Truly loving, nurturing and sustainable relationships are not happening for a great many of us. The reasons for this have to do with our ego getting in the way, with our unwillingness to be more thoughtful, tolerant and considerate, with our unwillingness to rise above the battlefield, to release our anger and resentments from the past, to effectively communicate, to negotiate differences and to establish, maintain and respect boundaries.
I say unwillingness because although it may be difficult to do these things, we choose not to. Loving, sustainable relationships are not the result of accidents or luck, they are the result of healthy choices.
It’s profound the degree to which most of us treat strangers, acquaintances, co-workers and friends much better than we treat our loved ones. With our loved ones, we forget about being compassionate, generous, selfless, considerate, empathetic and loving. We take them for granted. We ridicule them. We shame them. We ignore their needs and invalidate their feelings. And then we complain that we don't have the relationship that we want.
This isn’t tricky stuff. If we want to have a loving relationship, we need to be loving. If we want to be understood, we need to understand. If we want to be appreciated, we need to appreciate. If we want to be respected, we need to respect. If we want consideration, we need to be considerate. If we don’t want to be judged and shamed, we need to not judge and shame. If we want to be forgiven, we need to forgive.
We reap what we sow. It’s the Golden Rule and it works: When we treat others as we wish to be treated we tend to receive what we give. Our world gets better. Our relationships become more loving, more nurturing, more satisfying and more enduring. So that’s the ticket: We choose to be generous. We choose to be grateful. We choose to be gracious. We don’t assume the worst. We give our partner the benefit of the doubt.
When our partner says or does something that we feel is inconsiderate or unloving we don’t immediately assume they wanted to attack us and hurt us. We don’t immediately go into an aggressive attack mode. We remind ourselves that in the past we have said and done things that were thoughtless, inconsiderate and unloving, and at those times we wanted our partner to understand, to tolerate our mistakes, to not hold it against us and to forgive us.
And so this is what we choose to do with our partner. We accept, we tolerate, we overlook, we forgive. We don’t need to turn every thoughtless word or action from our partner into a battlefield. We can choose to not sweat the small stuff. We can choose to remind ourselves that they love us, they care about us, they’re not trying to hurt us. We can let it go. We don’t have to make a big stink about it.
This ties into the idea of “Would you rather be right or happy?” Oftentimes, when we feel wronged, we become insistent about confronting our partner, getting in their face, demanding that they feel guilty and shamed, demanding that they own their transgression, demanding an apology. And it’s oftentimes over minor stuff. And it’s oftentimes over stuff that could be open to interpretation. For example, when we’re feeling insecure we are more likely to perceive an innocuous comment from our partner as an attack. And this prompts us to go into our attack mode.
When we go into our attack mode and insist that we are right and they are wrong, we are loving and they are not, we are cool and they are cruel, and that they need to capitulate and apologize for their horrible acts, this oftentimes causes greater polarization in the relationship, greater antagonism and resentment. If we don’t get their capitulation, everyone is upset. If we do get their capitulation, oftentimes everyone is still upset because of all the fighting that preceded it.
Point being: If we insist on getting an acknowledgment that we are right, we usually end up not being happy. If we decide to stop needing to prove that we are right and instead choose our battles and choose to not make mountains out of molehills, we end up being happy. Isn’t that the whole point of having a relationship in the first place?