There’s no escaping the sometimes hard to deal with arguments, tension, and turmoil that can go on in a relationship. I received an email on this topic, and in this article, I cover everything from personal boundaries to irrational people.
“Nothing is perfect. Life is messy. Relationships are complex. Outcomes are uncertain. People are irrational”
Besides this quote being extremely pessimistic, what I really enjoy about it is that it lowers expectations and allows you to move forward in life knowing there are going to be challenges. This means that when your friends, family, and other loved ones do or say things that tick you off, it’s all part of the grand scheme of things.
It took the universe billions of years to come to some sort of semblance and organization as it expanded, and apparently continues to expand even today. Yet, even when we look into the night sky at the stars, there’s still chaos. Just because we can’t see the chaos like asteroids colliding into each other or the surface of planets that have hellacious windstorms and impossible to endure temperatures, doesn’t mean they don’t exist.
This is how it is for relationships too. You can look at the most perfect, happiest couple around, and as you drill down, you find little things that they might consider chaotic in their relationship, but the rest of us think is a walk in the park.
However, when you’re in the chaos, it’s very real. But, there’s a difference between accepting the chaos as a part of life and not accepting it and staying miserable.
That doesn’t mean you have to stay in a miserable situation, but some people choose to absolutely refuse to accept their loved one’s behavior, yet still be with them in some way. They refuse to accept that the person they are with won’t change and still want to stick around wallowing in their own misery.
When I was married, there were things I wouldn’t accept about my wife’s behavior, yet I stuck around. Why do we do these things to ourselves?
The solution to misery, especially in relationships, is to accept the chaos and stick around, or not accept it and leave. I suppose you could even accept the chaos and leave as well. But many people will choose to not accept the chaos, and stick around anyway.
That is self-sabotage and self-inflicted suffering, as far as I’m concerned. Sure, there are times when you have to stick around because of obligations or lack of resources, but there’s a point where you ask yourself: Is this how it’s going to be for the rest of my life?
You can’t always leave your situation, but you can simply accept the way things are so that no matter what you do, it’s a little easier to deal with.
Believe me, I’m all for leaving when you can’t stand being with someone. That is after you’ve done everything you can to try to fix the situation. But there is a point where things can’t be fixed and it’s time to go.
If it’s unfixable, and you can go, find a way. If it’s unfixable and you can’t go, then find a way to accept the situation as never changing. It’s not permanent, you’re just accepting what you cannot change. That way you’ll have a clearer head.
That’s the best way to think: Unclouded by resentment and anger. Once you accept someone fully, you can make more rational decisions. Sometimes acceptance changes the other person too, you’d be surprised.
If you’ve been living with resistance to their behavior for a long time, and you suddenly accept and stop resisting, they may just change on their own because you are not their triggering them to behave the way they do.
Regardless if you accept or not, or stay or go, what’s most important is what is best for everyone involved.
If you’re miserable, do you think it’s best that the people you’re with be with a miserable person? If they’re miserable, the same question in reverse.
Relationships of all kind suffer a lot because one or more people simply don’t know when it’s time to go. Or, they haven’t learned to accept the other person’s behavior and stick around to remind them of that unacceptable behavior time and time again.
That’s not fun for anyone. In fact, it’s painful.
Let’s break down the quote so we can gain some positive thoughts from such a pessimistic perspective.
- Nothing is perfect.
In fact, imperfection is the only perfection. The perception of perfection is an illusion. Yes, we like to tell people they are ‘perfect as they are’. But what if someone told you, “No, you’re not perfect, and thank God you’re not otherwise you’d be impossible to live with.”
That gives it quite a different spin, doesn’t it? I’ve known “perfect” people, and some of them are the most challenging people to be around. “Perfect” is relative to the observer, so take that as you wish. But do I think it’s a good idea to seek perfection?
No way. Seek improvement so that perfection is always a vision, not a goal.
- Life is messy.
Life is complex and messes happen. When your kid or your partner drops spaghetti on the carpet, do you get angry or do you realize that “Hey, life is messy! This stuff happens! It’s no fun, but that’s life.”?
The spaghetti stain may be there for a long time, but the person who spilled it may not. So take advantage of the time you have with the people you love. A stain can be a reminder of the people you love, if you let it.
