Relationships can be hard, especially when you are not used to them, scared of being hurt, or there is some messy baggage with you. Here are some tips to cut through some of the more common problems.
1. Work on the principle of Charity
When an ambiguous statement is made, such as “interesting hair”, assume the other person means the best version of that. Doing the opposite of this is looking for malice.
This also means that if you aren’t sure – that is, struggling to interpret with charity – you should ask for clarity. The other person needs to hear your request for clarity in the best light too. “What do you mean by that” should be a genuine request to explain, rather than “I think you mean me harm”.
2. Assume Trust
If you do not trust the relationship, it is time to call it what it is – over. If it isn’t over, then it is time to rely on that trust… even if you are struggling to feel it.
If the other person transgresses trust, then you have a discussion to have. Is the transgression major (cheating) or minor (didn’t call back when they said they would). Is a major transgression worthy of ending the relationship? Is it likely to ever happen again? How many transgressions do you allow before you end it? How many minor transgressions become a major transgression? These are all personal questions that you must figure out.
If it isn’t over, demonstrate trust, assume trust. Have conversations that build trust.
But when it is over, it is over.
3. Take things at face value
Frequently we try to read too much into what the other person means, just in case there is more. This is often fed by our own fears, or the other person being abusive.
When we take things at face value, we slow down the over processing that we are prone to when we try to work out tricky meanings. Instead assume that “it is” what “it appears to be”. For the majority of the time this is true. Sometimes things are different to how they appear and we can then adjust to that as needed. The overthinking comes in when you try to preempt the times things aren’t what they seem because we don’t trust our ability to adjust to that greater complexity.
If the other person is being abusive, there are some signs and symptoms of that (see Red Flags below). If the face value of a thing the other person said is not accurate to the situation, this may be a warning of deeper problems.
Often it is just poor communication.
4. Communication is key
We are not mind readers. We may make some excellent guesses, but that is both hard work and fraught with errors. What is better than assuming is discussing. Communication relies on trust, expectation that you are all working together for the greater good of the relationship and each other, and that there are no hidden agendas.
It is also very important that everyone actually have a say about how they feel, what they think and what they want without it turning into a tool to use against the other.
A temptation is for one person to do more of the communicating than the other, which unfairly gives them either greater responsibility for when things go wrong, or greater power for defining how things are going to be.
Safe and balanced conversation is tricky, but worth it.
5. Own your own stuff
Own when you make a mistake. It seems simple, but it can be really hard. Often we refuse to take responsibility for our mistakes, or we take far too much responsibility and own someone else’s mistakes.
It is time to get honest with ourselves. Did we do the thing? If so, own it. Own your part in it – it is rare that you are solely to blame, but don’t blame someone else for what you chose to do – don’t excuse it.
Also be real when you didn’t do the thing. If it wasn’t you, then don’t take the blame.
Most human interactions involve multiple people who are all partially responsible for what has happened. It can be tempting to start creating a false equivalence – you did this, I did that, so we are all to blame… but if you did 5% of the damage and I did 95% of the damage… then actually this is my thing to fix and I should accept my part in this. They are not equivalent parts.
Red flags are warnings that the relationship may be abusive. Just because one of these flags is true doesn’t mean that the relationship definitely is abusive – it may just be immature, poorly communicated, or full of various people’s baggage. Red flags indicate that there is a part of the relationship to be wary about and that work needs to be done to fix it.
Remember that it takes all parties to fix a problem.
- Shifting blame
A person who shifts blame is someone who does a thing wrong, but never accept responsibility for their actions. They will always blame someone else as the cause of the wrongdoing – for example: “I’m under a lot of stress at work”, “it isn’t me, it is you”, “look what you made me do”, or “I wouldn’t have had to do this if you hadn’t…”. Even when presented with evidence that they are directly responsible for what happened they try to shift the blame elsewhere.
While it is awful when other things are creating stress for an individual and a short temper can be understood, it is not a valid excuse to hurt another, nor can the blame for one’s actions be placed at the feet of another.
If you feel that you can never win because the rules keep changing, or the measure of success keeps being redefined, then you may have a problem with moving goalposts.
It is important to have mutually accepted rules that are fair and understood. What is good for the goose should be good for the gander. There are limits on this, such as “I have an alcohol problem so won’t drink alcohol, but you are free to as you don’t” is fine, but “I can see my friends when I want, but you can’t” is not.
3. Walking on eggshells
This is where you are walking on eggshells, that is: waiting for the problem to crop up, or to be in trouble, or trying to avoid feeling guilty. There is an underlying fear to your interaction where you are very worried about how things will go because you will feel awful or be hurt in some way as a result of the outcome.
If you find that these red flags are dominant in your relationship and the other person in your relationship isn’t interested in addressing them, you might be in a domestically violent relationship [link]. If you are all interested in addressing these red flags, then following the first section will help to minimise the problems.