How to get the best out of and be the best in Relationships?
We all want to be the best person especially for the person or people we love the most. We also want the best out of them. And in all of this, we also want to be true to ourselves and our spouses. Often we start off relationships loving what we see in the other person and them loving what they see in us. But soon we end up wanting changes in the one we love and them wanting us to change, becoming different people altogether. More often than not, these changes are not acceptable to us and end up causing conflict.
This article is my take on how some simple things can improve relationships and decrease conflict. I will focus on marital relationships (as they seem to be the ones necessitating most change). So henceforth in this article, relationship implies the spousal relationship.
What is not strong in the roots cannot be strong in the fruit! There are four legs to the relationship -
- Trust is the basis of all relationships. A newborn trusts his parents unconditionally at birth, a pet trusts its owner, parents trust their children and vice versa. Some trust is innate and some are gained. Marital relationships thrive on trust and the lack of it from either spouse can make life absolute hell for the other. Similarly, breaking of trust can devastate the partner and deal a death blow to the marriage.
- Commitment/fidelity go hand in hand with trust. "Saath janmon tak saath rahenge" or"till death do us part" is not a mere statement. It should be a vow one lives by.
- Passion/Intimacy is the special love that you share only with your spouse/partner.
- Friendship/companionship is what brings two people close and is also what keeps them going.
What goes wrong in a marriage?
I'm not discussing the extremes of physical and emotional abuse, cheating, etc here. In a marriage where there was nothing wrong, to begin with, what happens with time?
Expectations vs reality
"The man who couldn't stop talking to me before marriage is a husband who never even notices me"
"He is lazy, selfish, inconsiderate"
"She is bossy, controlling and a drama queen"
"The lady/man who loved everything about me now hates everything about me"
Have you heard or can you relate to these statements?
Let's deal with these statements first.
Why do men who can talk for hours as a boyfriend/fiancee suddenly find it difficult to open their mouths?
Why do women who were genteel and caring suddenly appear bossy and controlling?
The answer to this seems to lie not in what is happening but somewhat in our expectations of our spouses and out of marriage. Gone are the days when women and men had clearly defined roles and each was happy with the other fulfilling their role. With the shrinking size of the family, increasing burdens and decreasing social contact, we all turn to our spouses for everything ranging from emotional, physical, financial, and even spiritual support.
Now the question is - Are our expectations justified?
Research has proven that marital conflict often arises from unrealistic expectations and comparisons by spouses as a result of having too many choices and biases (media induced and based on past experiences).
Our brains experience new things based on our past experiences. As a result, we are all biased by our own past! Not only this, every minute our brain distorts some memories by attaching emotions to it...and so when we experience a particular incident as pleasurable, our brain holds on to it distorting it to seem that this is what we "need" and when we experience something somewhat disagreeable, our brains label these things as "bad" and "avoid this experience again at any cost".
Now consider this experiment performed by Dr Dan Ariely, Professor of Behavioral Economics (Courtesy: Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions. by Dr Dan Ariely). He offered 2 types of beer to a group of students at 2 locations, beer A a normal brew, beer B with added vinegar. One group of students were just asked to compare the samples without information about what they were and the other group had the info. Guess what, the group without the info beforehand liked beer B better but the ones with info crinkled their noses even while tasting beer B and said they did not like it. Another group were given info just after tasting Beer B and all of this group went on to mix vinegar into their beer when asked to make their own mix! So bias made one group crinkle up their noses whereas the others enjoyed the brew!
TOO MANY CHOICES SPOILED MY SATISFACTION
Are choices good for us? "More Isn’t Always Better" by Barry Schwartz (June 2006 Harvard Business Review) argues that this is not always the case. Several experiments and research work data point to the fact that too much choice can make you invariably dissatisfied with whatever you get! So if you buy a certain brand of jam, you will always keep thinking that you could have done better, marring your sense of satisfaction.
Psychologists argue that this happens in relationships as well.
So, not only are we expecting too much from our spouses, we are comparing them to biased standards that our brain has held on to and we are also always looking for something better!
So now that we know what is happening with us, how do we overcome this and "BE THE BEST AND GET THE BEST OUT OF RELATIONSHIPS?"
- Know for sure that you are not always right (remember the biased brain)- This will give you a better perspective and before you criticize your spouse you will think. So what you think is the worst thing about your spouse and you hate it, is probably something related to your own experiences and not so much his/her fault and he/she doesn't get the importance you are attaching to it.
- Stop thinking and speaking in "all or none's" - "you never do ...., you always are/do...". The words always and never are not applicable as your brain has been clever to make you think that way to conserve its energy. If you want to point out to your spouse that the dishes were not cleaned or the washing was not done, etc...REFRAME this in your mind and say it exactly as it is. "Hey, today's washing was not done, it's your turn, could you do it please?"
- Be gracious in your communication - Remember how you felt when your boss/ teacher /parent criticized you for that one thing you did not do! Yes, you felt angry and frustrated! So that is exactly how your spouse will feel if you don't appreciate them. So always appreciate the little things. For example, if your wife has cleaned the table but not the shelf, say "Hon, I see you have cleaned the table. Thanks a ton!" and let the shelf go! If your husband made an effort to call you today after you have been fighting about his neglect, don't say "Oh so you called because I fought about it! You didn't feel it did you?"....say "Hi hubby, thanks so much for calling. I appreciate your effort!"
- Don't bring the past into a present tiff and don't bring others into your space - When we are upset about a multitude of things and with many people, our brains play a trick on us and bring those things up when we are having a completely unrelated conflict or discussion. So we often end up saying " you didn't support me when XYZ that day said XYZ to me" in an ABC conversation. The spouse is left scratching his/her head trying to find the connection our brain has made and when his/her brain cannot find a logical path, they get angry leading to an ugly conflict over nothing. So please stick to the present and to the person involved in this scenario and don't make the comparisons your brain wants you to make!
- Always remember that the person you are talking to is the one you love and that there is no one other than him/her for you - If your brain says to you "I wish I hadn't married this guy/lady", say to yourself, "I loved him/her for a reason and I still love him/her". The person you are arguing with is the most important person in your life, not your enemy. So be gentle and considerate even when arguing.
- Have clear and realistic expectations out of each other's roles - Remember you are both juggling with several roles so know that if you are free and have time, doesn't mean that the other should come running and leave whatever he/she is doing. Respect each others' various commitments.
If there are core issues in trust, intimacy, companionship, then see a marriage counsellor/ psychiatrist. Some things are a complete no-no. If those core tenets of the relationship are shaken then see someone asap. Things that are bent can be mended before they are broken.
Disclaimer - Though this article is researched, it also expresses the author's individual opinion. It is not intended to hurt the sentiments of any particular gender or faith.