I chatted with a friend the other day. He's a successful business consultant, generous friend, warm and loving father, and active in his community.
And with all that, he doesn't feel like he's mastered the art of communication.
So he got me thinking about Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) for a great relationship. I'm going to swing to the side of the personal, but the same should work in all relationships.
So I thought about the complaints that some of us might hear:
- You never notice when . . .
- You always do that. You know how much I hate that.
- The romance is gone.
- You never surprise me any more.
- I never know when you are coming home. (This is not the time to say "I'm trying to surprise you.")
- You've let yourself go.
- You don't appreciate all I do around here.
- You never help.
And these pale in comparison to the final complaint, which we don't usually share. That one is much nastier and could look like: "It doesn't matter. S/He's is just going to do whatever the heck s/he wants anyway." This is the one, of course, that let's a hundred other complaints pile up, until there is this seething mass of resentment, which explodes because you leave your jacket on the couch, or put down the cold cup, but forget the coaster.
And at the bottom of it all, it really is all about the management of expectations. And to get to those, we need to communicate.
And it seems weird to talk about KPIs for this. Maybe you say to yourself "But it was so easy once upon a time." But maybe you also used to notice, probably before you were too bleary eyed from driving the kids around all weekend, or negotiating another holiday with the in-laws. (And wouldn't a thank you be nice?)
And you really do try to remember to put down the toilet seat, and get your sweaty gym clothes to the laundry room. And what about her? "Does she ever remember to put the car seat back again when she uses your car?"
Yes, you're justified too. But being right doesn't make a relationship. Communication does. So maybe it's time to build some of this into your relationship.
So if you want it to grow, it's time to look at what makes a difference. And it's going to start with a good conversation. This can be tough. Sometimes you've let the default program run for a while, and some resentment has built up. Sometimes you'll have to rebuild trust. Sometimes, people have never learned to communicate this straight.
I'm going to invite you to start here:
- Schedule a time (and show up like it's important): Schedule a babysitter if you must. Make sure you are both available and can turn off your devices for the duration.
- Agree to listen, and to not fly off the handle, no matter how uncomfortable you may get. (Imagine the worst possible scenario, like all your children are actually the product of an affair between her and your worst nemesis, then double it (she's actually the wife of the devil and planning to offer you up in human sacrifice), and prepare yourself for that).
- Create a safe space, like tell her you really want to hear the truth and you won't get angry, no matter how bad it looks to her now, and find a way to show her you'll live into that.
- Then Ask
- What works about you?
- What does she like about how you show up in the world?
- What doesn't work?
- Did she have expectations that weren't met? What were they?
- Did you make any promises that you don't even remember that you didn't keep?
- What are her expectations now?
- Is there anything you do that annoys her?
- Is there stuff you used to do that she appreciated that you aren't doing any more?
- Is there anything you do now that she appreciates that she wouldn't mind seeing more of?
- Is there anything that she'd like to hear from you?
- Is there anything she'd like you to notice?
- Is there anything she'd like you to acknowledge her for?
- Is there anything else she'd like you to know?
- If she knew you would take it on, what one piece of advice would she give you that she thinks would make the biggest difference in your relationship?
- How can you take responsibility for what was?
- What should you be taking responsibility for now?
- Is there anything she'd like to know from you?
- Is there anything for which she feels you owe her an apology?
- Listen like your life depends on it. Get interested. Take notes if you have to.
This isn't to say that you need to be everything she expects, or do everything she wants. It's just to get to what the world looks like through her eyes.
Depending where you are in your relationship, she might ask you some of these questions back. Then again, she might just say, out loud or to herself, "that's all nice talk, but talk is cheap. So what are you going to do now?"
Your job now is to look at all the stuff you wrote down, and look at what you could bring. Maybe you see some of the requests as completely doable, but others seem unreasonable, or even outrageous. You've at least got a point to negotiate from. And it could be that you find taking care of her is a lot easier than you think.
But the exercise is also to look at what is important to you. Maybe she starts with “I hate your poker nights.” You might discover that she just can't stand the mess and the smell that you and your buddies leave behind. It might be that all she needs you to do is clean up after yourself, sooner than you might otherwise do.
And then comment below. The faster you want me to get to Part Two, the faster you should get to work on Part One.