- Relationships are complex.
Does this even need to be mentioned? If it weren’t for this, I’d have very little to talk about. Relationships are complex because we rarely understand our own behavior let alone others. Then when think we’ve figured them out, and they do something so out of character you’ll be scratching your head wondering who that person is!
But knowing relationships are complex helps us ease back a little and let others be who they are. The more you allow someone to be who they want to be, the more loving and caring they’ll be towards you.
It doesn’t happen all the time. Sometimes people are just selfish and mean, and they’ll take and take some more. But most of the time, people just want to be free of judgment and free to be themselves.
Your relationships will improve if you let the people closest to you be who they are.
- Outcomes are uncertain.
If you knew everything that was going to happen to you, what would be the point in doing anything? I know, you want to know what’s going to happen if you date this person or take this job, but how will you learn?
It’s an easy way out saying, “If I don’t have the challenge, I won’t gain the lesson.” but I’m afraid to say, it’s absolutely true. Crap happens and you never know what the outcome will be. Yet, what’s your favorite outcome? What’s the best-case scenario?
My best-case scenario is that I lived to talk about it another day. It can be painful and awful to deal with, but I’m still here telling my story. What could be better than that?
We get caught up in the minutia of life because we have to deal with minutia, I understand that. But knowing the outcomes are uncertain kind of takes the pressure off. I mean, if you absolutely don’t know what’s going to happen, how could you ever be anxious?
I realize anxiety stems from fear of what will happen, but so does excitement. It can be exciting to not know what is going to happen. Imagine walking up on stage in front of a thousand people. If you’re not used to public speaking, you may be fearful…
But if you focus on what good could possibly happen from this, your fears will probably alleviate.
And as a quick tip on public speaking: If you have any fear at all and you need to do public speaking, just tell the audience, “I’m scared as hell to be standing in front of you right now.”
When you do that, you’ll release lots of resistance and fears. And you’ll actually feel a ton of support from the audience. Try it!
- People are irrational
People will do such odd behavior, you’ll wonder why they aren’t all locked up. Yet, so many people are out there attributing a different meaning to reality and making life up as they go along.
Wait, isn’t that all of us? We are all making it up as we go along. We run into new situations all the time, and we don’t have a coach next to us guiding us along every step of the way.
We are irrational people, it’s just that some people are more irrational than others. And those are the ones we need to use different communication skills with. Yes, I wrote the book, “How to Deal with Irrational People”, and yes it will help you, but even if you don’t get that book, just knowing that anyone can be irrational at any time, including yourself, should allow some leeway for those people during those times.
I’ve seen people become so irrational that they have both ear and eye blinders on, and cannot be stopped. Rage does this and so does absolute fear. When someone is irrational, they can take it to an extreme.
You can either use the techniques I teach or figure out new ones on your own. But remembering that anyone can have irrational behavior at any time helps you stay aware and alert to all possibilities.
You may not like their behavior, but giving them some freedom to be irrational sometimes can be quite therapeutic for them. If it happens more often than not, then perhaps more should be done, but overall remembering our own behavior and how sometimes we can look quite irrational to others is a great reminder that we’re not perfect.
That was my perspective on that quote. I like to reframe information and find a positive message from almost everything. It’s not necessarily positive thinking where I’m denying the truth of things, it’s just optimism.
And optimism is knowing the truth and choosing to learn and grow from that truth instead of having it bring you down.
And when you learn and grow, you contribute to your own level of fulfillment in life.
Today’s article is based on an email I got a couple of months back. Actually, it was a comment and question in this very blog.
I’ll read you the message I received, changing the names and circumstances of course so that you never know who asked, then we’ll talk about it.
Here it is:
“Hey Paul, I am having trouble with my wife and my life. After hearing a few of your episodes I realized that I don’t honor my own personal boundaries. I feel disrespected by many people and I don’t know what to do about it.
To compound my problems my wife is an irrational thinker with anxiety. I can’t have a discussion with her when I disagree with something she says, because it usually progresses into a fight.
To make matters more interesting, she wants to have another child. She doesn’t think there are problems in our relationship. She wants a kid and then told me that doesn’t want to force me into this decision. But the conversation ended with me reluctantly strong-armed into agreeing with her.
