Proactive Partner Listening

This month we’re talking about the topic of listening. Today I thought we’d start off talking about listening to your partner because that’s one of the biggest challenges in our lives, and unfortunately the one that we usually give the least amount of attention to, when it should be one of our highest priorities.

First of all, if you really want your partner to listen to you, you can’t be screaming or cursing at them. They will completely shut down and block you out. Being rude to them will do the same thing. In fact, doing all or any of these things may result in them doing the exact opposite of what you want just to spite you. Yelling and rudeness isn’t the way to start a conversation if you want someone to listen to you.

So assuming that you and they aren’t screaming/cursing/being rude and instead are having a relatively calm discussion, first you need to be open to hearing what they have to say. Second, you can’t be just planning out your response to them or thinking about all the things that you have to do. It may be helpful for each of you to be taking notes with pen and paper if it’s a serious and in-depth conversation. Taking notes will allow you to really hear what they’re saying and you’ll be able to go back after they’re done and talk about each of the things they said if necessary.

Listening also means asking questions, and no, I don’t mean the sarcastic or rude ones. I mean asking questions that will help you better understand where they’re coming from, what they’re feeling, what they’re experiencing and what results they would like. Asking questions also has to do with coming up with solutions that work for everyone, or at least the largest number of people possible.

I know it can be really hard to have discussions with your partner (or anyone) about really emotional topics, things that really bother you or serious issues. But if you both are open to having those discussions and are both open to listening and discussing and coming up with solutions that create the biggest wins for everyone involved, those discussions will go a lot easier.

The Blame Game

Do you know one of the most “popular” topics for couples, and families too? Blame. From saying that the dog ate the homework, to the kids spilled cereal (and milk) on the contract, to the relationship failing because your partner never took out the trash, we’re pretty quick to point fingers and try to get to the bottom of who is to blame.

First, let me say that it is important that responsibility is taken/given for things that happen or don’t happen. It’s important to be honest about what you’re seeing and what happens. However, it’s almost never the case that the blame rests solely on one person (or dog). It’s almost always the case that there are multiple factors, and multiple people to blame. Which means that as much as you can (and should) point fingers, you’ve really got to take stock of who else could be responsible in the matter as well, including yourself.

The key to the blame game (and its resolution), isn’t anything really revolutionary, it’s something that I’ve said repeatedly and is one of the biggest keys to a successful relationship: communication. Yes, pointing fingers will happen even in the best families and relationships, but the conversation needs to be more than you yelling at them for doing something or not doing something and vice versa. The conversation needs to discuss the issues you’ve got, why things weren’t done or were done, and what is going to happen or change moving forward to help avoid this in the future. These types of civil discussions don’t happen often enough in relationships and families, and as a result big divides are created between people.

Of course the blame and the conversations only go so far: without a willingness to change on all parties’ part and action taken as decided in the conversation, there’s not much point to having the conversation or even having the blame (and subsequent fight) in the first place. If the partner who is most to blame isn’t willing to do things differently in the future or doesn’t see their error, you’ve got a choice to leave, to make changes in your life, or you have to decide it’s not as big of a deal as you’re making it out to be. When it comes to family blame situations, you either have to take control as the parent, or get another party involved who can help straighten things out and be the leader your kids need.

There’s no shame in admitting that you need help, that you and your partner need help or that your family needs help. The only shame you should feel is if you choose to not get someone the help they need.

Free to Just Be

Today I want to encourage you to stop and just be. Stop signing your kids up for every program under the sun, stop trying to get so much done each day that you’re completely exhausted by the time you get home and have zero energy for your kids or partner, stop wandering aimlessly in your life, stop rushing period. You, your kids and your partner all need downtime more than they need another commitment, regardless of whether you or they are an introvert or extrovert.

I get that there are important things in your life that need to be done to live or things you’ve already committed to that need to be followed through on, but there comes a time when you really just have to put your foot down and say that you’ve had enough. Hopefully you’ll feel encouraged to do that before you work yourself into an early grave or isolate you from all the people you love, or burn yourself out so badly that you have to take significant time off to even function again.

I believe it’s important to fill your life with things you love and to make time for the responsibilities you need to see to as a significant other, parent, sibling, son/daughter, worker and community member. It’s good to be involved and do things and enjoy the life you have and people you love. But it’s also important to take time to relax, to reflect, to be thankful and to just be. We aren’t designed to go 24/7, we’re meant to sleep and meditate and eat to enjoy and listen.

There’s no reason to feel guilty for taking a day off (including a mental health day), or admitting that you’re struggling, or taking a break to refocus. If you’re able to take that break with your kids or partner, great. Sometimes those moments when you’re just being quiet together can be the best part of your day, even if it’s just for a few minutes. Will you make time for down time this week?

