, many have gone before you. Without success.)
There is no need to read between the lines.
Oh, and this. Always a good rule of thumb: If you don’t understand the question, ask the other person to clarify.
So, when someone asks you a question, answer it.
And answer it for YOURSELF.
Give your statement. Share your opinion or plan. State your reasoning.
Do it to the best of your ability.
That’s it. It’s that simple.
Because – guess what? – that is what the other person is asking for.
Whatever you do, stay away from starting your reply with “I know what you think about this…I know what you believe about that… and it’s [insert the S word]”
Even our 7-year old knows ‘stupid’ is a bad word.
Which – surprise, surprise – brings me to the next item on the list.
This seems like a no-brainer.
Or it should, anyway.
We teach our children this from the time they learn their first word until they leave the house.
And even years past that sometimes.
Yet, once we hit adulthood, somehow the rules have been altered and this became ok to do.
Using derogatory terms to address your spouse.
Utilizing vulgar language in their presence.
Using accusatory language.
It never serves anyone. Not if you want to get ahead, that is.
People have a tendency to stop listening. Sometimes they completely disengage.
And sometimes, they end up completely dismissing what you have to say when the language you use is dishonoring of who they are.
And you are the only one to blame.
If you are ever questioning something your spouse did, ask them about it.
When they answer, take their word for it. Believe what they say because of the person you know they are.
Don’t accuse them of lying just because.
Don’t accuse them of lying because you are insecure.
Don’t accuse them of lying because that’s your mode of operation.
Whatever happened to ‘innocent until proven guilty”???
When did it fall on its head- when did we start saying “guilty until proven otherwise?”
Don’t make conclusions with nothing to back them up.
Your spouse deserves better than that.
This is no new thing.
You know what I am talking about – the rolling of the eyes, the heavy breathing, the smiles when you aren’t really smiling. All of that and more.
Now, while during the presidential debate this may not be that clear-cut, in your intimate relationship this will most definitely come bite you in the behind.
Notice what you do.
Pay attention to what other people say to you in response.
And if that is not your goal or intention, notice what you do with your face.
Note how loud your voice is when you speak.
And please, if there are twelve people lined up telling you one and the same thing, start listening. They can’t all be so gravely mistaken.
Think about it.
It may be that it’s you who is driving the wrong way on the interstate. Not everybody else.
And remember, you don’t have to agree on everything. In fact, most couples don’t. But, they figure out how to agree to disagree on some things.
And there is nothing wrong with that.
Same thing goes for talking over them while they are still sharing with you.
Not only do you come off as impatient.
And disrespectful. (I know, this again. It seems to come up a lot.)
Not only is it indicative that you have stopped listening to what the other person is saying.
Because, you know, you can’t listen and formulate your response at the same time.
You can’t come up with your argument – or the answer to: how am I going to defend myself? – and pretend to be listening.
Again, many have tried. And failed miserably.
And, how on point is your argument going to be when the other person hasn’t even finished their point yet?
Here’s what the message is that you are getting across when you do that:
It’s saying I don’t really care what you have to say.
It’s saying I am honestly not even listening to you anymore.
It’s saying I can’t wait for you to finish because I have better, smarter, more important things to say.
What you have to say doesn’t really matter.
Now, you and I both know that is NOT what you want to communicate to the person you most care about in this world. So, watch out for this one.
When done right, it has long-term consequences. And the potential to change the way you think about every future conversation. For the better.
This is it. It’s these 5+1 simple communication skills.
Do you see yourself anywhere in this?
Guilty as charged?
Change starts with taking notice. And then, taking a stance.
Here’s to me hoping that we can learn something from this. Trusting that we can improve the space we share with the people closest to us.
The ones that matters the most.
Know someone who would get a kick out of this before the next debate?
I’d love it if you’d share.