Many of us (myself included in the form of talking to couples around the globe) are searching for the answer to making a relationship work. We want that golden nugget of advice that lives outside of ourselves, the secret to happily ever after. What if the secret lies within us, behind our eyes and in between our ears in the form of our very own thinking?
Within any given day there are 1000 choice points- the choice of working with and accepting the fact that human beings are inherently annoying, and the choice of accepting the dirty sponge left in the sink by our partner for the third time this week. We can choose to accept the sponge as part of the experience of being in relationship, or we can sabotage our current relationship by fantasizing about a potential fictional partner who won’t annoy us.
FAIRYTALES DON’T EXIST IN REAL LIFE
Fairytales exist in storybook endings, they don’t exist in real life. Relationships in real life are made up of irritations and disturbances. As Kia describes, the key lies in whether to focus on the crack in the pavement or the flower growing through. If we chronically focus on the crack instead of the flower, or refuse to accept the crack as part of the sidewalk, then the relationship is destined to fail.
Bruce Tift, a therapist in Boulder, Colorado says, “Our culture has this very strange idea that we are supposed to somehow have a life without disturbance, and many of us use disturbance, emotional disturbance especially, as evidence that there’s a problem that’s supposed to be solved.” He claims that it is not possible to have an intimate relationship without disturbance (feelings of discomfort) and that the solution comes down to personal responsibility of how we deal with that disturbance. That our only option is to embody our experience of the disturbance, as in feel the feelings and stop complaining about them.
So many of us are relationship saboteurs, thinking that irritation should be the precursor to us running away and screaming, “This is not the right relationship!” The easy path is to point the finger at the other person, it is not easy to look toward ourselves as the source of our own irritation. Tift claims that the annoyances that come up for us in relationship aren’t about the other person at all, that the annoyances point right back to our own thinking and how we deal with those experiences.
Yes, we can expect basic courtesies, but no partner is perfect and any partner is inevitably going to annoy us in some way. Within reason, we can try to communicate with our partner about the irritations and ask them to adjust and change their behavior, but most people don’t change, so it is up to us to decide– to continually nag and feel annoyed or leave the relationship or find acceptance. We aren’t necessarily accepting the behavior, we can continue to not like it, but we are accepting the fact that our irritation about it is for us to work with and part of being in relationship.
DON’T SWEAT THE SMALL STUFF
The way I boil down Bruce’s opinion is similar to the age-old advice we have all heard: Don’t sweat the small stuff. Sweating the annoyance equates to fighting it rather than accepting it as simply a part of life.
“Some people after 10 or 20 years of relationship, of mediation, of psychotherapy, of drugs, of exercise or whatever, have found that nothing has given them a life without disturbance. So some people are ready to explore the counter instinctual discipline of committing to difficult feelings as being a legitimate necessary part of our human experience and not evidence of a problem…but that’s not a popular view.” Tift’s view may be hard to swallow for some, especially those who are convinced that they will find someone who isn’t annoying in any way– those people are likely serial daters or single.
Similar to the recent article about sex in the New York Times that stated, “Maybe if we worried less about sex, we’d have more of it,” maybe if we worried less about feeling annoyed with our partner, we’d experience more partnership.