Photo: Todd MacMillan
The author of Brotherhood: Dharma, Destiny, and the American Dream and founder of The Chopra Foundation helps us understand how to revitalize our lifelong unions.
Relationships are hard work, and the idea that you can be in a miraculous relationship needs explaining. What is a miraculous relationship? It's one where both partners grow spiritually, increasing in love, personal evolution and shared experience of the soul.
Three major obstacles keep this from happening, and you can watch them operating in your own relationship if you look closely, with open eyes and honest intent: control (the need for one person to coerce the other into doing things "My way"), competition (the need to turn every situation into win or lose) and lack of communication (the refusal to share how you feel and to hear how your partner feels).
1. Working on Control
Controlling people can be identified by a few primary characteristics: (1) their way is best; (2) they find ways to excuse themselves while at the same time finding fault with others; (3) they are perfectionists—other people's work is never good enough to meet their standards; (4) they think they know what's best for other people; and (5) they sound reasonable on the surface but are tightly wound underneath, leading to an irrational need to have every detail be perfect—anything less than perfect just isn't "right," as defined by them, of course.
If you are in a relationship where these ingredients dominate, either in your partner or yourself, change will be very difficult. Control freaks are too afraid to change, and whenever change appears, they become agitated inside, causing them to double up on their control.
Fortunately, control is rarely so extreme. It exists as an obstacle mostly when two people start arguing over "my way" versus "your way." Telltale signs of controlling behavior can be found in typical statements that come up time and again, such as: (1) "You know I'm right."; (2) "I have this covered, leave everything to me."; (3) "I only have your best interests at heart."; (4) "You didn't do it right, how often do I have to remind you?"; (5) "Why do I always have to clean up your mess?"; (6) "You left a dirty dish in the sink again."
If you recognize yourself as the taskmaster, perfectionist, neat freak or the possessive one in your relationship, pause and confront this obstacle. What you need to work on is to remove the underlying tension that always exists if another person feels controlled—they are being slowly suffocated. Your good intentions don't matter, because no matter how neat the house is, how perfectly you raise the children, how skillfully you manage every detail, if your partner is being suffocated, your controlling behavior is leading to trouble. If you do, your partner will see changes that will help him or her start to soften their resistance.
2. Working on Competition
Everyone likes to win, but when winning becomes your chief tactic for boosting your ego, it becomes an obstacle. Highly competitive people constantly need the feedback of winning because there is an underlying fear of losing. The chief reason this trait surfaces is that winners get a lot of approval. They achieve success, and on that basis they forget that winning has a downside, especially in relationships.
When you win, the following may occur far too often: (1) you make your partner wrong; (2) winning turns into a put down—your partner feels belittled and demeaned; (3) you play unfair but won't admit it; (4) you aren't supporting your partner, whose interests and viewpoint don't matter as much as yours; (5) your partner feels pushed away; (6) you imply a threat if you lose. The threat can be withdrawal of affection, attention, approval, sex or emotional closeness.
The key is to offer rational reasons for change, and these reasons must sidestep the whole issue of winning and losing. Winners are forced to stand on a pedestal. It's lonely up there, your partner wants to step down, but he (or she) can't do it alone. Your role is to offer a reasonable way to promote change. The initiative has to be his (or hers), and in the end, a person must be allowed at least one victory a day. But it doesn't have to be at your expense. You aren't the follower, the admiring spectator, the loser, the victim or the second banana. Work on making that clear to yourself first and then to your partner. Deep down, every winner wants to be paired with someone who doesn't demand them to perform all the time. From that little seed a close bonding can grow.
Next: When there's a gap in communication