Image: Irene Giunta | UnsplashChanging the focus for better relationships
When I dig deep to understand the reasons beneath my successful or unsuccessful relationships, I discover the difference is primarily me!
by Merelyn Carter"If we want quality, nurturing, and satisfying connections, the answer is clear – we have to do the work!"Healthy relationships take work, sometimes hard work. The way we currently live in society often doesn’t support us in this commitment. We are constantly bombarded with fake romantic ‘Hollywood’ images, distorted, unrealistic social media stories, and consumer ‘keep up with the Joneses’ pressure. All of these skew our expectations. Add to this a fairly healthy dose of entitlement, and we have a recipe that can leave a bad taste in our relationship mouths.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. If we want quality, nurturing, and satisfying connections, the answer is clear – we have to do the work!
What have I learned from experience?
I have been married for a total of 34 years. Ten years the first time, a five-year break, now 24 years and counting to my current partner David. I have a close-knit family of children and grandchildren, and have experienced many enduring, as well as fleeting, wider relationships.

My two marriages are almost polar opposites, and there have been many great and some not so great connections over the years. When I think about the reasons beneath what I would call successful or unsuccessful relationships, I have discovered that the difference is primarily me.

This revelation causes me to both celebrate and cringe; I realise that I have to let go of blame, take responsibility for how I act, and do the work.

Focusing on my current successful relationship with my husband, the most intimate of my connections, I find I have countless opportunities to learn and practise new ways of communicating, acting and reacting; not just to survive, but to thrive.
What do I need to do?Honestly, there are things that drive me mad about David. I know that he can also reel off more than a few annoying character traits in me, but here is what I have come to understand as the hard work I need to do – for all of my valued relationships.

It’s about finding a new perspective. This seems fairly obvious, but consciously and consistently choosing to embrace a better, more nurturing and positive perspective, even in the face of very strong emotional triggers, is where the hard work lies.

There are many ways I have done this over the years, and I want to share something I find very helpful.

This is a very practical approach, and although it takes conscious effort (work), the positive results kick in quickly, and, the more I practise, the sooner the relief from anger, disappointment or discontent comes. I’ve also learned that if we can resolve the smaller conflicts healthily, then we can extend the same approach to the bigger issues.
"Relationships can also help us identify our own faults"Annoyance and counterbalanceHere’s the strategy: for every annoyance that threatens to undermine my emotional serenity, I find a counterbalance – the word ‘balance’ being the key. I’ll give some simple examples.

Annoyance: David refuses to clean the shower.
Counterbalance: More than once he has stuck his naked arm down a septic pipe to clear a blockage – yucky, but extremely helpful, a great service to our family, and something I couldn’t do.
I choose to focus on the second point more than the first.

Annoyance: He complains about having to cook twice a week, which sometimes makes me feel taken for granted for all the other meals I cook.
Counterbalance: He’ll happily do the grocery shopping and run supply errands.
I’m really grateful that he does this for us.

Annoyance: He doesn’t know what bills are due or when.
Counterbalance: He can sit for hours sorting out any IT issues we have, or waiting on the helpline ‘hold’ to resolve a problem.
This is a quality of patience I don’t have.

These may be small issues, but if I focus on them they can emotionally charge our relationship and escalate easily. If I practise this approach successfully, when the bigger problems surface, which run emotions higher, the strategy is already in place and can be even more helpful to keep our relationship healthy.
Change the focus
It would be easy to focus on the things that annoy me, feeling negative and hard done by. This can lead to:

  • Catastrophising – ‘he NEVER helps around the house’ or
  • Martyrising – ‘I have to do ALL the work’.

These faulty reactions can intensify into resentment and distrust.

At other times, if I’m focusing on the annoyances, I can incorrectly pre-empt his actions, accuse him prematurely, and press his emotional buttons. Then the rage is on.

So instead I try to consciously choose, sometimes moment to moment, a less emotionally charged path, celebrating his strengths and positive traits, instead of being critical of his faults.

I change the focus.
Relationships can also help us identify our own faults. I need to be willing to face and accept my own shortcomings, and do the work to make myself a better person to be in a relationship with. If I can change the focus on myself, I can then graciously work on my weaknesses and build on my strengths.

This doesn’t mean we sweep things under the carpet. Occasionally a problem persists and we ‘lose it’ with each other, causing pain. If we can stop and change the focus, resolution becomes so much easier because we temper the emotional sting. We can move through annoyance to find the counterbalance.
Image: Danielle acinnes | UnsplashThe work is worth itIt takes time and energy to really hear the other person’s perspective; to change the focus. Keeping emotions in check, not over stating, overreacting or accusing can take a lot of self-control. Applying strategies in the heat of a disagreement takes maturity.
I’m not getting it right all the time. My hot responses sometimes outrank my cooler, calmer moments. I then find myself in emotional pain, throwing a ‘pity party’, falling into the blame game, and feeling more estranged than I ever want to be.
So I remind myself daily that the starting point for my happiness is me.
Relationships can be great. Connections can be deep and nurturing, making all the hard work totally worth the effort!
Changing the focus, moving past the annoyance to find the counterbalance, is one simple but significant step towards more joyful, healthier relationships.

Be happy.
About the author:
Merelyn is a student of life, mother, grandmother, storyteller, singer, songwriter, author, poet, surviving cancer. Merelyn lives on 23 acres in Kinglake, Victoria, with her husband David, and 60 animals.
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