Worth the Effort

Last month we spent a lot of time talking about relationships and this month we’re going to be talking in part about freedom, so I wanted to start the month off by talking about a topic that’s often an important aspect of both of them: effort. Yes, there are some relationships that seem effortless or don’t require a lot of effort for you to keep them going, and sometimes freedom is freely given without any real requirements or involvement on your part. But for most of us if we want our relationships to last and be fulfilling we have to put in some effort, and the amount of effort we put in often speaks to how successful those relationships will be. Also with freedom, more often than not if we’re looking to be free of something or be free to do something we have to actively pursue that goal.

I know some people get worried or overwhelmed when they hear that work is involved in something, but if you’re really serious about making that relationship work or finding that freedom there should be a fire or drive or passion in you about it. If there isn’t you’re not likely to give decent effort towards that goal, and it should be a big red flag for you about getting more involved in that relationship or freedom goal. Yes, sometimes if you give something some effort you’ll discover or rediscover the passion or interest you’ve lost or didn’t have, but usually there has to be some interest there to begin with, it isn’t created in the process.

The thing is, I think you, your life and your relationships are worth the effort. I believe each of us can and should have a life we’re proud of, one that includes relationships with people who support and love us, and freedoms to be who we are and do what we’re passionate about. You may not have accepted that you’re worth the effort and there are people around the world who believe that as well, but it’s the truth. Sure, some people will try to drag you down, but that’s often more about them and not about you.

This upcoming week I encourage you, even though it’s summer and you may be slowing things down in your life, to put a little effort into the things that matter most to you, or the things you want more of in your life. It doesn’t have to be a lot, but choosing to put a little more effort in can make a big difference, and give you a glimpse into what it would be like if you chose to put a lot more effort into it.  You may choose to communicate more often and more completely with your partner, you may choose to do more research before making a decision than you usually do, you may choose to finally ask for the help that you’ve been too ashamed to ask for, or you may choose to dedicate time every day to making your life healthier and happier.  What will a little effort do for you?

A Little Relationship Advice

When you’re asking for advice about a relationship topic, just about everyone else has something to say. Everyone’s been through at least one relationship and everyone’s had at least one good one and one bad one, whether we’re talking about family relationships or romantic relationships. If you’ve had the unfortunate experience to not have great relationships, getting advice from others is a good idea. If you’ve had a bunch of great relationships it’s still not a bad idea to get advice from others or talk with them about how they work through the issues in their relationships. Why? Because everyone is different and they handle problems differently, so even if you’ve dealt with a specific problem before dealing with it with someone else will go differently. As well, situations change and life sometimes works differently and there are different other factors in play, so the way you’ve handled a situation in the past may not be able to be handled in the same way in the future, even if we’re talking about the same 2 people dealing with it.

Of course, just because you ask for or receive advice it doesn’t mean you have to apply it to your life, or apply all of it. And the lesson you learn from it may be a different lesson than they learned, or you may be able to apply it in a different way. I think a big part of the advice concept is the sharing of experiences and lessons. It’s not (just) about sharing how smart you are but about going through this journey called life together. Maybe they need to share the lesson more than you need to learn the lesson.

Sometimes you’ll get lucky and someone will randomly share an experience with you, but other times you have to admit that you’re feeling lost and ask for help. It can be hard to ask for help, but that’s a big part of what relationships are here for. Relationships really exist to improve our lives, to challenge us at times, yes, but ultimately we should be better for the relationships we’ve had. Yes, there are always a few bad eggs, but that’s life, and it’s up to us to get out of those relationships before too much damage occurs.

So the next time someone offers some advice I encourage you to listen to it, and this week I encourage you to reach out to someone else and ask them for advice. You can ease into it with something small, but choose to get out there and build those relationships and learn from the people in your life.

Relationships and Responsibilities

Sunday in the USA was Father’s Day and one of the things that always comes up when parenting is involved is the topic of responsibility. Some parents are great and very responsible towards the human or humans they brought into the world, but other people aren’t able or willing to care for them as they really should. I think we all have room to work on living up to our responsibilities, but when it comes to parenting it’s often easier to see the failures and we expect a lot more from people who have chosen to bring another life into the world. I don’t think people should have kids unless they’re really ready to be responsible for them, of course sometimes nature knows better than us though. As a parent you’ve got a responsibility to not only provide for the physical needs your kid(s) may have, but also the emotional and social ones as well.

But what I want to talk about today isn’t really about the responsibility of parenting (although it’s an important topic), what I wanted to talk about was the topic of responsibility in relationships of all kinds. Any time you choose to enter a relationship, whether a working relationship with a company or client, or personal relationship you have a responsibility towards that other person or any other people involved to be your best self as part of that relationship.

