Saturday, September 6, 2014

Stop Going Around

by Andrew Cromwell

Most of us have a built-in dislike for anything that makes us uncomfortable and is difficult. And that is normal. There are times when this self-protection mechanism is beneficial to us. Running straight into a buzzing hornet’s nest is just not very smart and will most certainly result in great pain and suffering.

But when it comes to relationships, this natural inclination toward self-protection often results in behavior that actually causes more pain in the long run. You know how it goes, your spouse, friend, boss, or co-worker has a pattern of doing or saying something that is hurtful to you. Your choice is to either ignore it or talk about it with them. The “talking about it” option sounds difficult to most of us. We immediately envision that conversation going very badly and we generally choose to avoid it at all costs.

We choose to work around the issue rather than confronting it. Often, we go to ridiculous lengths to avoid having that talk. Sometimes we avoid the person for as long as possible, coming up with any and every excuse in the book to keep from being with them. When avoidance is not an option, we will often end up acting like nothing is wrong at all.

For many relationships, this strategy is the equivalent of watching the dog go to the bathroom in the middle of the floor and then, instead of cleaning it up, we just throw a rug over it and try to avoid stepping on that spot again. Everyone knows what happened, but no one will actually clean up the mess.

And generally, if the dog has done his business once, he is going to do it again. And again. And unless we change our strategy, we end up with land mines all over the living room as we delicately seek to step in just the right places so as to avoid exposing the mess.

Eventually, the smell becomes so bad that it would seem the only option would be to actually clean up the messes. What is so sad is that more often than not, what people do is one of two things: either they just continue to act like nothing is wrong (no matter how ridiculous this might seem) or they just move into another room.

Everyone knows that a dog mess does not clean itself up. So if you are not going to throw a rug over it, you have to get out the cleaning supplies, put on some gloves and just get to it. Usually, the smell gets a little worse and sometimes you even get a little bit of it on your hands, but soon all evidence of the mess is gone.

In relationships, the only real way to clean up messes is that you have to choose to go toward them rather than go around them. You have to roll up your sleeves and get into it. Of course, you need the right supplies and strategy if you are going to have a good result—if you use cleaners that are too harsh you’ll do more damage than good.

The best, most intimate relationships are those that have worked through tough stuff and come out on the other side. The most superficial relationships are those that avoid the tough stuff altogether. You might have been married to or known someone for fifty years, but if you’ve never dealt with the dog doodoo then you haven’t really gotten very far.

What messes have you been avoiding in your relationships? Where have you fallen into the habit of going around things rather than simply talking about them? Maybe the next time you run into a relationship mess, you should move towards it rather than running away from it.

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