Success in relationships depends on not giving up.
Making repeated efforts with others over time determines this success. In any relationship, when we notice the same thing happening over and over and it does not feel good, it is important to think about what is going on so we can do something different.
In talking with couples in conflict, or when I listen to parents describing interactions with their kids, I’m struck by how the most successful relationships are when people think about what’s not working and why, and then try for something different. This makes a difference in the outcome and in how the people involved feel about each other.
A father and son repeatedly get into conflict after meals when the boy doesn’t clear the dishes from the table. In anger, the dad says: “I’ve told you to clear the dishes a thousand times.” Then, thinking over what he wants and why it doesn’t happen, the dad realizes the dishes are part of a larger issue: getting his son to learn responsibility and respecting what he’s told.
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This example illustrates several useful ideas: You may have a good point, but when the other person is not responding as you’d like, can you come at it from a different angle such as, “What else might be going on here?”
There is always a reason someone isn’t getting your point. Try explaining it differently, thinking not just about making your point but also about why the other person isn’t responding as you’d like. For this, especially when you’re angry or frustrated, getting distance from your feelings — not staying stuck in how right you are — will lead you both through the impasse.
Remember that over time all relationships are works in progress. The effort you put in over time makes all the difference.
Relationships are never perfect or static. What matters most is to keep trying.
As we grow up, this is crucial to learn: There is something more and better than getting it exactly right (or being right). Making the effort to think and feel something different gives you the freedom to try something new. This is what counts most.
When a parent or child sees their relationship as an accumulation of mistakes, it can make for anger and bitterness. One of the best ways to teach kids to become more resilient adults — to be those people able to respond to life with adaptive flexibility — is for a parent to keep trying, especially when the parent didn’t get it right the first time.
The key here is to approach relationships with others creatively. That is, when things seem to be tough between you and others, bring your imagination and original ideas to the situation.
Instead of being judgmental, get at the reasons why the difficulties keep happening. This is preferable to pointing the finger at who is right and wrong, and it is more likely to be effective at resolving the difficulties you are having.
Tony Hacker, Ph.D., is a Seattle area psychologist who sees individuals and couples in psychotherapy and psychoanalysis. His email is: email@example.com