Whether you know it or not by choosing to enter a relationship with that other person or people (or company) you and they agreed on one or several things that you would bring to the table as part of that relationship. Maybe it’s as simple as agreeing to meet on a regular basis for drinks, maybe it’s choosing to be faithful to each other as long as you’re together, maybe it’s to provide a resource or type of support, maybe it’s to make sales, maybe it’s to help each other become the best you can both be, or maybe it’s to provide some type of care for them.

First of all, are you bringing your best self to all your relationships? Or are you letting the pressures of life distract you and slowly work at destroying that relationship? Second, are you living up to the responsibilities you have towards that other person or people? You went into that relationship with a purpose and maybe even a goal in mind, and some idea of the work that would be involved to make that relationship a success. Are you actively working on living up to that purpose, goal and/or work?

I believe the world is better for all the relationships we have, but we all have some work to do with regards to them and the responsibilities we each have. What will you do the rest of this week to work on better participating in your relationships and responsibilities?

Start off Good

I was recently reminded that things don’t usually start off with problems and issues, they usually start of good and with peace. Relationships don’t begin with the end in mind, you are busy enjoying each other’s company. You don’t join a job thinking about how soon you’ll quit or be fired, you’re trying to do your best or make the most money possible. You don’t get a pet thinking about when they’ll die or run away, you’re excited to have a new best friend. You don’t buy a phone thinking about the next one you’ll get, you are excited for this one. You don’t start a business thinking you’ll sell it for big bucks or it’ll fail, you start off excited about providing a needed product or service with passion. I think you get the idea: almost always things begin for us on a good foot.

So what happens that things don’t work out as planned, fail, hurt and become screwed up? I think part of the issue is that we get overwhelmed by everything that goes on in life. It’s not really possible to avoid all that goes on in life, there are pressures that we’ll face and changes that we have no control over but impact us all the same. A big part of the issue though is we lose sight of the good that we started with. Yes, we will change as we go through our lives so it’s not about keeping everything the same or constantly reliving “the good old days”, but learning how to evolve the good we started with. The sooner you work on bringing those elements of good into your life and various situations on a consistent basis, the better everything will go. You’ll also be developing some really great habits that will help make your life more fulfilling and rewarding.

If you’re able to develop the habit and life skill of intentionally developing the good, it doesn’t mean that you won’t fail, have bad days, divorce, or experience loss; these things are part of life. But if you’ve got that core your likelihood and frequency of failure, bad days, divorce and some types of losses can dramatically decrease, and your overall happiness, fulfillment, and enjoyment of life can increase. How do you get started? For a relationship it could be as simple as sitting down with your significant other, talking about what you’ve enjoyed in the past and why you fell in love with each other and discuss how to bring those feelings and types of experiences to life on a more regular basis now, and actively working on incorporating those feelings, actions, words and experiences into your lives today. It’s not a magic pill but can certainly make some of those tough decisions and discussions a lot easier and smoother because you’re not worrying as much about the foundation and able to work on the actual, present, issues.

So let’s start the discussion: what did you really enjoy in your past that you don’t do or have or feel as much or at all anymore?

Relationship Give and Take

Healthy relationships should have give and take, you and your partner should both contribute in different ways to the relationship and your lives together, neither of you should be the only one putting in effort. If that’s the case then it’s definitely not a partnership and not really a relationship. Yes there will be times that you’re giving most of the effort at home while your partner does most of the working, and there will be times when the situation is reversed. It’s healthy for both of you to see both sides of the world, so that no one gets too comfortable and doesn’t appreciate what the other does.

As part of that give and take you and your partner need to be communicating. I know it’s something I bring up frequently, but that’s because it’s something most of us struggle with. You need to be sharing what goes on in your day, how you’re feeling, your emotions, your dreams, your fears, things you need your partner’s input/effort/time/support on, and your appreciation for your partner and what they do. No, you don’t have to have super deep conversations every day but you should have them at the very least once a month (probably closer to weekly).

As important as communication is, it goes hand in hand with another very important thing: responsibility. It’s up to you as an adult to take responsibility for the things in your life that need doing. Don’t wait for your partner to tell you to do something or seek out constant affirmation and appreciation on the job you did. As I said there are things you should be doing or at least discussing with your partner, but many things in our daily lives don’t need that discussion, it just needs to be done for the house, kids, your partner or yourself.

This week I encourage you to look into the communications and responsibilities of your relationship and commit to doing better.

