Healthy relationships should feel like a bubbling fresh spring of water inside of us. They should naturally fill our lives full with feelings of happiness, wealth, and fulfillment. But when we experience relationship problems, that same fresh water can feel like it’s boiling and scalding us from inside our heart, and contaminating the happiness we feel in our lives.
I’ll be honest: It only took me 3 weeks of being married to realize why the divorce rate is so high in America. We are all imperfect people. Bad habits are hard to break, and forgiveness is difficult. Realizing that we have our own flaws can be a devastating blow to our egos. Our patience wears thin. It can feel easier to quit, than to find solutions. But we have to remember that relationship problems are a normal part of life for all of us at some point.
Here are 3 lessons I’ve learned the hard way to improve our relationship problems:
1) Relationship problem #1: Be a football coach less of the time, and a lover more of the time.
I’ll admit it: I am a goal-driven man, and my goals can consume me. I can turn into a demanding football coach to achieve my goals. Sometimes, my wife has to deal with the football-coach side of me, rather than the loving man she married.
For example, my wife and I were out for an evening walk in the first year of our marriage. I hadn’t said anything, but I had been quietly getting frustrated with some of the excuses, and a lack of overall toughness, that had been creeping into our marriage.
Rather than rising up and fighting for our dream life together, we had gotten into a bad habit of being lazy and making excuses why we couldn’t live our dreams. This behavior made me internally frustrated because I knew we were both better than that. After another excuse was made as to why things weren’t going smoothly for us, I got angry and went into full football-coach mode. The football-coach side of me was determined to fix the problem with hard work and discipline.
I pointed at the biggest hill in the park and yelled, “See those hills? We’re both going to run them until we’re bigger, stronger, and tougher than the excuses that have been keeping us lazy and weak.”
My wife protested. I pointed more firmly and talked louder. “No. We’re going to stay out here practicing on those hills until we’re stronger than our excuses.”
My wife wanted to go home after the first hill. “No,” I said, “We’re going to run them again, and again, until we prove to ourselves that we don’t have room for excuses in our life anymore!” We ran the giant hill another 6-10 times until we were both exhausted.
As we walked home, I realized that even though the football-coach in me got the results I wanted, I also missed out on an opportunity to build up my wife’s needs.
From my experience, my wife finds confidence in herself when she feels loved, accepted, and valued. When I get into full football-coach mode, I don’t think about her feelings. I only think about getting the results I want, and I can do a better job thinking about her during moments like these.
My first instinct as a goal-driven man isn’t to cuddle, comfort, and say mushy things to make her feel loved. But my wife is a happier person when I do these things. I need to serve her needs, and help her grow too. She’s an equal partner in my life, and our relationship has a bigger purpose than just fulfilling my goals all the time.
On a side note: I have no shame in sharing this story. In fact, I think a lot of couples out there could learn a few things by running hills together. I think all relationships need practice getting tougher, so when the difficult moments in life occur, you can be ready to overcome them.
2) Relationship Problem #2: Be a Teacher. Not a dictator.
This lesson to be a major reason why so many relationships fail in society today. I’ve learned that I am better than my wife at some things, and she is better than me at some things. The only way we can both improve, is for us to teach each other our strengths.
Teaching is an art form of being patient and caring, while communicating helpful advice all at the same time. A great teacher knows that failure is part of the learning process. A teacher doesn’t get discouraged by failure. They support their team through their failures, and encourage them to overcome them and get better. Learning and improving new skills, and breaking bad habits, takes time. Success in relationships doesn’t happen overnight. A teacher’s goal should always be to enlighten with love and wisdom, and lead by example.
Our relationship problems slowly disappear when my wife and I both share the mindset of learners and teachers. Our marriage no longer feels like it’s falling apart when we try to help each other. It feels like we’re finding our purpose, and going on an adventure together to find a better life.
3) Relationship problem #3: Conflict = Uncommunicated expectations.
We attended our first marriage conference last year. (Weekend to Remember was it’s name. Highly recommend it.)
The most important thing we learned there was: “Conflict (relationship problems) occurs when the expectations you have are not clearly communicated to the other person.
Let me state that insanely powerful piece of wisdom again so that it is absolutely clear:
Expectations that are NOT communicated = conflict in relationships.
Bam! That bit of wisdom went right to the source of all the relationship problems we’ve ever had.
As an example, when we were dating, I took my wife to a business dinner with a client. I was raised in a very polished, business-minded family, so I am hyper-aware of all the norms and manners to display during a formal meeting.
But my wife had a totally different upbringing and outlook. She was home-schooled and didn’t have any real experience on how to act in formal meetings. She decided that she could act however she wanted to act, and didn’t care if she offended anyone. Her attitude was: If people don’t like me because of how I folded my napkin, and sat in a chair, that was their problem and not hers!
I remember feeling mortified when she clearly didn’t know all the social norms that I was taught growing up. I became ultra-paranoid that we were going to stick out like classless sore-thumbs.
That night, as we drove home, we argued and fought the way. I was livid that she didn’t care about my feelings of wanting to fit in, and she was angry that I was expecting her to change who she was to fit in with a bunch of uptight snobs who thought it was more important to act a certain way, than to just be a good person on the inside.
Ultimately, I was mad that she hadn’t read my mind. And she was mad at me for not communicating the invisible set of rules I wanted her to follow. We ended the night exhausted and not knowing what was fair to ask of the other person.
Once we learned that all relationship problems rise from uncommunicated expectations, we were able to build a bridge to a better relationship.
After that night, we made a commitment to always explain our expectations to the other person before we leave the house and try something new. If we’re doing something that’s important to the other person, we always try to have a conversation before we go out that goes something like this:
“Dear Loved One, these are my expectations of how tonight will go. This event is important to me, so I’m letting you know now to please try to meet my hopes of you. If you have any problems with any of my expectations, or if you think they’re unreasonable, please let me know now so we can make adjustments and both have a great time.”
Simple conversations like this, in private, have drastically improved our relationship. Talking about our expectations has helped us drastically reduce opportunities for relationship problems. We now try to help each other live out our dreams. Communicating has helped strengthen our teamwork. Being able to successfully do the things we love together has helped us come closer together.
In conclusion, overcoming relationship problems is one of the easiest ways you can build wealth in your life. Wealth isn’t always found in just making more money. (Click links for more wealth articles) Wealth can only be discovered by being content in your relationships, spirituality, and purpose.
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