Sometimes she’s emotionally abusive towards me. We are in therapy, and I do acknowledge that she has improved, but that the process will be slow.
What I am not sure of is what I can do in the interim to keep my sanity.”
To make it easier, I’ll call this letter writer, Chris.
Well Chris, first of all, thank you for sharing this with me. I’m honored that you felt safe enough to write that and express what’s been happening to you.
And secondly, your very first sentence says it all: “I realized that I don’t honor my own personal boundaries.”
Personal boundaries are one of the most important aspects of having a fulfilling and satisfying life. They are so important in fact that I have two episodes on that very subject alone.
I find that most people that have stress and conflict in their life also have issues honoring their personal boundaries and that if they’d just honor them, they’d start getting what they want. Or, at least make it clear what they will and won’t stand for in the world.
That’s basically what a boundary is: The borders you set up between you and the world that define what you do and don’t want in your life.
The challenge that many people have is honoring their personal boundaries.
But why? Why can’t we just look at what we want and don’t want in our life, and just say “That’s how it is. I want this but don’t want, so there you go.”
There are many reasons for this, but one of the main reasons is that we fear what other people will say or do if we were to honor ourselves.
Now think about that for a minute. If you choose not to honor your own boundaries because you fear what someone might say or do, then in a way, you are honoring their boundaries over your own.
You are assuming they will say or do something, so you think about what they would want instead of doing or saying your own truth. Isn’t that self-defeating and unempowering?
This reminds me of passive-aggressive behavior. A lot of people will use passive-aggressiveness to covertly get a point across in an attempt to honor their boundaries without appearing to honor their boundaries.
A good example of this is when one person feels disrespected by another person’s actions, so they say something to that other person in an attempt to make them aware that their actions are unacceptable.
Of course, they don’t directly say that. They say something like, “Well, it wouldn’t stink so bad around here if the garbage was emptied more than once a week”, or “It’d be great if we could meet the deadline, but someone on the team isn’t doing his job!”
To honor your boundaries, you become more direct about what you feel and how someone affects you, and not focus so much on what someone did or didn’t do to you. In the scenario where the garbage wasn’t emptied, which comment do you think is a healthier way to communicate and would be more likely to generate a more productive conversation?
Is it: “Well, it wouldn’t stink so bad around here if the garbage was emptied more than once a week!” or “I feel disrespected when you don’t empty the garbage. It’s like you don’t care about me and won’t listen, and that hurts.”
The former is a passive-aggressive statement that you hope will get interpreted correctly. The main goals in using passive-aggressive comments like that is to avoid confrontation, put someone down a little, and get your needs met. It’s a passive way to be aggressive.
Many people use passive-aggressiveness to avoid standing up for themselves. They hope the other person will get the message even though it was somewhat cryptic. There was no direct command to take out the garbage, so the message was muddled.
Sure, it’s possible the recipient of the message got it loud and clear, but now you’ve just put them on the defensive, and they’re likely to be passive-aggressive back. If not now, later on, because they’ve learned that’s the way to communicate with you.
All it takes is one person to start communicating more directly so that the other one catches on. It doesn’t always work, but using those “I feel” statements shows that you are less accusatory and more open to communication.
“I feel disrespected when you do this” is so much more powerful than, “Well, if someone emptied the garbage every now and then, it wouldn’t smell like a cesspool in here!”
The passive-aggressive statement is the one that keeps the tension. It causes tension and keeps it prevalent in your relationship with the other person indefinitely. That’s because there’s no closure to the emotional energy that gets built up when being passive-aggressive.
That emotional energy is just unresolved anger, fear, or other emotions that haven’t been addressed yet. That’s really what’s happening when you make passive-aggressive statements anyway: You’re expressing unresolved negative emotions in a way that will never resolve them.
Passive-aggressive behavior is a way to keep those negative emotions indefinitely! That’s no fun! That’s like touching a hot stove and keeping your hand on the burner. You know it is damaging your hand, and you know it hurts, but instead of being true to yourself and removing it, you instead say, “You know if someone turned the stove off, I wouldn’t be burning my hand right now. I wonder who that could have been!”
