Relationship Problems: It’s Not Personal

It doesn’t seem to matter whether I’m working with someone involved in a relationship or someone who has just left one. When people come to me for help with their relationships, I hear a lot of complaining, blaming, and criticizing with very little understanding, support, and acceptance. Although it’s a difficult step to take, it’s immensely helpful to rise above whatever conflict you’re facing in your relationship, forget about the other person for a moment, and ask yourself some difficult questions. Will holding onto anger and resentment help you recover from your relationship? Or will understanding and acceptance open a happier and healthier path to healing? You know the answer, you just aren’t sure how to get there. Believe me, I understand.

In relationships, men and women often operate in very different ways, so understanding the opposite gender is often a challenge. In addition, we all have our own unique understanding of the world, and the behaviors, thoughts, and emotions of the people in our lives doesn’t always translate. Not only do we all have our own operating systems, but we also tend to take the actions, thoughts, and feelings of our lovers very personally. In reality, it is rarely about us. Our significant others engage in behaviors that help them get the most of what they want. They are rarely plotting, planning, and scheming to do you wrong, but it sure does feel like it, doesn’t it?

Do you think the person in the McDonald’s drive-through takes it personally when she asks if you’d like to supersize and you decline? Of course not, because she is unattached to the outcome; she has no investment in your answer. However, when communicating in our relationships, we often have a big attachment to the outcome. We want our loved one to always supersize, and when he or she doesn’t, we take it personally and think it’s about us. We become hurt and, since that’s an emotion we are not comfortable with, we often turn that hurt into anger.

What I’m suggesting is that when things don’t go your way, and there will be many times they don’t, stop taking it personally. Detach yourself from the outcome. Know what you want, ask for what you want, and if you get it, great. If you don’t, figure out a way to make that great too.

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If your loved one is trying to open up about the things in your relationship he or she doesn’t like, please listen with an ear for understanding. Though it’s tempting to counter with a defensive posture, looking for holes in the story or ulterior motives, do everything in your power to push that tendency aside. People in healthy relationships communicate honestly about what is going on. Just because their position does not make sense to you, doesn’t mean it isn’t true for them.

I was once in a relationship with someone and thought we were exclusive. When I learned that wasn’t the case, I conveyed my unhappiness to my partner. He was surprised I expected exclusivity and explained his position. He told me he loved me more than he had ever loved anyone; that didn’t make sense to me because, in my world, when you love someone, you don’t have sex with other people. But that wasn’t his world. I listened, and I understood where he was coming from, but I needed more from the man I love. Though I never doubted his love for me, we stopped being intimate, but we have never stopped being friends because we respect each other. If I had only heard him from my defensive frame of reference, then I would have been furious and never wanted to speak with him again. But it wasn’t about me, it was about what he needed in a relationship. When I realized we wanted different things, it was time to end that part of our relationship.

Just because someone says “no thank you” doesn’t mean it’s the end of the world. There are many other people, literally billions, and one of them might say “yes, please.” It took me a long time to figure out not everyone is going to like me because I want them to. People have their own likes and dislikes; sometimes there will be a match and other times there won’t be. Some people like blue and others prefer red. If I am a red and encounter a person that prefers blue, it will result in a “no, thank you.” That doesn’t mean there is anything wrong with me. I am just not blue—no harm, no foul. I don’t want to turn myself inside out, trying to go from red to blue, just so someone will like me. If you prefer blue, then I wish you well and hope you find the blue person of your dreams. I will continue my search for a person who appreciates what red has to offer.

That’s the level of detachment that will serve us in relationships. Know what you want and be attached to that. Attaching to an outcome with a particular individual will likely result in clinging to the “wrong” individual. And when you are listening to something that may not be easy to hear, don’t take it personally, but try to really understand where the other person is coming from. Because when you can do that, you will realize it really isn’t personal, and you can go forward with greater understanding.

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