The Silent Partner

Over the last few years I’ve experienced some things that have made me truly analyze myself and rethink my priorities and approach to life, my wife and kids. It has, in turn, created major changes in my heart, mind and soul. I have also watched a few other people change and adapt to certain life altering episodes, which has helped adjust my perspective and has instilled a sense of hope for the direction of my own life. If I can watch people change (for what I see as “the better”) then I know, or at least think, that there may be hope for me too. Perhaps I can make the adjustments that I need so I can become a better example for my family and others and be a genuine husband, lover, father and friend.

A couple of things I think I’m actually pretty good at are listening and thinking, sometimes too good and a little too much though. In fact, in a strange way that seems so obvious to me now, this was at the root of my primary errors in my relationship because it actually fed and enabled negative behavior and resentment in both of us. Arguments, I am learning, apparently may actually be a good thing and shouldn’t be avoided. We shouldn’t be doing all we can to evade them but actually be trying to learn how to accept their inevitability as part of having a relationship and learn how to actually have one with the person who is the love of our life and trust that everything will be fine in the end. I realize that this may sound strange, but hey, I’m strange and these are just my thoughts and opinions and I’m learning as I go… I also understand that there are probably millions of people out there who argue well and have no problems and get what they need out it and just see it as part of life. I never learned how to argue, this was not part of my life growing up. I didn’t know what actually went into a relationship. I became the silent partner… I think I’m finally learning and am solely basing things on my experiences.

The Silent Partner is often a “people pleaser” who has a fear of confrontation and a fear of failure. They tend to rarely argue, plead their case or defend themselves. They usually keep quiet while they keep their opinion to themselves and just take whatever is given to them. This individual tends to always try to see the other person’s perspective first before allowing themselves to react. People pleasers usually try to avoid arguments. They may claim to not understand the need or the value of arguments, perhaps because they don’t know how to argue and are afraid of the unknown outcomes; they are inexperienced and have no control. If this sounds like you then the reality may be that you are coming off as aloof and uncaring. Your partner may view you as disconnected and feel like you don’t want to take a role in the relationship. It might seem like you don’t have any emotions and you simply just don’t care. You’re shutting down and burying it all deep inside. Even though you are convincing yourself and telling your partner you love them and are doing it for them because you are just trying to make them happy, the reality is that they are not receiving a key element that helps with the evolution the relationship. They probably grew up learning the importance of debate. They actually had experience in arguing and venting and realize that it’s just an exercise of clearing out the junk in the attic. They know that arguments do not mean the end of the relationship. It’s just how most people deal with things and it’s a normal part of a relationship. They will slowly give up on you as being an active partner in your love which will lead to you both cultivating depression and resentment on your road to loneliness.

If you are sacrificing and suppressing your thoughts, emotions and dreams while convincing yourself it’s the right thing to do because you love your partner and think this will keep the waters still; you’re wrong. The current below the surface steadily grows turbulent and fierce lurking silently like undertow waiting for you to step in so it can drag you out to the cold and lonely open sea where you drown hopeless and alone. The misunderstanding, silence, burying of emotions and lack of communication and intimacy that comes with all this brews a bubbling cauldron of resentment, hurt and loneliness. By the time you realize that this is the beast beneath the glassy surface, you have grown apart, lost any understanding and communication skills and have created defenses, assumptions and pre-scripted arguments potentially preventing any hope of working through even the smallest of issues. The relationship is tail spinning out of control and the love that once seemed so natural, so deserved and so real is being snuffed out like a candle in the night. Suddenly this will be reality and your biggest fears will be coming true and you just won’t understand how you could have been so misunderstood…

I honestly hope that if this is you or your partner that we are catching the situation early on. The longer this carries on the harder it gets to make the internal adjustments necessary to heal the wounds of your relationship before the get infected and the disease seeps in to the blood stream and circulates throughout the whole body of your relationship. Shock ensues, followed by coma and organ failure eventually leading you to pulling the plug. If you are in the coma phase please don’t give up…instead wake up! Life can be fun. Relationships can be an adventure. We just need to grow up and dumb it down. Simplify; and as a team, give it one more honest try.

Whether you’re diagnosing this early on or a few years in, my opinion is that it takes the same effort and approach to turn things around. In essence, I believe it will take the following, which is my interpretation of “Vulnerability.” In my opinion it takes both people embracing these 5 elements – desire, love, honesty, admittance and understanding. Seriously, you both truly need to have the desire to save the relationship or else you wont have what it takes to put in the effort. As I said, remember the love and let it shine through, it will be the light that guides you along this path. It will help motivate you and bring you peace. Every action, every statement, every conversation, every thought and feeling needs to be grounded in unbridled and genuine honesty; no games, no tests… Admit your faults, errors and shortcomings and own up to your half of the equation. Finally, be understanding in order to hopefully understand… What do I mean? Create an environment that nurtures a disposition to appreciate or share the feelings and thoughts of others, i.e. sympathy. In turn, this will bring a reconciliation of differences; a state of agreement…

I just wish people could strip down their personal shields and pride in light of the love and caring that they have for their partner. Instead of learning how to win arguments or to get your way and make them not bother trying we should be giving our all to trying to understand each others thought processes, ideals and goals. I’m not saying we can’t have heated arguments ever, I’m just thinking that it makes sense to understand how to get down to the real issues at hand that fuel the dispute and learn how to get through it and grow together. I’m thinking that it would be amazing if we could have open and honest communication at all times even in the midst of disagreement. Unfortunately this is all absurdly dependant first on having trust and vulnerability with your partner. I have observed countless times people acting one way with their partners and another with their friends, myself included. Your partner should be your friend too and we should be accepting each other for who we truly are. If there is one person on this planet that we should not have to act in front of or hide emotions from it is our lover!