A Love that Finishes Strong

We’re almost at the end of the month, it’s been a very full month with lots of events and opportunities, challenges and changes as well.  This month one of the topics I’ve been talking about is the topic of love.  One of the challenges of love is how awesome it is when it starts.  In some ways that’s really important because it sucks us into the relationship and makes us want to keep feeling those emotions and stay in love.  But it’s a whole lot easier to fall in love than it is to stay in love.  Those initial magic feelings don’t always stick around.  We get bogged down by the realities and challenges of life.  We see things about the person we fell in love with that we didn’t see when we first fell in love, things that aren’t so awesome or pretty (like bad habits or snoring).  When a relationship gets to that point it’s jokingly called “the end of the honeymoon period.”

While you may lose the cloud 9 feelings that you initially felt towards someone, that doesn’t mean you can’t love them anymore or that you don’t love them anymore.  It just means that your love has developed, changed or matured.  After all, you can’t do as a baby what you can do now: we’re all growing and changing, so why wouldn’t love do the same?  In some ways I think it’s kind of silly that we even think that love wouldn’t change and that we wouldn’t feel, see and do things differently after a while.

So the question as we work through the last full week of the month is how can we make sure our love finishes strong?  First and foremost it has to start with being open to love and all the many dimensions of it.   Also, there has to be a willingness to change and work through challenges.  As you get to know someone you may see red flags and things that make you take a step back.  There are always issues and things to disagree over, but these are serious things like a violent temper or (not) wanting kids that show you guys may not be really the best match, regardless of how much love you felt initially.  It’s not a bad thing to call a stop to a relationship if you know it’s not going to be the right one for you, in fact that’s a healthy decision to make.  I think one of the good things about all the change we go through and how fast life moves today vs. 100 years ago is that we can do so much more to fulfill our potential, rather than being held back or stuck in societal restrictions.

Second, you and your partner have to actively invest in the relationship if you want to keep it and your love alive.  There needs to be communication, time spent, moments created, laughter shared, friendships developed and life celebrated.  You should take time on a daily basis to check in with them, a weekly basis to spend quality time with them (a date night for example) and at least take a yearly vacation with them.

Your love will change through your life, that should not discourage you from making it part of your life.  Nor should you be discouraged by setbacks or a few failed experiences, because they will happen to just about all of us.  I believe it’s worth it to be in love and have a relationship, even with all the work it may take to help it finish strong.  How will you invest in your relationship this week?

Love and Happiness

Yesterday on the Life and Faith blog I talked a bit about the topics of love and happiness.  Today we’re continuing the conversation here talking about the relationship between love, happiness and relationships.  Relationships do not equal love and do not equal happiness.  That’s not the equation.  I do believe that there can be a connection between relationships, love and happiness, but that’s not the case for everyone and it’s unfortunately not a happily ever after situation for everyone either.  You’ve probably heard people who were with someone they loved for only a short period of time for whatever reason say that those were the happiest years of their life, and sometimes the couple gets lucky and they have one of those happy love stories for the ages that their children and grandchildren talk about for years to come.   Love, happiness and relationships can last and they can be short, and both types can be real and worth it.

Love, relationships and happiness are all things that can be hurt, can fail and can be disturbed.  In a perfect world everyone would have a fairy tail ending, but there are people who aren’t good in this world and believe it’s their right to treat people poorly or do stupid things like drugs and excessive alcohol which end up causing them to make bad decisions.  I believe everyone is worthy of love, happiness and a good relationship, but for various reasons that’s not how it always ends up working out.

If you’re in a relationship I’m happy for you and hope that it works out and that you and your partner have one of those great love stories.  If it’s not a happy relationship the first person to check is yourself, not your partner.  Make sure that you’re not the one causing your own unhappiness, because the only person truly responsible for your happiness is you.  If your partner truly loves you and is invested in the relationship they should make you happy most of the time (no one’s perfect), but you should not leave your happiness up to them.  So if you establish that you’re not putting unreasonable pressure on your partner in the relationship and are doing your part to make yourself happy and help the relationship thrive, then the next person to check is your partner.  Maybe they’re not feeling loved by you, maybe they’ve got a different set of expectations for the relationship, maybe they’re not the right person for you or maybe they’re a bad person and you should not be in a relationship with them.  I believe there is more than one person out there for each of us, but with more than 7 billion people in the world it’s not as easy as it sounds to find one of those right ones, and even if you do, maybe it’s only the right person for right now.  But no one has to be in a bad relationship or one that doesn’t truly fulfill them.

Happiness, love and relationships aren’t always picture perfect, they can get a little messy sometimes.  But if you remember back to being a kid or think about your kids, some of the happiest memories were pretty messy, and even in the movies there’s usually at least one dramatic rescue scene or cringe-worthy episode.   Don’t give up on a dream of having a happy, loving and fulfilling relationship, I’ve experienced it and so have others, and so can you.