Direct from my desk – week 26

Resiliency is often known as the ability to recover from a tragedy.  I’m afraid that we aren’t making a lot of resilient people any longer.  It used to be that failure was part of our DNA, we just hadn’t figured out how to succeed yet.  Increasingly though, then people fall down, they break because they haven’t been taught how to rebound.

You really don’t want to be involved with someone who can’t bounce back.  If a setback of any sort is going to destroy them or send them into a deep funk for weeks, months, or years – this isn’t going to be a satisfying life for you.  You’re going to expend all of your energy attempting to prop them up.  This is going to get tiresome after a time and you’ll grow to resent their inability to be “stretchy”.  If you find that someone isn’t resilient, don’t pick them to be your partner.

You, on the other hand, need to be resilient as well.  When you take a beating (figuratively, not literally), you need to be able to spring back into shape.  Your parents did you no favors if they shielded you from failure.  If you didn’t learn resilience as a child, here’s how to develop it:

  1. Realize that this set-back, no matter how painful, is not the end of the world.
  2. Figure out what went wrong, including what was and wasn’t within your ability to control.
  3. Make a plan to improve what was within your control and then execute it.
  4. Try again.

Believe it or not, it really is just that simple.  Some times ya just gotta bounce.

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Just breathe

It’s not unheard of to reach an impasse in a relationship.  You’re not moving forward or backward, or you’re simply unable to see eye-to-eye on a major issue – it make be time for some breathing space.  A break, however small, requires rules:

  1. Make sure everyone is clear on the rules!  Stay calm – this is a negotiation.
  2. Determine if this is a break or a break-up.  Don’t soft-pedal or sugar-coat the situation.  Give your partner respect and be honest, he can handle it.
  3. Decide official status.  You don’t want to tell people it’s complicated when he’s telling everyone he’s single.
  4. Make a decision on dating/sex and where the boundaries are (this is both between you two and between each of you and another person).
  5. If your situation is more complex (you’re living together or have joint finances) write out the rules regarding division of labor, money, socializing.

It’s perfectly okay to “date” your partner while you’re trying to work through your problems.  However, if your partner is booty-calling you – this is a bad sign.  If the break is merely an excuse for either of you to try out other sexual partners, you may consider redefining your relationship (if this is acceptable) or leaving it (if this isn’t acceptable).

If the relationship is committed, married, or with children, you may try finding that talking things through with a counselor or clergy to be helpful.

Time after time

Most women have had a tempestuous relationship.  The kind where you break up and get back together so much that your friends look at their watches and roll their eyes.  The kind where he keeps making the mistake (like finding himself naked with another woman).  The kind where he’s giving you just enough attention to keep you coming back but refuses to have an actual relationship.  Your heart is being held together with band-aids and yet you keep letting him back in.

How many times do you need to be hurt before you break the cycle?  Breaking the cycle can happen in one of two ways:

  1. You sit down with him and talk through your problems, come to a resolution, and both parties continue in a healthy fashion. (this is the exception)
  2. You have a huge fight, break up, and never speak to one another again.  (this is the rule)

I’m not a fan of breaking up during a fight (more on that in a coming blog) but sometimes a relationship is so unhealthy that you simply need to be away from it.  So ask yourself – what are you getting out of this relationship that prevents you from moving on?  It has to be something or you wouldn’t stick around.  No one is that much of an emotional masochist (and even then, an emotional masochist is getting some needs met).  Ask yourself:

  • What is the relationship dynamic?
  • What need it being met?
  • Does that need belong in a healthy relationship?
  • Can that need be met in another way?
  • How can I give myself peace and move on?

Familiarity breeds contempt

When we get into a new relationship, we tend to go a bit overboard trying to convince the other person that we’re “the one” for them.  In doing so, we tend to give up too much of ourselves to make them comfortable.  We do too much for them.  We “understand” too much.  We create a false impression of ourselves and we allow them to take us for granted.

Of course none of us are able to sustain a false impression and soon, their laissez-faire approach to the relationship will start to grate on our nerves.  We want to say something but at that point we’ve allowed them to believe that we’re someone that we’re not, holding values that we do not hold.  The more they treat us like a doormat, the more passive-aggressive we get.  At some point we’re just standing there wide-eyed trying to see how much longer it’s going to go on.

In our attempts to make the relationship easier for them, we’re slowly “understanding” the relationship to death.  So ladies, be straight-forward from the beginning.  Tell them what you need in a relationship and where the boundaries are.  You needn’t be mean about it, just honest and forthright.  If you’re already in the relationship, stop being so accommodating.  Nicely assert yourself and let him know what is and isn’t acceptable.  If he doesn’t take heed, then you have a discussion (and decision) on your hands.

On the road again

A road trip is a great way to determine long-term compatibility.  The unrelenting close proximity highlights issues in a way few other experiences can.  It also helps a couple sharpen their negotiation skills as everything from music to destination will be up for discussion.

However, if you can’t physically go somewhere, you might try this exercise to help determine compatibility.  Imagine you’re going on a road trip with your partner and ask yourself these questions:

  1. Where are you going?  Is that your choice, his choice or a mutually agreed upon choice?
  2. Whose car are you taking?  Or are you renting a car?  Is the driving shared?
  3. Do you drive straight-thru or do you stop along the way?  What’s your maximum number of hours in a car for one day?
  4. Who is controlling the map or global positioning system?  What happens if you get lost?
  5. What do you pack?  What does he pack?  Will it all fit in the car comfortably?  Who is packing the car?
  6. Are you bringing food?  Did you buy it or make it?  Who made it?  Is it healthy food or junk food?
  7. For beverages are you bringing refillable containers or are you buying disposable ones on the way?
  8. How far in advance do you need to ask for a potty stop?  Do you need to ask more than once?
  9. Who is controlling the music and air conditioning?
  10. Are you splitting the gasoline tab?  Is it 50/50 on each tank or you get this one, I’ll get the next?
  11. How are the accommodations?  Are you in the lap of luxury or are you afraid to put your bare foot on the floor?  What was the deciding factor in where you stay?
  12. Who is paying for what?  Do you feel that it’s a fair and equitable distribution of costs?
  13. How do you negotiate arguments on the road?

