I came home after a dinner with friends to hungry cats, wet laundry still in the washing machine, and muddy footprints tracked across the carpet.
I was tired. And I felt my tension rise. I’d expected those chores to be covered.
He had been out in the yard, digging a French drain to keep the crawl space from drawing too much rainwater during the winter storms.
He was tired from the wet, dirty work. He’d expected me to be pleased by the effort.
By the time we sorted through missed expectations, we were both impatient and irritated. We didn’t feel like talking – probably good because neither of us felt like listening either.
Every relationship, whether it’s with your kid or your partner or your boss or your mom or the computer customer service guy who can’t seem to understand what isn’t working, has moments of tension and challenge.
Sometimes it is big stuff – like how to cope with a cheating spouse, or how to work with a boss who doesn’t share your values. Other times – most times – getting through the day requires us to respond to a variety of small tensions – like chores and changing schedules, parenting dilemmas, bill paying, coordinating vacation time, and folding laundry.
How you handle these conflicts big and small determines the resilience of the relationship and how good you’ll feel going forward. Handle the conflict with respect and grace and you’ll be fortified with positive energy that is good for you and the people you care about.
But if you blow it and spin off into a contrail of blame and anger and hostility everybody is going to suffer.
Over the years as I’ve worked to learn and grow in my own marriage, interviewed relationship experts, and written dozens of articles on the topic. I’ve made plenty of mistakes, too, but there are some pieces of advice have stuck with me. These are the things I can actually do – even when I’m ticked. And, when I use them they make a difference.
Give a Do-Overs
Stuff is going to happen. People – good people – are going to make big ol’ messy mistakes. Heck, you are going to make big ol’ messy mistakes. But sometimes the best way to get through the upset is to give the other individual the benefit of the doubt and move on.
He blew it, or perhaps you did, but nobody meant to cause harm. A do-over allows you to start again without rehashing.
Give these freely (aloud or quietly to yourself) and ask for them too, when you know you’ve stepped out of bounds and need to start over. Instead of over analyzing and blaming, just acknowledge the conversation has gone off the rails, drop it, and do it over. Better this time.
This requires compassion too. An understanding that sometimes our egos run amok and people around us do crappy things or maybe we are responsible for the bad behavior. Compassion allows you to grant the do-over or accept your responsibility in the matter and go forward gently without causing more hurt.
A compassionate do-over has made a difference in my relationship. In Wednesday’s post I’ll share three other tips that have too.