Train Your Partner

In my previous post Why Do We Argue?, I explored the very basics of why people argue. To summarize briefly, it is because we all have our own set of experiences from which our core values and our views of the world are created. Because of that, we also each have our own way by which we feel and show love. I mentioned before that I love “The Five Love Languages” by Gary Chapman. Other influential books that I have read are “How to win friends and influence people” by Dale Carnegie and “Why Men Love Bitches” by Shari Argov.

It was the combination of these three books that helped me write the third in my series of couples events, which is a lecture series that allows couples to interact with one another and other attendees while they learn how to improve their own relationships. As a quick aside, the thing I love most about being a relationship coach is how the focus of coaching isn’t to understand the “why’s” of the things that are happening. That requires too much focus on the past. While it is beneficial in specific cases, for couples looking to improve the level of fulfillment in their relationships, looking at the present and how to move forward is much more productive. That is what coaching is all about – looking at the present and at what needs to change in the future to meet your vision of a happy life.

To attain that satisfaction in your relationships – ANY relationship – we are each responsible for educating those with whom we are interacting of what we desire in the relationship to find that fulfillment. In other words, we have to train them. Some people get offended at the mention of being trained. I, for one, happen to like the idea of being trained. Maybe it’s because of my military background. Or perhaps it’s because of my seemingly insatiable thirst for knowledge. Whatever the case, I enjoy being educated, especially when it comes to the woman I love.

Men can be dogs, so train us like one.

Men are often stereotyped as being dogs. I agree with this stereotype, so I will use the comparison to explain how you can train your partner to reach a higher level of satisfaction in the relationship, and how your partner can train you.

A dog, by nature, is not inclined to sit and shake your hand on command. In most cases, the dogs are taught how to do so through positive reinforcement and repetition. You tell Sparky to “sit” while you are pushing his hindquarters down. You do this, each time giving him praise when he stays sitting and reward him with a treat. After a few more times, Sparky has learned that when you say “sit”, you want him to put his butt on the ground with his forepaws extended downward, putting himself in a sitting position. When he does that, you make all this fuss and give him some Yummy-Goodness of the type that will put a smile on your doggie’s snout.

You managed to teach a member of your family the behavior you want him to display in specific situations. Men and women can be trained the same way. It requires time and a lot of effort, but the results it will yield are well worth it. It is hard, at times, to ignore less than desirable behavior. Like a dog taking a poop in the middle of your living room floor, some negative behavior has to be addressed. But also like Sparky dropping his load onto your floor, it has to be done at the time of the incident. Otherwise, the lesson is lost and he (read: we) will not fully comprehend what was done wrong. But the next time Sparky goes potty outside, clap your hands, give him a lot of lovin’ and maybe even a little doggie treat.

I don’t need to provide a detailed list of incentives to get your partner to display the desired actions. Use your imagination, based on what you know (or learn) about what motivates them. Dogs are motivated by attention and treats. A man may be motivated by a new sexy lingerie, where as a woman may be motivated by flowers delivered to her office once a month. That brings me to one more crucial point. This technique only works if both people have the desire to please the other person. As heartbreaking as it might be, if your partner does not show any indication of doing what it takes to show you the behavior you need for fulfillment, it may be time to consider finding a partner who does have that desire. You can only train a dog, or human, who has the desire to be trained. But the responsibility is yours and yours alone to let your partner, friend, colleague or whomever what it is that you want and need. If you have a hard time answering that question, begin by asking yourself what makes you smile. If that doesn’t start providing some answers, take the love language test in Mr. Chapman’s book to give you some ideas.

Is Your Relationship Working?

Keep a daily tally of both positive and negative occurrences.

One of the most common questions that people ask when they are entering or are about to enter a long term, committed relationship is, “How do I know it will work?” At some point, every couple with whom I have worked has asked this question, or some variation of it. Well, at least one of the people involved would ask. In the spirit of full disclosure, that used to be me. The short answer to that question is, YOU DON’T!

The reality that most people don’t want to hear is that there is no way of predicting how one will feel tomorrow, let alone 20 years down the road. “I will ALWAYS love you” is a sweet sentiment and in truth, is an exclamation that can be made without running the risk of giving false hope – if the statement is taking literally and without assumption. “I will always love you”, does not mean “I will always be with you.” What it means is that, for what ever reason, there is something between the two of you that holds significant value to the proprietor of that statement. A value that will never diminish in his or her eyes. While there is no way to guarantee the outcome of the relationship, that value is something that can be used to determine if the relationship is working for you right now.