Does burning yourself make any sense? When you are passive-aggressive, you are burning yourself. You are deciding not to express the pain or anger that’s going on inside of you and instead choosing to hold it in and just say an indirect, sometimes sarcastic comment about it.
But I realize what happens and why more people aren’t more direct: They fear the behavior of others if they are direct.
When you’re passive-aggressive, you are hurting yourself. But when you are active assertive (the opposite of passive-aggressive in my opinion), you are just speaking your truth. People may or may not be hurt, but at least it’s your truth.
But many people choose to hurt themselves by being passive-aggressive. The reason is that they don’t realize they are hurting themselves, and that’s why they keep doing it. And, they attribute their own hurt and anger to other people, which never makes them look inward at what they are truly doing to themselves.
When you honor your personal boundaries, you can’t be passive-aggressive. Actively asserting your needs and wants in a situation shows other people what you will and will not stand for. Those people may not like that you are honoring yourself, but that’s okay. Because what’s the alternative?
If you don’t honor yourself, who do you honor instead?
You honor what you think they want! If someone wants to sit around and never take out the garbage, but you see that as a sign of disrespect towards you, then by being passive-aggressive and saying something that doesn’t touch upon how it makes you feel, they will never understand how you feel.
And when they don’t understand the feelings you have going on inside of you, they might think you’re being critical or demanding or a jerk. They may think you’re always pushy and grumpy.
The reason for passive-aggressive behavior is that you don’t want to express how you feel about something, so you cover it up with indirect comments.
Those indirect comments can fly right over some people’s heads, especially if they are used to them. Even more so if they themselves are passive-aggressive too.
I gotta tell you, listening to two passive-aggressive people go back and forth is like an exercise in futility and hostility. There is so much tension, and very little communication. Just little jabs back and forth until they both walk away with more frustration, anger, and hurt.
All it takes is for one person to take a step back and say their truth but do so in a way that is almost only about themselves. Using “I feel this when you do that” is a good example. You are commenting on what they did, but not accusing them or telling them that it’s good or bad.
You are leaving out judgments about their behavior and just telling them the direct cause and effect of their behavior.
“When you did this, it caused me to feel this.“
That’s a lot different than, “If you really loved me, you wouldn’t do this to me!” Assuming they don’t love you is a judgment. You cannot truly know what in their mind, so you have to avoid accusing them of anything.
Even if you are right and they don’t love you, by accusing them, it puts them on the defensive. You always want to say it in a way that doesn’t accuse them and only lets them know how their actions, for whatever reason, are causing you to feel a certain way.
You could say, “When you do this, it feels like you don’t love me.”
Isn’t that a lot different than saying, “If you really loved me…”, which is an accusation, “you wouldn’t do this to me!”?
Both have similar meanings, but one is definitely more forgiving and more direct. It also keeps the door open for healthy communication instead of slamming into the other person’s face.
Sure, it may be what you want to do! And if burning bridges is your thing, then go for it. I have no problem when someone brings that kind of closure to a situation. But sometimes you want to continue to have a relationship with someone so you try not to burn the bridge, and you try to open the door to resolution if at all possible.
In regard to Chris’s letter, he says that when he chooses to honor his personal boundaries, it usually escalates into a fight. I’m willing to bet it’s because his wife is feeling accused.
That’s typically what we do when we feel like we have to defend ourselves. We feel like we have to point the finger to make sure they know what they’re doing wrong. It’s a redirect strategy and it’s a horrible way to talk to each other.
A redirect strategy is when one person says, “Why do you always leave water all over the counter?” and the person replies with, “Well, at least I don’t walk all over the house with my muddy shoes!”
Both appear angry with one another but are so far removed from actually sharing what’s going on inside of themselves, that they just continually bicker. Redirecting puts more blame or shame on another person so you can take the heat off yourself.
When it comes to something like this, I highly recommend dropping the redirect and complying, or at least listening. It changes the entire vibe of the conversation. You may not want to comply at all, but guess what happens when you do?
You improve your relationship. Period.
In the case of leaving water all over the counter, the accused could reply, “I didn’t realize that bothered you so much. I’ll do my best to wipe up the counter when I’m done.”