If you have successfully gotten to your destination with a minimal amount of discomfort, congratulations.  If not, what issues did the exercise highlight in terms of needing work?

Faultlines and earthquakes

There isn’t a perfect person on the planet.  Relationships are (partly) about being able to live with someone’s faults because they can split a relationship wide open.  Most people have a list of deal breakers which tend to come up pretty early in a relationship and those potential partners are generally discarded sooner rather than later.  More difficult to discern are the gray areas – issues that you don’t have a strong opinion on and that you’ll need to balance out against the whole of the person.

  1. Know what your true deal-breakers are.  Don’t even attempt to negotiate them – simply shake hands and walk away.
  2. Make a list of your own faults.  It may be a catalyst to work on them.  If nothing else it will remind you that you’re not perfect either.
  3. Make a list of his faults, include everything that bothers you.
  4. Is there anything on the list that is unreasonable?
  5. Prioritize the list from most troublesome to least troublesome.
  6. Apply the 80/20 rule to divide the list.  Check for accuracy.
  7. Slowly handle the top 20%, bringing it up at a quiet moment using non-blaming language and attempt to negotiate a solution you can live with.  Do not hit him with the entire list in a short space of time or he’ll feel as though he’s under attack.
  8. Look at the remaining 80% to determine if you can live with them without needing to negotiate them.  Happily, once you’ve decided that you can live with a fault, it tends to recede into the background becoming less and less important.
  9. If you feel that you need to negotiate too many things, he may not be the right person for you and you may need to walk away from the relationship to allow him to find someone who loves all of him.

Pareto principle for relationships

The Pareto Principle states (concisely) that 80% of your results will come from 20% of your efforts.  Knowing this can benefit your relationships in two ways:

  1. 80% of your relationship success will come from 20% of the work you put into it.  This means that the small things really do count.  If you concentrate on what is important to your partner, your relationship will improve and run more smoothly (btw, this also works for bosses).
  2. 80% of the arguments in the relationship will come from 20% of the actions.  If you find out what upsets your partner and work to fix those issues, you can spend less time fighting and more time enjoying each others company.

Neither of these examples should be taken to mean that you should lose yourself in making your partner happy.  However, analyzing what makes your partner and your relationship tick will help you determine if this relationship is viable in the long run.

Direct from my desk – week 25

Much of what we discussed this week was on the theme of time.  One mistake I see women make is to wait too long to either figure out if they want to commit to someone or for that person to commit to them.  Commitment doesn’t necessarily mean marriage in this day and age however it should be entered into with forethought and sincerity.

My rule of thumb is one year.  Within a year you’ll have seen someone through an illness and a (albeit small) financial crisis.  You’ll have had sufficient time to assess their personality and their character (which are two very different things).  You’ll have had at least one fight but hopefully not too many which will tell you how they experience and exemplify anger.  You’ll be able to judge their resilience and should have a pretty good idea if they’re a good match.

Keep in mind that a good match is entirely different from a great love story.  A great love story is just that – a story, edited by history and largely unchanging.  You’ll be living a relationship which occurs in real time and is dynamic, requiring a certain degree of flexibility.

If, at the end of one year, you do not know if you want to commit to someone – you don’t.  If they don’t know if they want to commit to you – they don’t.  I’m not saying that the commitment has to occur at the end of the year but the knowledge should certainly be there.

Going to the chapel

When a relationship is fresh and new, it’s tempting to muse about the future – wedding, kids, growing old together.  The problem with this is that you really don’t know the person that well.  Sure there are exceptions to every rule but it’s not wise to think that you’re the exception.

So before your imagination jumps too far ahead, consider what you do and don’t know about the person.  Also consider that people can be very good at keeping up a front but that eventually it’s going to slip and you’ll see the real person.  I don’t advise planning a future with someone until you’ve seen the whole, real person.

How can you be sure if you’ve seen the real deal?  You’ll need to see a person at their worst – through an illness AND a financial crisis.  The illness will show you how that person handles discomfort and the financial crisis will show you how they handle stress.  Once you know those two things you’re in a better position to judge if you want to spend the rest of your life with someone.

How long should this take?  Approximately one year.  It sounds like a long time but it really isn’t in the grand scheme of things.

Three date rule

The Three Date Rule is probably one of the most ridiculous ever invented.  Succinctly, it states that the third date is generally the one where sex is expected.  Some men say that if they’re not getting sex by the third date then they’re moving on (yes, please do so).

So let me break this down for you.  If each date is 4 hours and sex is expected after 3 dates then that’s a grand total of knowing someone face-to-face for 12 hours.  That’s like getting on a plane in Los Angeles, striking up a conversation with the person next to you, and then getting a hotel room with them when you reach London.  I’m not saying not to do this, it may be a great laugh (he might also be a serial killer, you just never know) but it’s not the best foundation for a relationship.

Don’t rely on an arbitrary rule to determine when you’re going to sleep with someone, do it when you feel the timing is right and you’re not being pushed (however subtly) into it.  Sleeping with a guy too early won’t help you keep him and if he can’t respect your mind and your decisions, you probably shouldn’t be sleeping with him at all.