Before I jump off this cliff, let me tell you I am not a professional in these matters. Although I’ve left a few broken relationships by the roadside as I motored through life (driving a bit too fast while listening to rock and roll blaring on the radio) I am not trained in marriage counseling. I guess that makes me knowledgeable by experience if not by education. I’m a student of life, educated in the classroom of experience. I have been both an observer and a participant. I have watched what worked in relationships and what failed. I began observing these scenarios at a very early age.
My childhood years had my family living in more than 20 cities by the time I was five. My dad was on an oil exploration crew so our address was either the motel we were in today or the one down the road where we’d be tomorrow. My mom said their nights were filled with loud music, dancing and lots of drinking. But somehow Dad got up the next day and did it all over again. In most of the motels there was not a baby crib so I slept in a drawer. As far as I know, they kept the drawer open!
By the age of 5, I knew that when a voice was raised over a normal level something bad was about to happen. Antagonistic tones could be loud but really soft tones were just as terrifying. These things I learned closer to the age of 10, as I sat quietly listening and wondering why. I found that anger was frightening but even worse was disappointment. Angry tones could come quickly but soon faded. The words of disappointment hung in the room like the smoke from too many cigarettes. By the time I reached junior high I realized that my parents were just staying together for me. They were committed to being parents for my sake. But don’t misunderstand, one thing I knew with certainty was that I was loved. Unconditionally loved. And knowing I was loved was enough. It was enough.
My blogs deal with the joy of connection and the pain of disconnection . I was deeply connected to both my parents but I could see their disconnection from each other. I would say I learned much in my early years by observing but I have learned even more in the 35 years I’ve been married, not by observing but by living and loving.
I have a great marriage, and it is great because we work at making it that way every day. A friend once asked, “Aren’t there just days when you can coast?” The answer is a resounding “NO.” A relationship is just like a car. When you put it in neutral, you’re going nowhere. This is true in business relationships as well as personal ones. But for this blog, let’s get personal.
To examine actions that could reconnect a relationship it’s important to know the extent of the disconnect. Let me explain my reasoning. If I think about friends’ marriages I have tried to save over the last 30 years, I am batting zero. I haven’t been able to save even one. If you were hoping I had some magic advice that could put things back together, I’m sure you’re getting a little concerned at this point. Before you give up on me let me explain my poor score. In each case the marriage was completely disconnected. The distance between them was too far and they had suffered the pain for too long. There was no way back. They were each lost in a sea of lies and disappointment. All my help accomplished was to delay the inevitable. I know this sounds hopeless and depressing, but there really is hope. Many relationships can be saved long before the final divide. Let’s focus on those.
There is a change in relationships that happens but is not part of the disconnect. It is a time of adjustment. This is not the beginning of disconnect, butrathera reversal of connectionadvocates within the relationship. Let me explain. The partner that desires the connection the most will initiate actions to keep the connection intact. These actions could be physical or verbal but they have one main purpose, to maintain closeness. Within the relationship this responsibility to be the advocate who protects and maintains the connection will change from partner to partner throughout the life of the relationship.
This positioning might look like a weakening of the bond but, in fact, is only a natural handoff of the torch. In a good relationship the intimacy leadership role gets passed back and forth many times over the span of years. This is not only healthy but desirable. A colleague once said it perfectly when asked how he and his wife achieved a long and happy marriage. “We have been married a long time because we never fell out of love at the same time. One of us was enough in love to be willing to sacrifice and work on the marriage when the other had given up.” That’s an amazing statement, isn’t it? It may very well be the most important ingredient to a long and happy marriage.
When the relationship begins to disconnect, it comes in three stages. Three conditions that weaken the connection before full disconnect occurs.
The first part of this stage is unrealisticexpectations. When a relationship begins to develop we begin to have expectations about what it could become. The extent and the type of our expectations depends on many things. One thing that seems to be the most influential is our past experience. How were we treated as a child? Did we live in a world of reality? What was that reality? Did we learn to take responsibility for our own happiness or did we grow up depending on others to satisfy our needs, and did they? What causes some people to expect more from their partner than the partner is able or willing to give? I wish I knew the answer.
Unrealisticexpectations can be evidenced everywhere. When we expect more than a person has the ability to give, we lose. The people involved feel like they failed. I disagree with those who believe failure is a motivator. I believe, in a relationship more times than not, failure is just failure. Too many times in a relationship we believe our love or caring can cause the other person to rise above their level and become more. This might be true to some extent, but how much more can they grow is the question. Again, if we are unrealistic in our expectations then we both lose. But wait a minute, what if my expectations are unrealistic but I find this amazing partner who meets them all? First, pinch yourself because you are either dreaming or you are the luckiest person I’ve ever met. For now, let’s assume there is a remote possibility that an unrealisticexpectation could be met.
So maybe the real issue is not unrealisticexpectations but the second part of this stage, unmetexpectations, whether unrealistic or not. These expectations may be totally reasonable but still not met. What is reasonable for one person might be completely unreasonable for another. Reasonable depends on your frame of reference. We all see the world through different glasses. Each layer of the lens is crafted by our experiences, good and bad. It can be very hard to take off those glasses. Most people believe that meeting our basic needs is the least we should expect from a relationship. But these needs might still go unmet. You’re a loving person. You’re faithful and respectful. You deserve the same in return. Is that too much to ask?