When that is said, one of two things will happen:
- You’ll hear, “Well you better! It’s always a mess when you’re done!”
- You’ll hear, “Thank you, that’s all I’m asking”
Actually, I’m sure there’s a 3 and 4 in there too, but regardless of the reply, by not redirecting or coming up with something else in a smart-alecky way, you are attempting to listen and understand the person you’re talking with.
You’ve heard that, right? People just want to be understood! Even people you’ve been bickering back and forth with for years. If one of you just takes a step back and chooses to really listen and understand the one you’re with, your life goes so much easier!
Think about it this way… if you stopped to help someone who appeared to be injured, and they said, “My leg, I can’t move my leg. It really hurts. Can you help me?”
Would you retort with, “Well I’m not the one who decided it would be a bright idea to ride your bike on the side of the road. Get your own damn help”?
Probably not. You’d probably offer to help in any way you can. But this is exactly what’s happening when someone is being passive-aggressive towards you – they are in some sort of pain.
But because they communicated that pain in a poor way, you took offense to it and perhaps shot back at them in an offensive way yourself. Now you’re both hurt and simply jabbing at each other until one of you gives in.
Passive-aggressive comments are a way to hide the pain or hurt that you really feel. And when someone is being passive-aggressive towards you, they fear what you will say or do, which is why they aren’t more direct.
By choosing to listen and be open to what they’re saying, no matter how hard it might be to hear, you’ll help relieve the pain. I know there could be years of pain underneath, but do you want to hang onto it, or do you want to release it and enjoy living again?
One person has to take the first step. With the letter writer, Chris, I ask that he choose to first seek to understand what his wife’s pain is, deep inside. What pain is she holding onto that would cause her to say the things she is saying?
When you can figure that out, you can start creating healthy changes in your relationship.
Chris, be willing to hear her out. When it feels like she’s attacking you, just listen to everything she has to say. And when she’s done, just thank her for communicating her thoughts, even if she was being passive-aggressive.
And then you can use “I feel” statements to share with her what you’re thinking and feeling. It may or may not be received, but don’t let that stop you from sharing. And if it escalates, take another step back and say, “I’m just expressing what it feels like to me. I just want to talk about it.”
And if still escalates, and it can for sure, all you can do is hear her out. I mean, if you really love her, then you want to meet her needs, right?
Hear her out and figure out what she really needs from you. Once she is able to share with you her deeper level fears and hurts, you’ll be able to communicate with her on an entirely different level.
The tricky part is getting out of your own head and not taking things so personally that you can’t communicate without fighting. It will take practice for sure, but knowing that passive-aggressive comments lead nowhere and only retain the pain, gives you a tool you can use to make things better between the two of you.
Now, we haven’t addressed the other concerns Chris made in his letter, so let’s talk about that next.
Chris also stated in his letter that his wife was irrational and that any disagreement with her leads to a fight. Chris… you need to get the ebook I wrote called How to Deal with Irrational People. It will help you response to irrational requests and behaviors.
Otherwise, when you know someone is going to behave a certain way because of something you do or say, you can’t repeat behavior that causes their behavior. Does that make sense?
You say you can’t have a discussion with her because when you disagree, it usually progresses into a fight. You’re probably fighting not because you disagree with her, but because you don’t not disagree with her.
I know, that sounds weird, but let me explain. In my book, one of the techniques I teach is to not disagree with the irrational person. That doesn’t mean you agree. What you’re trying to do is establish a level of connection and rapport with them so that they won’t get even more irrational. Or even better, they’ll get more reasonable and calm.
When you disagree with someone who is being irrational, since they are already in a survival-like state trying to fulfill a need, if you think they’re crazy, they will stay crazy because now they have to deal with you not being on their side.
You can’t fight irrational behavior with reason or logic, but you can do little things to make it easier to calm them down.
Someone who is irrational is doing and saying things that aren’t within reason, and if you disagree with them or try to give them your point of view, you’re going to meet major resistance. Not all the time, because if what you tell them is compelling enough, they may snap out of it. However, in Chris’s case, he already knows his wife’s behavior and where they end up if they disagree.
So why disagree? Why go there? I know you want to honor your personal boundaries and stand up for yourself but here’s the thing… When you know their reaction and what causes that reaction, then perhaps the best course of action is to change your own behavior.
