A rough guide to relationship survival: Other people are annoying . . . so are you

Getting over rows quickly has always been key to a good relationship. That’s even more important now

It’s  vital to recognise your partner was not put on the planet to live up to your expectations and you were not put on the planet to live up to theirs. Photograph: iStock

It’s vital to recognise your partner was not put on the planet to live up to your expectations and you were not put on the planet to live up to theirs. Photograph: iStock

 

Acknowledging the annoyingness of people is, I think, a key to getting through lockdowns with relationships in reasonable shape.

Based on that acknowledgement, here’s my rough and ready guide to relationship survival.

Other people are annoying. They want different things, for instance, or they express disagreement in ways you don’t like.

You also are annoying. You want at least some different things to what your partner wants and in different ways. This could apply to everything from whether to have children to what to watch on Netflix tonight.

All of these different wants constitute what in Dr William Glasser’s Choice Theory is called the “quality world”. Your quality world represents everything you want or need from the perfect pint to peace in our time.

Here’s the rub: your partner and even your children have different quality worlds because each person grows up with a different set of experiences. So our worlds collide.

When normal means of de-stressing, like separating daily to go into different workplaces, are available, these collisions can be kept infrequent and unharmful. Take that away and the collisions can happen more often and do more damage.

Getting over rows as soon as reasonably possible has always been a key to a long and satisfying relationship. That’s even more important in today’s conditions.

But what if you believe people in close relationships shouldn’t fight? Then, the effect of spats and sulks can be magnified and something that should have been over and done with by tomorrow becomes a week of silences. This, needless to say, makes matters worse.

Then there’s the belief that if you have a row you have to keep running it through your mind over and over. This can turn a minor matter into a big deal and can build up to outbursts that everyone regrets for a long time to come. When you find yourself watching old spats on your mental movie screen, you need to find something useful, or even useless, to do instead.

Raise the issue gently

Another tip, taken from the research into relationships, is that if you want to raise something with your partner that’s bugging you, start softly, by which is meant gently or politely. When you start by launching a verbal nuclear attack things don’t go well, especially if you choose to do it when the other person is in a really bad mood.

It seems to me that a common cause of conflict is the assumption that each person should know what the other person is thinking: “He or she really ought to know I don’t like this so I’m not going to tell them and I will sulk instead.”

If there’s something you are unhappy about (or even something you are happy about) if you don’t tell your partner they won’t know and if you want them to know then you’d better tell them – with due regard to the point above about starting softly.

It’s also vital to recognise that your partner was not put on the planet to live up to your expectations and you were not put on the planet to live up to theirs.

Yes, if you are not mutually supportive the relationship will be in danger of – at the very least – being an unhappy one. But people have to negotiate and negotiation means, among other things, that neither of the parties will get everything they want. They need to get enough, though, to keep them in the room.

Is all this pessimistic? No, it acknowledges the rough and tumble, stress and strains of long-term relationships in the best of times.

These are not the best of times - so it’s more important than ever to acknowledge and work with the fact that while we are capable of amazing love, we are also fractious animals. We need to give each other the gift of recognising that.

This article is not about encouraging anyone to live with domestic abuse. It is about the general run of relationships. If you are being subjected to domestic abuse, safeireland.ie can give you information about support services around the country.

– Padraig O’Morain (@PadraigOMorain) is accredited by the Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy. His latest book is Daily Calm. His daily mindfulness reminder is free by email (pomorain@yahoo.com).

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