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Keeping The Promise In Compromise

Compromise comes in a few different forms and has different effects and outcomes when coupled with other issues and key needs in a relationship. Breaking this all down would be a whole chapter or even a whole book so I’ll just highlight a couple common issues for now.

Saturday we agreed that I could go for a ride while Rachel took the girls shopping for Brianna’s friend’s birthday present. It was an absolutely beautiful 70° February day in NorCal. I rode with no arm warmers or leg warmers and even ended up with tan lines when all was said and done. The closer I got to a place in the ride that I had to make a route decision that would add and hour to my journey I started to think more about compromise. The deal was that I would ride while they shop. So I happily made the decision to turn right and head home knowing that the average adventure the girls have while shopping takes about two and a half to three hours. We arrived home simultaneously. I was pretty fired up that I made the right decision and was happy to be home. Unfortunately I was met with a glare from Rachel… “They’re all yours tomorrow.” That’s it…

I’ve been attempting to join a Sunday group ride for the last few weeks but Rachel and the girls have been sick so I’ve been off the bike and doing my best to take care of them and be a good dad and husband. They were feeling better so we agreed that I could join the ride on Sunday. Then, suddenly, boom I’m hit with this remark. Now, I frequently feel guilty when I ride because it mysteriously seems that the girls are bad when I’m gone or at least Rachel gets more irritated when I ride. I am gone from 2 to 6 or more hours so I do get it. She needs a break from the kids. Regardless, I recognized that riding with the group at 9:30 the next morning might not be in my best interest. I also realized that bringing up the subject of riding tomorrow probably wasn’t the best idea either. So I sat on it for a few hours and thought of a compromise. “What if I ride at 7:30 and I’m back by 9:30ish? The girls are pretty self sufficient in the morning and you seem to not get up till 9 anyway.” After that its all me. She agreed. It was during this ride that I thought I understood the importance of “compromise” once again and thought it would be a great subject to write about.

The One-sided Compromise – This one is tricky and dangerous because it often falls into two subcategories, neither of which is healthy. First the idea of compromising to get your way, or if you give in then you are angry and blurt out a “well now you owe me,” which in my opinion is not what compromise should be. If the motivation behind the negotiation with your husband or wife is so that you can get your way then you are most likely not giving up anything at all. In fact you will most likely construct a conversation around everything you give up for them on a daily basis and how they don’t understand your needs and never see things your way or are not willing to bend etc. Though some of these statements may be true, which is a totally different issue with the relationship, this is not compromise. It is manipulating and “guilting” to get your way, which just further damages the relationship. Second is compromising because you hope it will make your partner happy and make them love you more. People pleasing and fear of confrontation are the most common vehicles in this occasion. Although the intent here is most likely driven by a form of love at the core, I think it is a damaged love.  Most likely you silently sacrifice your needs and desires for your partner to make them happy and hope for the day that they “pay you back” with love, respect, admiration and adoration. Meanwhile you rarely ask for anything. You become a martyr… If you are compromising like this then it may also be a sign of a few other common issues in marriage which will continue to get worse because you will incessantly grow resentful and your partner will either intentionally or unintentionally continue to walk all over you.

The flip side to the above is finding compromise within open and sincere communication. Communication is perhaps the most underappreciated, mysteriously feared and single most powerful tool in building a concrete relationship followed by sex and money. Issues in these arenas can lead to cracks in the foundation of your relationship, but if you can always talk about it, then there is always hope. We all have needs and desires that we hope will help make our lives feel complete if they are met and realized. Many of the compromises we make in a relationship often seem to revolve around these personal needs and often do not include the spouse and may in fact seem trivial or ridiculous to one or both of the partners. Remember that something small to you may mean the world to another and vice versa. By being open and honest about your needs no matter how big or small they seem to be helps nourish a growing and healthy relationship. It is essential that both sides communicate their needs and concerns about every given situation regardless of which side of the coin you are on. Compromise has two sides and you both need to give and receive. Taper your objective while openly talking about it to please the other person and find genuine happiness in that. Voice your thoughts; especially the ones that make your compromise hard, so that you don’t keep them inside and let them fester into something uglier than they really are. Give and take in a manner that is not actually “tit for tat” but truly a compromise grounded in honest communication and love. Both partners need to feel like they gain, tangibly and/or emotionally, one of them should not feel a sense of defeat. Remember that you may not get exactly what you want but perhaps some version of it. We are not children, we are adults, we are husbands and wives, parents… so we need to grow up, think, love and communicate. This doesn’t mean we can’t have fun and live a little or a lot, it just means we shouldn’t be petulant fools. Instead, approach everything as a team. This, I promise, will help feed a healthy relationship.

Sure this all seems obvious right now while reading it, or perhaps you think it is ridiculous or unrealistic or maybe it strikes a chord with you and you are stuck wondering how to take then next corner. It’s hard to break habits, it’s hard to recognize your own misdoings in a relationship and it’s hard to give up what you believe are your essential rights and freedoms as an individual… but this isn’t politics, this is a relationship and you owe it to yourself and your partner to be honest, open and loving in your listening and communication of each others needs. So respect each other, talk and try to understand each other’s needs. Hold up your end of the bargain and do not take advantage. If you need more or feel uncomfortable or resentful please speak up, never try to bury it. Most importantly never give up on trying to learn more about yourself and your partner by asking and talking about each other’s needs and expectations, dreams and fears and always wholeheartedly try to follow through and keep your promise in the compromise.