Love doesn’t make the world go round. Love is what makes the ride worthwhile.
A while ago I wrote about relationships. I said they are built on the foundation of accurate expectations and the knowledge that people are different. However, quality relationships are also characterized by a great deal of skill. We all want relationships where we feel extremely valued.
That’s what three businessmen were discussing one day. As they discussed their wonderful wives, the first husband said, “My wife tells me I’m so distinguished that I look like an ambassador.”
The second one said, “My wife tells me I’m the best-read man she has ever met.”
Then the third one added, “My wife really appreciates me. I remember one time when I had to stay home from the office. Every time a mailman or delivery man arrived at the door, she shouted, “My husband’s home! My husband’s home!”
Everyone in work and family relationships wants and needs to feel extremely valued. Not everyone does. It’s like the man who was asked, “Do you wake up grouchy?” He said, “Heck no. I let her sleep.”
One of the problems in relationships is selfishness. Way back in 1965, Les Biglin, the National Salesman of the Year, said, “People are primarily interested in themselves, not you!” In fact, he went on to say, “The other person is ten thousand times more interested in himself than he is in you.”
While that may be true, the natural inclination is to put yourself first, and that can be a major stumbling block in your relationships. Love requires that you put the other person first, or at least put that person on an equal footing with yourself.
It’s all too “natural” and “easy” to be selfish. Perhaps that was behind the comment overheard on a New York subway. The man said, “Be reasonable, Phyllis. I made this date with Rita months before we were married.”
Such foolishness. As author H. L. Mencken wrote, “A man may be a fool and not know it, but not if he is married.”
To get away from the selfishness, to enhance your special relationships, here are four things you can do.
1. Balance your togetherness and apartness.
Neither extreme is healthy. You’ve heard people say that “distance makes the heart grow fonder.” But it’s also true that “distance can make the heart grow fainter.” You’ve got to find the right balance for you and your partner. How much time away from one another feels right?
That means you’ve got to talk about it. Ask your partner what his/her ideal would be. He might like a day of quiet time at home, all by himself, every couple of months. She might like a weekend to visit her sister, all by herself, twice a year. Or maybe the two of you want separate retreats to work on your spiritual growth.
If this whole idea seems too scary, that you couldn’t possibly tolerate any apartness, you may need to work on your self-esteem. And you may need to remember that your occasional apartness allows you to bring something new and fresh back to the relationship. As Jane Rule says, “Cleaving is an activity which should be left to snails for cleaning ponds and aquariums.”
2. Break the routine.
Don’t allow your laziness or lack of creativity to hurt your relationship. Try some new things together. Or make one person responsible for thinking up a fun, creative thing the two of you can do this week, and then let the other person think up something for the following week.
You probably tried something like that when you were dating. All day long you’d be waiting to see your date. You’d be thinking, “Wow! We get to be together tonight.” And you’d be thinking of fun things you could do together.
Then you get married and something happens. You hear spirit-killing comments such as “Would you hurry up?” and “How many times do I have to tell you?”
I like the way the past president of the National Speakers Association put it. Michael McKinley says you could break the routine by bringing home a pizza, taking off your clothes, sitting in the living room, and chowing down the pizza. He guarantees there will be some leftovers.
3. Avoid mind games.
In other words, don’t ever expect your partner to read your mind. He/she is going to guess wrong most of the time. If you want your partner to know what’s on your mind or in your heart, you’ve got to tell him or her. It’s your responsibility to bring it out in the open.
Don’t ever assume that your partner’s ability to read or not read your mind says something about his/her love for you. That’s nonsense. It’s simply a fact that some people are more intuitive than others.
Avoid such games as “If he really loved me, he would know what I need.” And don’t ever presume “She should know how I feel.” No. No. No. It’s a lot more constructive to tell your partner what you need and feel.
And when you avoid the games and ask the questions, use empathy. As best you can, try to think like your partner is thinking. Try to see it from his point of view.
That doesn’t mean you have to agree with his point of view. But if you want real intimacy and teamwork, you’ve got to understand his point of view.
4. Use conscious acts of kindness.
There’s been a movement to encourage random acts of kindness. That’s great. It makes the world a better place.
But your relationships are built on conscious acts of kindness, not random ones you occasionally remember or do. Dr. Theodore Isaac Rubin, the former president of the American Institute of Psychoanalysis, said, “Kindness is more important than wisdom, and the recognition of this is the beginning of wisdom.”
Of course some people tell me they don’t know where to start. They don’t know which acts of kindness might be best.
Just treat your partner as you would a friend. You’d remember things that were important to your friend. You’d do things for your friend. And you’d never use sarcasm, utter put downs, or forget promises. You’d be kind.
Some time ago I came across a poem that said it quite well.
EACH LIFE AFFECTS ANOTHER
We may not always realize
That everything we do
Affects not only our lives
But touches others too.
For a little bit of thoughtfulness
That shows someone you care,
Creates a ray of sunshine
For both of you to share.
Every time you have a word
Of kindness and gentleness to give,
You help someone find beauty
In this precious life we live.
For happiness brings happiness,
And loving ways bring love,
And giving is the treasure
That contentment is made of.
Action: Rank order the four strategies given in today’s tip. Give number 1 to the strategy you think would be best for your relationship. Have your partner do the same thing.
Exchange lists. Your assignment is to do the number 1 item on your partner’s list for the next two weeks. Give it your best.
Then schedule a check-in meeting. Talk about how well you each did. Focus on what each of you did especially well. Stay away from criticism. And only make kind suggestions on how you could do better in the next two weeks.