Key To Happiness: Relationship Success
The key to happiness is crucial in everyone’s lives.
In our relationships, we struggle to figure out the proper communication techniques or when to say what or how to deal with the challenges of life. This is important, but often times the real issue is how we relate to the problems at hand. Can we meet our loved ones in a place of care and joy rather than creating a story about their incompetence and irresponsibility? How we show up in our relationships is a bigger factor in how successful they turn out than the content of the argument or conversation. When we focus on content without paying attention to our own internal experience we lose the ability to connect and be in relationship.
Caring Is Primary
This is the first key to happiness. When we get into arguments with those we love we become committed to the outcome of the argument. We want to prove the other person wrong by explaining how our reality of what happened is more legitimate than their reality of what happened. We get caught up in the details of who did what and when. Conversations go something like this:
“I put the cap on the toothpaste.”
“Then why is it not on the toothpaste right now?”
“I don’t know, maybe you took it off.”
“I didn’t take it off, you did.”
“No I didn’t. This is just like you to accuse me.”
What really matters here? What really matters is to acknowledge that you care for the other person. We step into the vulnerability of our fragile ego by letting our partner know that we don’t really know what happened but we are committed to showing them how much we love them by not arguing over something small. Our focus is on the care of the other.
Noticing The Story
When someone we love triggers us by saying something insensitive or disrespectful a story begins to form in our head about that other person. This story may be new or it may be familiar. It may read like this:
“He doesn’t respect me enough to even put the cap on the toothpaste. Why did I ever get together this person? He is such a slob? He never cleans anything up. I have to do everything.I can’t believe I have to put up with this. I have to leave this marriage and find someone who can treat me with respect.”
A good indication that you are in story is the use of words like, everything and never. Story isn’t necessarily rational. In my experience it is my bruised ego attempting to protect me from the pain I felt when this person triggered me. I can’t push them away physically so I do it mentally and emotionally.
When we are in story we tend towards self-righteous behavior. Personally, when I’m in this place I get very quiet and use a lot of patronizing body language like eye-rolling or staring and shaking my head at the other person. My goal is to make them feel demeaned in some way. It’s really awful.
The way out of the story is to notice it as it is happening. Once we notice we are in story, we can remind ourselves that this person we have made into a monster is the person we love more than any other.
Once we get out of the story we can start to come back into a more caring place and engage our partner/child in a more loving way.
Protecting Our Partners
When we commit to someone, whether in marriage or some other form of commitment we are committing to being in the care of that person. This is a very important key to happiness and this includes protecting them from both other people and ourselves.
In his latest book, We Do: Saying Yes to a Relationship of Depth, True Connection and Enduring Love, Dr. Stan Tatkin, a couple’s therapist, has this to say about it:
Secure functioning means that you and your partner can operate as a two-person psychological system as fully collaborative, cooperative, and mutually protective (Tatkin, 2018).
Protecting our partners means we are not willing to put them in harms way of our family, friends or ourselves. This means one of the primary things we intend in the relationship is making sure they feel safe. Safe to express themselves in a way that is also safe for you.
In committing to making sure our partners are safe requires that we commit to not lashing out, patronizing or berating them for mistakes or triggers that come up.
Managing Your Anxiety
I know, this all sounds great, but, it is so hard in practice. Here is what I want to say about successful relationships. When two partners have enough awareness to manage their own anxiety they can easily get to this place of care when one or both are triggered.
How do we manage our anxiety? We feel it. Once we are aware that we are feeling anxious or overwhelmed we have a much better shot at finding a way to stay connected to our partner.
The way I manage my anxiety is that I will continue to remind my body to relax while I’m being triggered or feeling attacked. As I remind myself to relax my body and mind can absorb more of the other person’s hostility. Instead of moving into story and self-righteousness I can stay connected and decide how to respond.
When we absorb our loved one’s distress it actually helps them feel more regulated. It is hard to be angry at someone that is validating your experience and taking responsibility for how you are feeling. This way of co-regulating is one way we can keep our partner feeling safe.
How This Shows Up In My Life
Although I understand all of what I have written I hope it is also clear that I fail at this continuously. We don’t need to be perfect at this stuff to have a healthy relationship. The goal is also to commit to getting better at it over time.
The key to happiness is to keep practicing. Keep working on bringing awareness to your emotions so that you can realize your nervous system is dysregulated and you can take steps to get regulated.
Just like with your partner, be kind and caring to yourself.
If you need help finding ways to working with these issues schedule a free 30 minute consult.
Wishing You The Day You Need To Have!