And that means, if you normally honor yourself and defend yourself, then do something different next time. I mean, you can defend yourself if you want, but that’s only if you want the typical reaction you normally get.
But if you want a different reaction from someone, you have to change your behavior. You have to change the stimulus that causes them to respond in the way they do.
You’ve heard of stimulus-response, right? We are all stimulus-response beings. We all pull away from fire and we all have an adverse reaction to food poisoning. When a stimulus is applied, we respond.
The stimulus in Chris’s wife’s case is his behavior. So if Chris changes his behavior, he’ll very likely get a different response.
This is why I teach a lot of against-the-grain thinking because it changes what happens radically instead of gradually. My against-the-grain suggestion is to not disagree with the irrational person. You can pretend to agree and believe whatever they’re saying.
When you do this, you are entering their world. You are showing them that you understand them, and you get what they’re saying.
There’s no better feeling than to gain agreement when you are in the minority. It’s like in scary movies when one of the characters comes running in the house and tells her husband that she just saw a monster. The husband says, “Don’t be ridiculous, you probably saw a raccoon”.
She tries to convince him, but he’s not hearing a word of it and goes to bed. She then feels alone. She can’t even convince her own husband of what she saw because her husband thinks she’s being irrational.
Even if she didn’t actually see a monster, she obviously believed she saw one. And, isn’t that enough? Isn’t belief just as powerful as reality? In most cases, it is. Belief drives behavior.
I know we’re only talking about a movie, but if you’ve ever tried to convince someone of something and they don’t believe you, it’s frustrating and you definitely feel alone and misunderstood.
But if the husband in the movie said, “You did? Are you sure? Oh my god, I’m not sure what you saw, but I’m not taking any chances. Let me get my shotgun”, the wife would feel at least as if she had some support, and especially, she’d feel comfort knowing her husband was taking her seriously.
It’s possible the husband really didn’t believe her at all, but because he cared about his wife, he went along with it.
Imagine if people simply believed everything you said instead of you having to try to convince them? So I’m not sure what Chris’s wife tells him or what kind of irrational behavior she’s displaying, but I’m willing to bet that because he believes she’s being irrational, she probably feels alone and misunderstood.
If he told her, “You’re being irrational. You’re not thinking straight. Of course, it’s not true, you’re just being foolish”, then she will probably feel something none of us want to experience:
As soon as you invalidate someone, you make them feel alone and unloved. I’m sure there is some irrational behavior going on in his marriage, but remember if we really love the people in our life, we will want them to be happy.
So when we have an attitude of “How can I help this person become happier?” we approach confrontations differently. It doesn’t mean we just drop our own needs, but it does help us become a tad less judgmental and self-serving.
Of course, they may want things you don’t want. And that’s when the hard decisions have to be made. Chris feels coerced into making decisions he doesn’t want to make. And when he says he’s not honoring his personal boundaries, he is absolutely right. He is not honoring them otherwise he wouldn’t be coerced.
You can say “no” to something you don’t want in your life, but you will need to accept the consequences of your decision. The problem is typically that you don’t want to accept the consequences of your decision.
That’s where personal boundaries really break down – when you don’t want to accept the consequences for honoring what you really want in your life.
So instead of, for example, breaking up with your partner, you instead deal with their shortcomings and the things that piss you off. Then in return, you make their life miserable. After all, you’re miserable because you can’t accept them and their behavior for what they are.
In other words, you want them to change but when they don’t, you decide to stay with them and be miserable. I just don’t get that behavior. If they are doing something you don’t want in your life, by staying with them, you are purposefully going against your own boundaries.
Yes, you are creating your own misery. You can stay with someone and love and accept them for who and what they are, or you can leave them if you can’t accept their behavior in your life.
I learned this after my divorce. Why the hell did I stay in a relationship that I made miserable because I couldn’t accept her behavior?
If I accepted it, we would have been happy. But since I kept wanting her to change, she was getting more and more miserable being with someone who wanted her to be someone she wasn’t.
Why did I stay and make us both miserable? Because I was attached to the idea that our relationship would get better someday. But the problem with that thinking is that when it doesn’t get better after a few weeks or months, or every time something explodes it just feels worse and worse, it usually never gets better.
