Posted on December 17, 2013 by Renee Vaughn
In all relationships there comes a time when something has got to give or it’s over. Perhaps it’s a matter of intimacy – your spouse simply refuses to spend time with you doing the things you love most. Or, once again, the piles of dishes you’ve asked your teenager to wash are still sitting on the counter while they are off playing computer games. Maybe your parents have crushed your dreams one time too many and you’ve decided to cut them out of your life forever.
But… you can’t really get rid of your partner, child or parents as easily as you’d like. Or it could be the roommate who pays half the rent, or even a co-worker who tries your patience to the limit. Worse, it could be yourself that is driving you crazy.
What do you do when there is nothing left to do?
You should do what everyone tells you to:
Change yourself. After all, you are the only one over whom you have any control – right?
That’s a good place to start but at some point we have to face the fact that we don’t live in a bubble and that behavior isn’t a one-way street. It takes two to make a relationship.
From the moment we are born, we begin to learn to respond to people and to get them to respond to us. (I’d call it manipulation but that’s gotten a rather dirty reputation). It’s how we survive. Psychological development depends upon the ways people interact. The scientific term for this behavior is operant conditioning.
While most relationship articles focus on how to change yourself in order to improve your relationship, this article shows you how to use operant conditioning to manage the other 50% of the equation… the other person.
The answer lies in doing exactly what every relationship guru tells you NOT to do.
Here are 8 relationship mistakes you should be making:
1. Let the relationship be more important than anything else in your life
Even if it means getting a life of your own to save the relationship.
Co-dependent people have something to teach us all about how to have a healthy and loving relationship. While no one should stay in a relationship that is abusive, it is important to understand that there are times in ALL relationships of any length when things are imbalanced, psychologically damaging and unhealthy. Everyone goes through periods of insecurity, clinginess, and self-destructive devotion to the other people in their lives. We all also spend time being the abuser, the dominant bully and the unavailable lover. Surviving these phases is key to keeping a relationship growing- which in turn implies that YOU are also growing.
Accepting oneself and others as imperfect, forgiving your partners flaws even if they caused you harm, looking for the best in spite of the worst behavior, and most of all- deciding that you love this person enough to get through these growing pains are signs of co-dependency that can save a relationship. Sometimes it is the fact that one person is willing to maintain the relationship through hell and back is exactly what enables the other person to discover the true meaning of love- not only of others but of themselves.
What co-dependents teach is the power of never giving up on another person and the strength of self it takes to trust that their faith is stronger than any storm.
Bottom line: Don’t quit before the miracle happens.
2. Blame the other person
One of my favorite schoolyard chants is: “I’m rubber your glue, everything you say and do bounces off me and sticks to you!”
Being responsible means knowing when you are not responsible.
If you come home to a sink full of dirty dishes even though you left the kitchen spotless- whose fault is it? Not yours.
If your child wants to play video games instead of do their homework and they fail the class – is it your fault? No.
Do the consequences of other people’s actions affect you? Yes.
Are you responsible? Only to the degree to which you take on other people’s problems and make them your own. Don’t be the glue.
It is vital to let the people in your life mess up, fail, fall on their faces, screw up royally and to step in it up to their necks. If you are the sort of person who takes responsibility for everything in your life- STOP IT. People only change when they are made uncomfortable or when it is rewarding for them.
For a full tutorial in learning how to let people wallow in their own mess I refer you to the Mistress of Manners- Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle.
If you do nothing else after reading this blog- go read Betty McDonald’s Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle series.
Bottom line: Even God has the Devil to blame when things go wrong.
3. Try to change them
No one likes hating the person they are with. And so we go about trying to change that which we hate into something we can love.
One of the best things you can do for your relationship is to expect more out of your partner. Often the only people in our lives who can make our lives better are those who can see our worst sides and demand that we do better. Perhaps this is because they believe in us, possibly it is because they want the best for us- but in most cases, people want us to change because what we are doing is making it difficult for them to love and accept us.
Think about it this way- you aren’t the same person you were before you met them.
Neither is the other person.
You have changed each other in order to maintain the relationship as the two of you have gone through your own lives. Both have made compromises. Both have accepted certain unchangeable facts (like who sleeps on what side of the bed). Both have had to grow-up in ways they hadn’t planned upon when they were in high school. Parents had lives before they had children. Children are maturing.
Life is all about adapting to change.
Now be conscious of it and change each other intentionally in a direction that works best for the relationship as well as for the individual.
Think of how a smile can change a person’s day. If you intentionally smile at someone in order to make them happy and they smile in return- you have changed them.