To sum it up, you need to see more positive than you do negative within the relationship. In other words:

NET POSITIVE > NET NEGATIVE

Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as it may seem. Reason being that each person holds a different point system for the values that mean the most to them. You can refer to the article on core values by reading an article on arguing. It’s not enough to make a pros and cons list and simply list the things about your relationship into their respective category. This is a part of it, but first, you have to sit down and assign a point value to the issues in your relationship, be them positive or negative. For example, I firmly believe in the love language philosophy. Simply put, the book by Gary Chapman explains that every person has their own language which depicts the manner in which they give and receive love. For me, physical contact and terms of endearment are my top two languages. These are the most common ways that I express that I love someone and the best way for me to feel loved by someone. Therefore, I place a higher value on these occurrences within my relationship than someone who likes to give and receive gifts as one of their primary languages.

To help determine if the current status of the relationship works for me, I use a five point scale, ranging from (+2) – (-2). It is easy for me to sit back and think about the daily interactions that I have in my current relationship. Actually, my girlfriend makes it pretty easy for me because we happen to speak the same two languages. She is never shy with telling me how much she loves me and she is not stingy with walking up and giving me a hug and kiss for no reason at all. I’m a lucky guy! But getting back to the point, I realize that most couples do not speak the same language. More importantly, even if they do, it is a scientific fact that negative occurrences far outweigh positive occurrences. It takes (on average) five positive occurrences to equal one negative occurrence. Looking at things in an objective manner is difficult for anyone to do.

The suggestion I give is to carry a pocket sized notebook with you at all times. Write down each occurrence with your partner and tally the results at the end of the week. By occurrence, I am saying refer to the list that you make yourself of the things that hold the most and least value to you. Below is a sample list of positive and negative occurrences.

POSITIVE

  • Tells me she loves me – +2

  • Physical contact – +2

  • Gifts – +1

  • Honesty – +2

  • Spend time together – +2

  • Wants Kids +1

NEGATIVE

  • Lies -2

  • More time at work -1

  • More time with friends -1

  • Abusive (any kind) -2

  • Cleanliness -1

NEUTRAL

  • Politics -0

  • Religion -0

  • Similar family structure -0

Notice how some of the list is generalized and won’t change, (eg Wants Kids). Others are ever changing and the number of occurrences can greatly impact the results. This list is just an example of some things that can go toward your own list of the overall determination if the relationship is working for you. For the sake of the exercise, keep track of things that can fluctuate, such as physical contact. You can be as detailed about some of the list as you want. For example, in your notes about contact, you can put that you spent 20 minutes sitting on the couch holding hands or you can simply put a check mark indicating that there was physical contact in a positive way.

You can also determine how long you keep track of these occurrences, however I suggest that you spend at least a month doing so. Every couple goes through ups and downs, so observing things under a microscope will need to occur for a length of time for an accurate picture. Here’s the other thing to keep in mind; if you end up with results that yield more of a net negative than a net positive, that does not mean that you should end the relationship right then and there. If you want to see the relationship work, then share your results with your partner. Put the ball in their court, but do so tactfully. I strongly caution against giving ultimatums unless it is absolutely necessary. Saying “If you don’t change this, then I will leave,” is an extreme step to take and in most cases, will result in you having to enforce your statement.

Instead try eliminating finger pointing words when addressing occurrences that hold negative values. Only spend a little time addressing the negative aspects of the relationship by mentioning it once, then following up with positive occurrences, giving praise where praise is due. Begin the next item with something positive again before addressing something negative, followed by another positive. In other words, two positives for every negative.

This brings me to the issue of honesty. I have been told on more than one occasion that I am “too honest” at times. I believe in sharing everything with my partner, even when I know it will be difficult or even cause tension. But I forge ahead regardless to show her that I have the utmost faith in our ability to work through anything and come out the other side stronger than ever. I am curious to hear your thoughts about the level of honesty you feel should be present in your relationship and why. Please leave a comment on here or you can contact me at Always Opening Doors.

Your Worst Enemy

There are many ways in which a person may define a relationship. There are many types of relationships. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines a relationship as:

A kinship

or

A state of affairs existing between those having interactions or dealings

One thing that people often forget to consider is that within any relationship involving two people, there are actually three relationships at work. There is the interaction between the two parties, but there is also the interactions between each party within themselves. To add some illustration, I have come up with the following formula:

He with her + Her with herself + He with himself = Relationship

The previous analogy that I used to describe relationships was that we are all kids playing in a big sandbox with Lego’s. Our lives are the blocks (Lego’s) with which our relationships are built. We have the ability to create any life we want, and have it be complete and satisfying all by itself. In order to obtain something greater than that which we can create ourselves, we build relationships with those around us by sharing our Lego’s. The sum of those Lego’s together is what generates a functional relationship.

So what happens when we don’t have the blocks necessary to build something on our own? If you apply the lack of blocks in a mathematical formula to match the one above, you will be left with an incomplete equation. One that must be solved for X before the relationship (read: equation) works.

He with her + Her with herself + X = Relationship

But even the equation above doesn’t really depict the entirety of the equation. It is much more complex than what is indicated above. Obviously, the sum is affected by the incomplete “he with himself” part of the equation. Because that part of the equation isn’t available, the “he with her” part of the equation is also affected.