Expectations may also change as we age. This can create problems when the expectations of one partner don’t change to meet the expectations or even the ability of the other. I have a son that is 26 years old. I asked him how his relationship expectations have changed since he was a teenager. He said that when he was younger he looked for a girlfriend that was fun to be with. That’s right, just fun and not much else. At 26 his expectations are different. He said he now looks for a girl that has parental qualities. Unsure of what he meant by parental, I asked him to explain. He told me that parental means nurturing, kind, thoughtful and looking out for your best interests. Someone mature enough to hold up her end of the relationship. A woman, not a girl. Seems reasonable to me.
So what about me? What are my expectations? I still expect honesty and faithfulness, but now more than ever, I expect passion. Passion can come in many packages. It can be defined in many ways. I like what Wikipedia says, “Passion may be an eager interest in or admiration for a proposal, cause, discovery or activity or love.” Passion is the fuel that drives the soul.
Passion is the Fountain of Youth. Those that have a passion for the things life offers have the best chance to have a happy life. Life without passion is cold, dark and empty. Passion is the fire that continues to burn inside, but only if you keep adding fuel. Find something your passionate about and give yourself to it.
I don’t profess that we are all the same in our expectations, so you will find yours different than mine. We are often told that our desire naturally wanes. I don’t agree. It certainly is complicated if health becomes an issue, or if abuse, addiction, or adultery are involved. From the outside, it may look like we just give up and thus the disconnect. Passion is possible at any age. But without it, we age quicker than our years. Expectationsunmet, whether unrealistic or not, start the divide that becomes the start of the disconnect.
The first step in solving any problem is to accept a problem exists. In this case, the next step is to realize the problem may be of your own making. Begin by accepting others for what they are instead of what we expect them to be. Most of the experts agree that there are three paths to avoid or repair this disconnect from unmetexpectations.
First, make sure you’re aware of your expectations. Second, make them reasonable and third, talk about them to you partner. Try to experience life and not expect it. Experience not expectation. Let’s look at it another way. I would like to paraphrase what I remember from a movie called Parenthood. The grandmother in the family has witnessed the chaos that occurs when balancing a job, marriage, children and the world around. It gets pretty overwhelming. But she shares a story that has great insight. She says that when she was a little girl she would go to the amusement park. Bright lights and lots to do. Some children chose to ride the merry go round. But it just went around and around. What’s the fun in that? She loved the roller coaster. The ups and the downs. The thrill. The excitement.
Life is about experiencing, not sitting back observing and definitely not going around and around, seeing the same things again and again. It’s easy to start out idealistic, but no one can live up to our idealistic view of what life should be. We need to become realistic not idealistic. I would like to share with you what my wife calls a Steveism.
When I find myself feeling unhappy and dissatisfied with my life, it means I’m thinking too much about myself and not enough about others.
The second step in avoiding or handling unrealisticexpectations is communication. Talk often and talk openly to your partner. Don’t avoid the difficult topics. Put them on the table and negotiate how they can be handled. Sometimes when you explain your expectations, you might find your partner is very willing to meet those needs. They just might need to be stated another way. But you also need to be willing to compromise. A good relationship is a product of give and take. I have another Steveism that works for us.
He who has the most emotion at risk or invested in a subject should get special consideration in the decision.
Let me give you an example. When Debby and I were deciding whether to move our children to a private faith centered school or to leave them in public schools, I really wasn’t in favor of the private school for two reasons. First, the money. It seemed crazy to pay for private school when my taxes were already paying for the public schools in my area. Second, the public schools in our area were great schools. So for me they could get a good education in our public schools at a lot less cost to our family. On the other hand, my wife had a very deep feeling about this decision. For her it was an emotional decision that would change their lives. So who had the most emotion invested? She did. So you guessed it. They were transferred to the faith based school. I won’t give you all the details of the amazing things that occurred, but I will tell you that my wife was right. Let me give you another Steveism.
Trust your feelings. This is another strategy that may help soften the disappointment of unmetexpectations and therefore mitigate the damage. You might call this tactic the early warning system. The best way to explain it is to give you another personal example. My wife and I had decided that Friday night would be date night. A great dinner out somewhere followed by a romantic evening. Her heart was in the right place but the flu bug made the evening impossible. So does she wait till I get home to tell me? No. There’s a better way. She calls and tells me how much she was looking forward to our date but she feels awful. Could we postpone the date a day or two till she feels better?
What makes this work? It’s what she says next. “I’m disappointed to postpone our date, but you deserve my A game. Thanks for understanding, I’m really looking forward to being together. Would Saturday night work?” Because she was the one who must postpone the date, she is responsible for setting the new date and time.
So how did I feel after her comment? I felt loved, wanted and even more, desired and isn’t that what I really wanted anyway? My wife and I have a name for this. We call it giving goodphone. More on that later!
Steve Haberly Thenextblogwillexplorethesecondstagedisconnect, Promises Broken – Words Said in Anger