Save yourself YEARS of headaches and dumb fights.
Yesterday was my anniversary. I’ve been married to my man for three years now. I don’t mean to brag (wait, yes I do!), but I think we’ve stuffed about four to five times that amount of learning into these last three years.
And maybe it’s good that I toot our horn publicly so that I can look back on this in decades to come and laugh, "What the was I thinking?!" because I will have learned so much more.
But what I plan and look to create is to start learning from joy and fun instead of hardship and struggle. I plan to sit back amazed and say, "Wow, look at all we’ve done and enjoyed," acknowledging the goodness that exists because we chose it and worked for it together.
Well, in order to have that as my reality, here are a few things that I can carry with me from my not-so-easy learning experiences of my marriage in the last three years (in no particular order):
1. Time out is the most effective tool ever.
Use it. Save yourself and tons of time. When things get heated and tense, before you say something you don’t mean, or if you just did, take a breath.
I used to believe in "don’t go to bed angry" and therefore, "be willing to stay up all night to hash shit out in order to get to a resolution." (Have you seen Trainwreck? It was a lot like that. A. LOT.)
What seems to happen, and I don’t think we are the exception here, you actually do start arguing about shit — stuff that didn’t have to do with the original argument or problem, things from the past, and sometimes even things you don’t even really care about. It becomes a shit storm.
Do you know how easy it is to see in a shit storm? I don’t know literally, but I’m guessing visibility is near zero. If you need to regain some focus, composure, and actually work things out, then take a minute. Actually, take ten.
But here is the caveat: You have to communicate that you are taking a few minutes to give some space and that you WILL RETURN and address the issue. DO NOT TURN YOUR BACK ON THE PERSON.
Turning your back or walking out on someone communicates disrespect and hostility. And don't drink alcohol or drugs during this break. You are going to clear your head and blow off steam, not cloud the issues.
The space you allow in these ten minutes will give you the space to get in touch with what it is that you need to feel resourced and able to handle what you are facing. You may find you just needed to take your shoes off your hot feel and now your head can cool.
You might find you need more space — so then, ask for 10 more minutes or an evening, and you’ll address your issue in the morning. This timeout is your time to get back to you because you are loving and caring individual. And if this fight is going to be the one that ends the relationship, it can still be done without hostility.
2. When he says something he doesn't mean, you don’t have to react. At all.
So, in the last three years, this has come up a time or two (muffled cough — you know what I mean).
In all honesty, it is generally my husband who says the mean thing he doesn’t mean. Not to say I never do it, but lucky for him, I’ve had lots of practice with my sister in which we finally decided it really does more harm than good and don’t use it that often.
But here is the something that I have learned: I usually know when my husband doesn’t mean what he says.
Now in the not-so-distant past, I used to get furious because I was aware that he was choosing meanness and because I’d rather feel anger than the hurt I felt when he chose to say such horrible things. That was before I realized that what I was really reacting to was the lies — the lie that I was the mean thing he accused me of and/or the lie that he believed that I was what he accused me of.
And, if I already knew he didn’t mean it, then I didn’t have to do anything at all — because I was also aware that a lot of the anger that I was experiencing was actually my awareness of the anger he had for himself for making the choice to say mean and cruel things that hurt both of us.
(This level of awareness is not something that many people really talks about or acknowledge. I’ve been fortunate enough to work with Access Consciousness and have the tools and ability to acknowledge that the intensity/anger/hurt that I’m feeling is not all mine.)
So, instead of doing my best to let him know he fucked up and make him feel bad about choosing to show meanness, disrespect, and hostility toward me, I can actually keep quiet because there is no need to add insult to injury and I know that I will not die or be diminished (especially if I don’t buy the lie).
Now, having said that, that does not excuse the choice. I still don’t like it when he chooses this and it still hurts when he does. However, if I really desire to change this issue and pattern between us, I can do so by not engaging with him on this level, defending against insults that I know are not true.
I can also "be the change" by communicating with him in a totally different way (Conscious Communication — I’ll talk about that another time), even when we are very hurt and angry.
3. Give him MORE space than you’re comfortable with.
This is a challenge for me. I’m used to my twin sister, who can almost read my mind and accurately finish my sentences. We are word nerds and love to use words to talk about words and use those more accurate words to talk about feelings. The problem is: I’m not married to her, and my husband is not like her in that way.
There have been times when he and I have butted heads just because he was stressed, drowning in the sea of narrative that I was dishing out. He wasn’t dazzled by the precision of language in my analysis of my feelings. He was trying like hell to get out alive and still preserve my feelings, or at least not piss me off while fighting for his "life."
In reality, most of the problem came from his poor attempt to ask for the space that he needed. When stressed to such an extent — either because my communication was intense or just too frequent — his ability to ask for space in a respectful way diminished. And then we’d fight.
I used to take it personally and worry that we were never going to connect on my level and be able to freely talk about feelings. And then again, thanks to the pragmatism of Gary Douglas (the founder of Access Consciousness), I realized that we weren’t, and it really wasn’t that big of a deal; our relationship wasn’t in peril.
And better still, there was room for our relationship to flourish and for us to connect even more deeply than we ever had before without frequent dialogue about feelings…I just had to back off and give him space. Again, this did challenge my ability to shut up and to be alone, but I’m happy to report that I can learn! And it works!
