Last week I saw a show by a troop of comedians at a tiny theater in Montana. Though they were talented, I didn’t find myself laughing much at the recurring “battle of the sexes” theme. The men accused the women of being frigid and overly emotional. The women complained that the men need to be mothered and only care about sex. And back and forth it went. Sure, there’s comic relief in sharing about our common issues, but as I sat there seeing men and women cast somewhat bitterly in these one-dimensional ways, I couldn’t help thinking, “Are we really still doing this?”
In my previous article, we looked at the role that attitude plays in the health and sustainability of a relationship. Of course, you can’t make your partner change their attitude, but it’s worth fully exploiting the potential of your own attitude before concluding that the relationship isn’t going to work. One way to be responsible for your attitude is by abstaining from relating your partner as a stereotype.
I believe almost everyone does this to an extent. It’s difficult to banish from our minds the ideas we have about men, women, and humans in general. Even if your partner isn’t a typical male or female, your conditioning can cause you to relate to them based on ideas and experiences from the past. And even when you relate to someone simply based on your ideas about that specific person – rather than whoever they are in this very moment – this may still serve as an impediment to authentic connection.
Practice presence with them. It’s good to start with a relatively casual conversation. Let both parties be innocent – try to enter the conversation without judgment, expectations, or lenses. Who knows what might happen and how you might see the other person if you were to enter the exchange with absolute freshness.
See if you can internally choose when to talk and when to listen. When it’s your turn to listen, don’t think about what you’re going to say next. Just listen. Listen with your ears and eyes and heart. Breathe slowly and fully.
What else is involved in “your work”? Here are some examples:
To the extent that you actively work to resolve past experiences (especially traumatic ones) that infringe on your current ability to show up “cleanly” with your partner, you will benefit.
To the extent that you work to deactivate your “buttons” which cause you to make you react disproportionately to relatively benign behaviors by your partner, you will benefit.
To the extent that you choose to show up in your relationship with as much presence and enthusiasm as you can muster, you will benefit.
To the extent that you take responsibility for your baggage, attitude, communication, and interpretations, you will benefit.
To the extent that you choose to remember and honor your commitment (assuming, of course, that neither party is getting hurt by remaining together), you will benefit.
All these benefits are yours whether or not the relationship survives, and the chances of its survival are so much greater when you’re an active and responsible participant in the above ways. Further, if you’re not in a relationship but want to be, doing your work will make for a healthier relationship when the time comes, and it will also support you to make better choices of who to invite into your life. If you’re not in a romantic relationship and don’t care to be, this work will serve you in all your other relationships, including the one with yourself.