Facing the Reality of Our Relationships

This week I’m continuing my series on how to face reality, which is the first step to escaping the tyranny of “should”!

So, how can we face the reality of our relationships?

One of the reasons that relationships work is agreement of expectations. When you find a “best” friend, you and she agree, non verbally, on what friendship looks like: how often you are in contact, what level of formality you use, how much information is TMI, how you support each other in emergencies. Because all of these expectations are generally non verbal and unconscious, we rarely stop to examine whether our relationships are meeting our expectations. The problems arise when reality bumps into ideals and there is a mismatch. Maybe your friend told a secret. Maybe your husband forgot your anniversary. What comes next is a surrender of our power: because we don’t realize why the relationship seems OK or toxic, we don’t see that we have the power to shift it. Instead, we use “should” statements and blame the other person, and the relationship suffers.

If you are struggling with a relationship, and hear yourself using “should” statements or blaming the other person, take a moment to face the reality of the relationship by looking at past interactions.

Assess the words and the actions of the other person. Maybe that person makes promises and doesn’t keep them. Maybe that person just doesn’t celebrate birthdays or anniversaries. Maybe that person is much more (or less) religious than you. Maybe that person hates texting and emails, or doesn’t use social media. If you are upset, then the reality of the relationship isn’t matching up to your unconscious expectations in some way. What is it?

It’s OK for a relationship to be different from your expectations.

I have a friend who isn’t on any social media, so she often doesn’t know what’s going on in my life. We periodically get together and have a nice long chat to catch up on each other’s lives. While this does have an impact on our friendship, it doesn’t make the friendship any worse or better than my other ones.

Sometimes, a relationship is different from your values. That’s OK too.

Maybe you have a friend who breaks her promises on a regular basis. In that case, you get to decide: do you want to be friends with a person who breaks promises? Is the joy you get from her company worth her lack of dependability? Maybe you have a friend in an open marriage, and you believe that anything other than total monogamy is wrong. Once again, you get to decide: are you willing to suspend your moral judgment of this friend? HER open marriage doesn’t harm you, so you don’t need to judge her. Or perhaps you are willing to suspend judgment, but you prefer not to hear her dating stories: you have the right to tell her that openly and honestly, saying something like: “I’m glad that you’re happy with your open marriage, but I feel a little uncomfortable hearing you talk about dating. Can we not talk about that?”

The best example of how to manage a friendship where the reality is different from your expectations is the chronically late person. Everyone has at least 1 friend who is late to everything. And most people choose to deal with it in the same way: by lying about start times to that friend. If you want to meet her at 2:30 for coffee, you ask her to meet you at 2:00. If you want to attend a 7:30 movie, you either tell her the start time is 7, or you buy tickets in advance and just save a seat for her in the theater, knowing that she’ll slide in the seat right after the previews finish. If there’s a time critical event when lateness is not an option, you don’t invite her.

Honestly facing whatever is true about your relationships is a step on the path to a free and delicious life.

  1. Notice when you use “should” statements, or blame the other person in a relationship. This is a red flag that there is an unspoken expectation being violated.
  2. Honestly assess, based on words and actions, what expectation is being broken.
  3. Decide whether you are willing to be in a relationship without that condition.
  4. If you are, then adjust YOUR OWN words and behavior to accommodate the reality. If you aren’t, then leave the relationship.