We must abandon our hopes and expectations and trade them for reality if we hope to flow better and with less resistance. Particularly now more than ever, everyone is on guard 24/7 with people jumping on them the moment they slip; use the wrong word, make a false statement, or even display an emotion that the other person chooses not to approve of.
It’s no wonder people feel on edge. There have never been more things in this world that are unacceptable. We are all judging each other quite harshly and we’ll always have a defence for how our judgment is actually valuable, even though it’s us in our personal reality that’s having that experience, not others. Two people can stand at a party listening to someone they just met and one can hate them and one can love them. Our judgments aren’t the world, they’re just ours personal thought-created reality.
As a perpetrator you know this as blame. As a victim you know this as a lack of acceptance. But that’s a cycle you’re participating in and you have total control over it. These feelings emerge directly from thinking about what you have and then comparing that to what you got. You not only judge and separate, you compare and value things, so you’ll say things like, “But that’s not as bad as the time you….” It’s like it’s a competition of who behaves better and there’s some scoreboard somewhere.
If your spouse comes home from work angry every single day then they either need to change their job or change their attitude. But if they come home from work and they’re occasionally upset, your job isn’t to explain to them what acceptable is, nor is to demand that behaviour immediately and yet that’s what most people do. “Don’t yell at me! I’m not your damned boss!”
You know what? In the fictitious made-up-of-our-thoughts world of social mores and good behaviour you’re right; they are acting out of sync with what most of us have defined as the healthiest behaviours or reactions, but the healthiest somehow became absolutes. They became expectations, then demands, and then eventually we go past behaviour being unacceptable to where actual people are deemed unacceptable. It’s why everyone works their entire life to just try to get one parent–even if they’re dead!–to respect them.
Everyone’s desperately trying to get back to acceptableness, to connection, to love. The sometimes angry spouse is made unacceptable at work, they come home to seek some solace and instead they are told they are unacceptable there too. And we wonder why marriages fail.
But what if instead of judging everyone, we just stayed aware of what’s happening? And what if our aim wasn’t to be right, or to have expectations of being treated a certain way, or to get someone to see it your way, and what if our aim was peace? What if in every situation we only asked, what would make this situation better? Not the person, the situation. Depersonalise it.
Obviously this does not extend to someone allowing people to beat or regularly mistreat them. We don’t want a bunch of weaker people just being slaves to stronger ones. But in most relationships people aren’t getting physically beaten or even emotionally scarred by big problems about big issues. Most relationships die the death of a thousand small cuts.
If we have peace as our objective the scene plays out this way:
“If I have to work another day for that idiot I’m gonna kill myself! He gets me to spend 90% of my day on the thing he asked me to do and then later he bitches at me because some entirely different thing didn’t get done. There’s not three of me!! What the hell does he expect me to do?! And what, I’m supposed to read his mind?”
The person approaches with warm, open physical language and maybe embraces the person. Maybe they shrug you off, but you’re not judging their reaction, you’re seeking peace. You just shift their thinking away from their boss and onto something more peaceful and positive. And keep in mind, sometimes that’s just silent, genuine compassion. Trust me, they’ll see it in your eyes.
“Oh I’m sorry he put you through that. That’s a terrible feeling. I remember feeling like that when they transferred me to accounting.
This breeds connection and empathy. They feel you hear them; that you understand. You’re now sharing the pressure they’ve been feeling so it immediately feels better. Keep in mind, it might take four tries to get there. But you can’t see it as trying, these have to be very honest responses each time in that moment. Those responses will come naturally if you don’t think about what you want (better behaviour) and instead think about what they need (to feel cared for), because one will naturally lead to the other.
You can’t argue people into reasonableness and you can’t argue them into a good mood. You cannot conduct a relationship in the world of thought because we feel the world as an emotional experience. You have to help the world feel good. A good marriage is just two people who always want the other person to feel good. If you look at almost any marital problem, it’ll be because someone is placing their fears ahead of the other person’s joy. We can do that for a short time, but you can’t make a marriage of that.
Stop trying to be right. Start understanding that you give your spouse the same challenges they give you, just in different ways. Take your next lineup and use it to meditate on how you like being responded to when you’re upset. Then consider your partner and ask yourself what their version of that is; maybe you want to your feet massaged and they want to go out for dinner. It doesn’t matter which love language you use as long as it fits the person you’re dealing with.
Ask yourself what makes you feel better when you’re down or feeling victimised. Look at your past and how you’ve reacted to your partner in a similar situation and be honest enough to ask if there would have been a tactic that would have worked better. Because in many cases marriages don’t break up because the people changed, they end because they people developed too many judgments and they traded those for their compassion.
Relationships should be founded on compassion. Before anything else, you should just basically care that that person’s life experience is rewarding. There’s no better way to improve a relationship than to think about the other person instead of yourself. So ask yourself, the next time your partner is upset, will you contribute to them feeling better, or will you judge them and make that harder?
Scott McPherson is an Edmonton-based writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and non-profit organisations locally and around the world.