It never gets better because you are both triggered by each other’s behavior. And when every explosion or trigger happens, it just seems worse, not better. When it’s worse, you need to make a choice: Can I live with this behavior or not? Can I accept this behavior, or not?
If you can’t accept another person’s behavior, and you can’t change it, then you might have to be away from that person for a while. When you are both setting each other off, you need a break away from each other to understand yourself, and what you want for your life.
During this reflection time, you get to experience your own thoughts and feelings without any influence from other people in your life. This is a whole new way of thinking, so you might be surprised to find that your thoughts are not the same when you are with someone as opposed to when you are not.
The whole point behind this is that you either accept behavior you cannot change, or get away from behavior you know won’t change. But it’s sort of foolish stay in a situation where you can’t accept someone and the behavior they refuse to change because you’re setting yourself up for disappointment and pain.
You’ll argue a lot and likely get nowhere. When you accept another’s behavior, even if you don’t agree with it, you take away your resistance to it. It frees you from worrying about it. For example in a previous episode of my podcast, I talked about my friend who curses a lot. Well, I accepted that it is who he is. And now it doesn’t bother me as it did at one time. It’s just the way he is!
And though he’s courteous and polite in public, when he’s alone, he swears easily and effortlessly. But he’s still a good person and quite intelligent. But I noticed how resistant I was around him most of the time. I figured out that it was just me with some old programming that believed swearing was for people who weren’t that intelligent and had no other way to communicate.
Turns out I had a limited perspective. I still prefer not cursing, but it no longer bothers me because I’ve accepted it as a behavior of his.
With Chris, he can realize that his wife will be evoked and act irrationally. And because of that, he should not behave as he normally would to trigger her. Instead, he can just choose another behavior that won’t trigger her. If that means pretending to agree, then do it.
It’s not manipulative, it’s just a way to communicate. Then when she sees that he isn’t calling her crazy or irrational, she’ll probably let up a little bit and talk with him from a calmer place.
You’ve heard me talk about the “you’re probably right” technique, right? It’s when you really don’t agree with what someone is saying, but you say, “You’re probably right” anyway.
“You did that on purpose. How could you be so insensitive!”
“You’re probably right. I might be insensitive.”
“You are insensitive. How can you be such a jerk?”
“You’re probably right, I think I’ve been a jerk.”
The “you’re probably right” comment is designed to do two things:
- Decrease the emotional energy behind the irrational person’s behavior, therefore calming them down.
- Let them know that you understand them and that you validate their beliefs.
Decreasing their emotional energy is highly beneficial because it does calm them down. And validating someone is a huge step in healthy communication. Whether they are right or wrong about what they’re saying, just listening to them and believing that they believe what they’re saying will go a long way.
You may not agree with them on the inside, but at least you’ll be able to reason with them as they come to a more calm place. Validation is huge, and it’s one of the fastest ways to create a safe place for the other person to express themselves.
Chris, validate. Tell her, “You may be right. I might have things to look at in myself. Let’s talk about this some more.”
This opens the door for her to be vulnerable with you because you are not returning the attack. And what you want is calmer, more rational communication.
You mentioned she has anxiety. That’s a state of not feeling safe. Make her environment safe by allowing her to yell and scream and say whatever she wants. I know it doesn’t sound fair because you want equal treatment (and you deserve equal treatment), but someone has to take the first step.
Will that resolve everything? I don’t know. But if it doesn’t, then you make some tougher decisions on if you want to continue a relationship where you are feeling abused.
But, let’s finish with this last segment where we talk about one of the most powerful comments Chris made in his letter. Coming up next.
One of the things that really stood out in Chris’s letter to me was this comment: “To make matters more interesting, she wants to have another child. She doesn’t think there are problems in our relationship.”
This scares me a little. There is already disharmony in the relationship, and to introduce another child into that disharmony is not a healthy choice at all.
Disharmony among parents creates dysfunction in children. A child brought into a situation that is unresolved bears the brunt of that dysfunction because they don’t know how to handle it. A child wants nurturing and experiences. But when they have to face tension and dysfunction, they end up developing coping skills to deal with these unusual circumstances.