The trick lies in knowing the difference between trying to change a person’s essential nature and affecting their behavior. However, it’s not always easy to tell which is which and in many cases something bigger than operant conditioning may be going on. Brain chemistry, hormones and genetic patterns are stronger than best intentions. An excellent resource for understanding how a person’s physiology can affect a relationship is Melissa Orlov’s and Dr. Edward Hallowell’s The ADHD Effect on Marriage.
Bottom line: If you love someone, help them be the person you love. You’d do it for your dog.
5. Disrespect boundaries
The Tower card in Tarot represents a life-altering change that has tossed the querent out of their established, comfortable way of living and looking at the world. In other words, the couple pictured in the card has had their boundaries demolished and have been tossed out of their comfortable dance into the unknown. This is where the above mistakes come in handy.
If you are committed to the relationship, if you have determined responsibility, and you have asked for the changes you want to see in the other person, then you are set to do the hard work of demolishing what used to work along with what doesn’t work. Habits are habits after all.
Boundaries are important in relationships, but boundaries can also become ruts, traps, negative cyclical patterns and worst of all- sacred. The problem lies in power and how each of you wields your power over the other. Some people are passive-aggressive (the doormats), others are bullies, some withdraw and others try to fix. Regardless of how power struggles are played out, once they are ingrained in your household or workplace they take over. Eventually everyone is dancing around the Rules.
The only way to save your relationship is to break the rules.
I can guarantee that no matter how willing everyone is to change, the rules will pull them back into old behavior patterns. Harriet Lerner goes into detail about what she calls the “Change-back” reaction in her book The Dance of Anger (http://www.harrietlerner.com/). Her theory is that relationships are like boats- if you tip one side the other side will over re-act in an attempt to regain equilibrium. Being aware of this factor enables a person to keep the larger objective in mind as they deal with a rebellious crew. That includes you.
Keep in mind Aesop’s Fable- The Sun and the Wind in which the Sun and the Wind argue as to who is more powerful by betting to see who get a man to take off his coat fastest. The Wind blows and blows, but the man only holds his coat tighter to his body. The Sun then shines brightly causing the man to take off his coat.
Bottom line: Break the rules.
6. Withhold intimacy
Let them miss you.
The number one reason people want to be with you is because they like to be near you.
It is a well-known fact that absence makes the heart grow fonder. You could say that we all hold each other hostage with our love. Nothing says “I don’t like you” faster than withholding intimacy. And given that physical affection is one of our primary physiological needs, it is vital that you use this weapon with as much love as you can muster. Withholding is not about punishing a person- it is about moving the reward so that you can give it when you are treated in a manner worthy of the gift.
This could mean simply not smiling or making eye contact or if necessary leaving the room.
If you are angry at them and hide it behind loving actions your loving actions tell them that everything is okay and that nothing needs to change. The result: they don’t change.
Withholding intimacy is the best way for you to communicate “you’d better change that behavior or else I am gone.”
While withholding intimacy is one way to be honest about your feelings and to re-establish power it is also potentially devastating. In fact, the reason experts recommend against withholding intimacy is precisely because it upsets the equilibrium of the relationship by putting the withholder in power over the other. It can be abusive if used incorrectly.
On the other hand, think about how taking a vacation from your life adds color to what was a drab, irritating mess. Not only can withholding intimacy help people to appreciate you it can also be a great way for you to see how you have been using intimacy to avoid changing yourself by using your love for others to fill a hole that needs to be filled by doing the things you love to do. Taking a break from intimacy might be the best thing you’ve ever done for the both of you.
Bottom line: Make your presence valuable.
7. Let it fester
Giving Time and Space for Change.
Sometimes talking makes things worse. It can start to sound like nagging. Other times the both of you can be so reactive that the damage done to your love is nuclear compared to what sparked the confrontation. Everyone needs alone time and space to regain perspective. Often you have gone over the same ground ad infinitum and one more conversation isn’t going to help.
I like to tell people that you can tell me what to do, and I’ll do it willingly… as long as you don’t tell me HOW to do it. Giving you and your partner time to work through their problem (see Mistake #2) not only gives you both space to adjust it also allows time for external circumstances to change.
One of the main reasons people re-hash problems is because it gives them a sense of connectedness when they fear separation. Words can act as barriers and often don’t mean as much as a simple gesture such as reaching for the other person’s hand.
If you love your partner and you want this relationship to last…
Bottom line: Go to ground.
8. Settle for less
Most likely you deserve better than they are giving.
Definitely things could be better.
Certainly you have every right to ask for what you want.
Without a doubt you are in charge of your own life.
But hey… you aren’t perfect and neither are they.
Bottom line: Love is letting someone be enough.
Are there any other relationship mistakes that should be added to the list?
Please let us know in the comments below.