Yeah, well, when you are sitting at a table in your favorite coffee shop gazing into the eyes of the most beautiful human being you’ve ever met in your life, the last thing you are thinking about is a break up. Life is too full of sunshine and joy to ever imagine this could end. In fact, break ups happen to anyone and everyone else. A crushing end is the furthest thing from your mind. Besides, you’re too busy just being in the moment and loving every second.
Now, close your eyes. Breath deeply for a moment. Feel the pure joy. Feel the tangible happiness. Feels great! Right?
Likewise, imagine, you’re sitting in the office of a company that you desperately want to work for. You’ve just completed an interview that you are confident went really well. You admire the manager who has so eloquently conducted the interview and you are certain that together the two of you will do amazing things for the success of the company. You just know it.
Take a mental picture. You’re gonna need it.
Here’s the thing, a lot of my relationship lessons have been learned after-the-fact or at best mid-stream while trying to keep my head above the water so I didn’t completely drown.
Do you know how painful that is? How many painful hours I have spent in tears -wondering, “What went wrong?”
I sat chair side for some of the best dentists in the USA for almost 20 years and one message I heard repeatedly over those years was “preventive medicine is the best medicine” or “early detection increases the chances of a successful outcome.” What we don’t know can and does hurt us. Knowledge is power (just saying that makes me want to dust off my superhero cape, except I don’t have one. Can I borrow yours? Please?). But it’s true.
A cross-your-fingers-and-hope-for-the-best-outcome with a side of everything-will-work-out-fine because we are wonderful people approach isn’t working. It’s painful. And confusing.
After my marriage of 18 years ended, I was crushed. I had no self-esteem left. I had no working knowledge for how to go through a divorce (because I wasn’t ever going to be a divorcee) or deal with the court system. My philosophy was justice and truth will prevail (where is that cape?). I learned the hard way that there are loop holes in the system, not knowing what you are doing will kick you right in the seat of the pants and you can loose because the guy on the judge’s bench is just a guy trying to figure it all out. He doesn’t have knowledge about your life therefore, he has to hold the stories up against the law and the best story wins.
Believe me, it was another, “What went wrong?” kind of day. In the infamous words of Madia, “what had happen was” in my emotional state of mind, I handed the decision making power over my life to a guy who knew nothing about me or my values. Believe me, this knowledge is now knowledge with power behind it. I won’t do that again.
We need to know. We need the how to’s for life.
We all desire, hope for and even long for strong relationships that make our lives happier, brighter, more worthwhile. We are ecstatic when we find them. We don’t plan for the very relationships we longed for to become the bane of our existence. Yet, if we don’t learn and apply skills in a proactive way, we are putting our relationships at risk of failure.
And no one wants to fail.
Whether it’s a friendship, business, career, community or family relationship, we enter the relationship full of hope that we can succeed.
I learned the hard way. Please let me share some information about this painful pathway before you start taking the hike.
There are warning signs when a relationship begins to break down. No one goes to sleep one night and wakes up the next morning and announces, “I’m done. I’m not going to do this anymore. It’s been real. I’ve had a lot of fun but I’m just stopping now”. Long before you quit, you can see big flashing red signs that say, “This is not working for me!”
Communication breakdown is the most common reason given for failed relationships of all kinds. It’s like the doorway to the dark side. Once you walk through it, the temptation to give into other destructive behaviours seems like a vacuum tunnel that pulls you away from your core focus.
If you want to guarantee relationship failure all you have to do is allow communication to make a wrong turn and travel the pathway of criticism followed by contempt then defensiveness and finally stonewalling. This pathway is fatal. You can avoid even stepping one foot onto it.
Strong communication is a two-way street. The issue at hand is considered and all participants in the relationship contribute. Ideas are weighed and a decision is made. Gosh, that sounds so simple. Bam. Problem solved. Right?
Effective communication is like a dance. Moving together provides a beautiful flow. You might step on each other’s toes a few times but you correct the wrong move and continue dancing. The problem starts at the point where the ideas we offer are met with criticism. “That’s the dumbest idea I’ve ever heard!”, “Who thinks like that? Stupid idea”, “Look, my way of thinking is the only way to go and well, I can’t even imagine why you think like you do.” Critical reactions leave us fearful of opening up. We feel foolish, rejected and unheard. If this occurs often, we make the decision to shut down. “It’s not worth it. I’ll keep my thoughts to myself”.
This feels like a safe solution. Problem is the heart then takes a second step on the pathway. Criticism leads to contempt. Dear one, contempt starts quietly in the deepest, darkest part of your heart. Left unchecked it spreads like wild fire. Believe me. Contempt is the birthing place for disrespect. Here, we might begin to speak under our breath and say things like (I’ll be nice here although usually, we aren’t so kind) “Idiot”, “Jerk”. This stage is most common for women. Do you recognise these comments: “Fine”, “Nothing”, “Go ahead”, and “Whatever”? We joke about women giving these answers. But it’s really not funny. She is signalling to you (spouse, boss, friend) that you aren’t valuing her input and she resents it. Feelings of disgust and disdain begin to surface to the point that she is disregarding the person altogether.
Contempt shifts the focus from the issue to how we now feel about the person. Remember, you have heard me share the wisdom that as a man thinks in his heart so is he? Basically, that means what you entertain in your heart becomes behaviour. In the case of contempt this is where it starts getting ugly. The saying “beautiful inside and out” turns to “ugly to the bone”. Contempt is where this change begins.
We might think that we are hiding our true feelings even if we don’t say “it” to their face. But we’re not. Contempt shows. It begins to scream at the other person, “I can’t stand you!”
Still have that mental picture stored in your mind’s eye? This is not how you felt about this person when you first met, is it? The warm fuzzies are quickly dissipating.
Typically, when contempt is used the next step is defensiveness. One or both parties can experience this. Becoming defensive is a very normal response to being treated with contempt. Defensiveness is really a way of blaming the other person. In effect, we are saying the problem isn’t me, it’s you. The original problem isn’t resolved but the conflict has just escalated.
Once the conflict has escalated, one or both parties will tune the other person OUT! This is known as building up walls or stonewalling. This is more common in men. It’s what my husband calls “too hard”. I have learned in NZ that if someone here says, “Too hard” whether it’s work, marriage, or a friendly conversation, they are telling the world that they are done. They are not talking about it anymore. They are not responding. They are finished. Now, my husband and I have learned to stop for a while, go think about our approaches and come back to it later.
We have finally come up with a plan that refocuses us back to the issue so that we are working together again. However, if you don’t rethink the “how to” approach communication properly this is the stage that people quit. Marriages end. Teenagers just walk away. I have quit jobs. I have quit and sat in silence for far too many days on end with family members. I have walked away from friendships without giving the relationship a fair chance. I think we all have. This left me miserable and wounded deep with my heart. This is where we begin to misplace our ability to trust other people and close our hearts so tightly that no one can get in.
Closed down behind a stone wall is not what we bargained for. We want to be happy. We want to succeed. We want abundance.
We can turn this whole thing around or prevent even travelling down this pathway if we are willing to look honestly at the warning signs and change direction.
It can be as simple as applying the right skills. If the situation is advanced to a dangerous place, help might be necessary. However, preventive measures are more beneficial than attempting to repair or revive a failing relationship.
No matter where you are in your relationship journey, you can get off this destructive path.
Let me know what you think. Was this helpful? Do you know someone who might benefit from this information, please feel free to share it with them.
The sun is shining bright today, I think I’ll take my husband out for a walk.
Have a great day!