When I was growing up, I remember my stepfather yelling at the top of his lungs at my mom. I developed a lot of fear and dysfunction in my life because of my parent’s behavior. If they were somewhat healthy, I might not have gained the experience and wisdom I have today, but would I wish the same on anyone else just to build character?
Hell no. I’m going to be straightforward with you Chris: Know that if you bring a child into a dysfunctional situation, you create a dysfunctional child.
The question is, are you prepared to deal with the complexities that will happen because of this? Many of us were brought up with dysfunction, so you could almost say it’s the norm nowadays. But when you have a chance to plan ahead and bring a kid into the world, just remember the world you are bringing him or her into.
If you think the situation could get better with a child, it’s possible but unlikely. It’s like when you have major problems before marriage. Your problems don’t go away when you get married, they only get amplified.
It’s possible your problems could get amplified when you have kids. The situation needs to calm and tension needs to lower for a good, long time before bringing the child into it.
Now, if she’s already pregnant and now there’s no turning back, all is not lost! I don’t mean to be sounding like it’s the end of the world. But you will have a challenge that you will have to deal with. Sometimes there is a rational parent and an irrational parent. And hopefully, the child gains more from the rational parent than the other one.
But, regardless of who’s rational or not, the bottom line is that no matter how much tension there is between you and your wife, you both have to agree to be good role models in front of your kids. This is obvious of course, but it has to be said.
If you cannot behave rationally in front of your kids, that behavior gets passed on. If you don’t like your kid’s behavior later on in life, remember where it originated.
The bottom line is to be very conscientious about your decision to have a child. It’s no longer a single decision by you and how it will affect you, it now involves someone else that doesn’t even have a choice in the matter.
Think beyond yourself, and more about the child that is looking forward to a happy, healthy upbringing by two wonderful parents. You two may be perfectly fine with kids, or you may not. But don’t create more dysfunction in your family if you don’t have to.
If you can’t resolve your differences, then either accept that about each other or start thinking of the best way to resolve this for the sake of all involved.
Regardless of what outcome is to present itself to both of you, and if you read nothing else but this article, heed this one last piece of advice:
Exhaust every avenue to resolve your issues with your wife. When marriage works, it’s amazing and very satisfying. Knowing that you’ve sought every method to resolve things will make it a lot easier to make any of the harder decisions later.
If your marriage really is worth saving, then do everything you can to save it. Leave no stone unturned. If she wants you to seek transcendental meditation because she thinks it will help both of you, try it out. Do everything you can just to say you tried.
You may find something that works, and it will have been worth it. Or, you may find that no matter what, it wasn’t meant to be. Either way, you’ll know for sure. And you can make any decision you have to make with confidence, even if it’s the hardest choice you’ve ever had to face.
I wish you the best Chris. Good luck.
My final thoughts
This article was focused on one email, but it was really all about relationships in general. Since I’ve been dumped by some really kind and caring women over the years, I’ve come to learn a lot about what it takes to deteriorate a relationship.
Those who were once my best friends, lovers and one who was even my wife have come and gone. To think of the valuable partnerships that I let slip through my fingers because of my unwillingness to change my behavior, or at least get the help I needed, is kind of sad.
I’m very happy now in the relationship I’m in, but it is kind of sad to think about the good people who got the bad part of me.
Hopefully, I left that behind and am now the person I want and need to be to strengthen the bond and hold the loving connection I have now. It’s no fun investing a lot of your time, love, and energy into a relationship with someone only to have it end.
I don’t say that to discourage you in your relationships, I say that to encourage you to do whatever it takes to make it work. If you both really, truly love each other, then you will do whatever it takes to make it work.
And that doesn’t mean promising each other date night once a week (although that’s a great idea), it means figuring out what you do that your partner doesn’t like, and going inward to find out if that’s something you can, or even want to change about yourself.
It works both ways too. If you really love each other, you want each other to be happy. And you will do everything you can to make that happen. Wanting your partner and those you love to be happy means doing what you can to make that a reality.
Bickering and arguing or doing anything else that causes tension does not lead to happiness. It only leads to deterioration. But looking for ways to fulfill each other’s needs will truly be a gift that you bring into the relationship.
And the more you give, the stronger it gets.