Now this is where I am going to piss some people off. I’m sure of it. With the demonstration above as proof, I say that we are our own worst enemy within any relationship. Even relationships in which we are a legitimate victim.

I understand that people who stay in abusive relationships do so because it is a situation in which they feel the most comfortable. That’s not to say that they enjoy the situation or that they deserve any kind of abuse. I am simply saying that, for whatever reason, it is too terrifying to step outside of their comfort zone to remove themselves from a situation that they certainly don’t deserve. They would rather continue to suffer the abuse than to risk something which might be worse.

Now forget the rest of the equation for a moment and focus on the “he with himself” and “her with herself” part of things. To put it even more broadly, “we with ourselves”. That is the focus of this post. Each individual and the relationship that we each have with ourselves. It is the only relationship in our lives that allows us to have 100% control of the outcome of any situation. You can apply any circumstance or situation for the sum of the equation.

Me + myself = Career, or Me + myself = personal life (just to name a couple)

The more focus we put on nurturing the relationship with ourselves, the greater the sum of our lives will be. The more Lego blocks we will have, all to ourselves, with which to build whatever we desire. The more we neglect the relationship with ourselves, we will find that things just don’t add up as we wish.

Below is my Top 15 list of questions that can be modified to fit any situation. Answer these questions, and you will find the tools required to perform the maintenance on the relationship with yourself to keep things running in prime condition. The more work you do on this relationship, the bigger your sum will be.

  • What is it that you love to do?
  • What do you feel that you were born to do?
  • What do you do best?
  • What can you do well, with little effort?
  • In what areas are you naturally strong?
  • What would motivate you to tap into those strengths more often?
  • What skills can help you get to where you want to be in the future?
  • What is something at which you always wanted to be extraordinary?
  • When you die, what is something about which you will feel better knowing you have accomplished?
  • What would you like to do more of in your life?
  • What is about what you already have that is not satisfying?
  • What motivators are missing?
  • What makes you smile?
  • In the areas of your life with which you are satisfied, what has helped you accomplish that satisfaction?
  • Who would you be if you had nothing to prove?

The love that we show ourselves by constantly working on that relationship to obtain our desired results is the single most important aspect of any relationship with another person. The most functional relationships consist of two individuals who are complete and satisfied by themselves who have chosen to share their lives (Lego blocks) with one another to build something bigger. Any dissatisfaction in the relationship with ourselves will affect our relationships with others.

happ-I-ness

WOW! I cannot believe the attention and feedback that I’ve received from the last couple of posts about arguments. I cannot begin to thank you enough for taking time out of your busy lives and first, reading – then responding to my thoughts. Knowing that there is at least a few of you out there who took something away from my ideas, makes me happy.

And that is the topic of this week’s post – happiness. I remember having a discussion with a very dear friend several years ago on the subject of happiness. At the time, she wasn’t happy with her husband. She became unhappy with me when I told her that her happiness wasn’t his responsibility and that she had to own what was hers.

That DID NOT go over well. As I said, this conversation took place years ago and my ears are still ringing.

I am older and have considerably more life experience now. My views on that topic are not what they once were. What really prompted me to write about happiness this week is another post I read a few days ago by, what appeared to be, a teenager. To summarize, his thoughts were this:

-True happiness doesn’t exist because it can only be obtained by taking something away from someone else.

-Anyone who pursues happiness is a fool.

-There is limited happiness in the world and it gets passed around from person to person, based on one’s actions.

REALLY!?!?

In my post about arguments, I explained why people really argue – because of the differences in core beliefs about ourselves and the world around us. In the following post, I explained that we only had 50% control in any situation that involved another human being.

Both of those theories work for happiness too. I have come to realize how much a person risks when they dedicate themselves to a committed relationship. We do allow another person’s actions and words to have power over us and affect our level of happiness.

Why?

Because we love ourselves. Own what is yours and let the rest go. Let me explain this a different way. When I plan an extravagant date for Tina, I’m doing it just as much for myself as I am for her. Yes, I want to make her happy. Making her happy makes me happy. So really, I’m making the effort to make myself happy.

What I failed to consider when I had that conversation years ago was that by trying to make myself happy, I am giving up some of my control and making that happiness dependent upon Tina’s reaction. So…to the friend with whom I had that discussion years ago – I’m sorry. I was wrong. I’ve realized that at least part of our happiness is dependent upon another person. We always have control over how we react to the control that we relinquish. We may not be able to control our emotions. We can control how we react to those emotions. If you love someone, tell them. Show them. Never stop doing whatever you can to show that you appreciate the vulnerability they display by trying to give themselves happiness through you.

In the spirit of the pursuit of happiness, I have to share some exciting news before I close. Always Opening Doors has teamed up with Designing Love, Inc for a new reality series about the struggles of relationships. We are shooting the first episode in Pittsburgh at the end of April. If you, or anyone you know is married and would be interested in being on the show, please contact me by clicking here.