When I give my man space, he comes back to me, happy to reconnect to himself and his other loves and with gratitude for me for generously contributing to his happiness in this way. When he comes back he is able to be more present with me, which was actually what I was desiring but mistakenly equating with talking about feelings.
Giving him more space has really allowed us to be closer.
4. Win-Win is possible.
I think one of the biggest lies that is sticking people (any people that have differing points of view) is the idea of compromise, an idea that has at its heart lies the belief that win-win is not a real possibility.
Compromise works on the premise that both sides will be equally unhappy with the the outcome and what they had to forego in order to reach an agreement. Well, I think that is an approach steeped in mediocrity, and we can aim higher.
Win-win is possible. However, the key to reaching this sweet spot is letting go of a lot of defense. Yes, for reasons even God could not explain, we often defend a position that we don’t even want or hold just to oppose the person with whom we are at odds.
This defense gets in the way of getting in touch with our true desires. But if we can get in touch with what it is we would really like to be and have, then we can ask for it. And when it comes to a relationship like marriage, it turns out that my partner would actually love to contribute to my happiness and vice versa.
When we are willing to risk the discomfort of pulling our heads out of our asses and lowering our barriers to what is — both within and to ourselves and to others — magic, possibilities, and ease become available options to choose.
And magic, possibilities, and ease are pretty sweet middle ground to meet and develop creative solutions to problems.
Let me give you an example: Early on in our marriage, my husband went out with his friend and got stupid drunk. I don’t enjoy him when he gets to that point. Nonetheless, into the bedroom he stumbled, waking me up, slurring his nonsense and reeking of booze. Not sexy.
I really wanted to kick him out of bed, literally and figuratively, but his drunk friend took the couch. Well, not much surprise that we fought about this the next day. It took some time, but what we came to was this: I did not enjoy his drunkenness. It was a trigger for me to have a drunk man telling me he loved me and crowding my space.
I felt very unsafe, and I really need to feel safe. He wanted to come home to me and know that he would be loved, even if he chose something that I didn’t like. So the arrangement that we came to was that he had the allowance and freedom to get drunk with his friends when he felt that would contribute to him.
All he had to do was let me know that he was choosing this because his choice meant that he agreed to sleep at his friend’s place and come home the next day. This way, I would not be woken up by a drunk asshole, afraid and threatened for my safety. He could be confident that he would be received home the next day with love.
So, once we got past having to have everything the way we’d like it (for me, that he’d never choose this, and for him that I’d never get upset if he came home drunk) and really got honest with ourselves about what it was we really needed (for me, safety; for him, no judgment and unconditional love), we could find away around the issue and offer each other exactly what we needed.
It doesn’t always look like win-win from the outside. But when you get to the heart of the matter, the win is available for everybody involved.
5. When it comes to marriage and money, you have to do what works for you (individually and as a couple).
Everyone has strong opinions about how you should handle money. But let’s face it, you will fight about money. You just will. You were raised by people who had opinions about money—how to spend it, make it, how much is enough, too much, not enough, etc.— that are different from the points of view than what your partner grew up with.
So at some point, there will be discrepancy… maybe even arguments, if you fall anywhere in the bell curve. But you can take it down a degree, maybe even prevent some arguments altogether, by doing things your way, that work for each of you.
For instance, my husband and I have never had a joint checking account. Somehow we magically landed on the same page without discussion, and it just didn’t really make sense to either one of us to do it. I trust him very much in this area; I think he has a good head on his shoulders, and he has the same opinion of me.
However, we just never saw a benefit of tangling ourselves up with a joint account. However, my mother cannot understand this at all. She and my dad have always had a joint account. It’s even been implied from others that not having a joint account was a sign of lack of trust and instability in our relationship.
The bottom line: it doesn’t really matter. We are doing what makes sense for us, benefits us the most at tax time, and eases family dynamics. We occasionally disagree about how money should be handled. When that happens, listen for ideas and possibilities, but the choice is between you and your partner.
Money is a very sensitive issue, so you have to know what works for you personally, and then work together to create what will work for you as a couple. (And remember that win-win is possible.)
The same goes for marriage. Destroy whatever models of marriage you have. Create your relationship on a daily basis using the characters present (you and lovely other), not what you think you as a couple should look like or do together.
Our relationship turned around and has become so much easier once we decided to ditch the labels "husband" and "wife." There was something sticky there that we couldn’t really ever pinpoint. It seemed to us so obligatory and not fun whereas when we were dating, it was easy to love and be loved and enjoy each other.
So, even though I took his last name and the U.S. government says that we are legally husband and wife, we refer to each other and our relationship status as "friends with benefits." We joke about what is included in our "benefits package." This works for us, and we have had an easier time getting along, including each other in our lives without obligation, drudgery, or resistance.
Choose what works for you. It may be being a husband or a wife. It may be living in separate residences (I had a roommate that had this arrangement with his wife). It doesn’t matter what it looks like to others, as long as you are both enjoying being together.
This article was originally published at http://www.venusinmotion.us/single-post/2016/09/22/5-Things-Ive-Learned-In-My-Short-Marriage-To-Improve-Any-Relationship. Reprinted with permission from the author.