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Friday, December 15, 2006

Theory # 33: Relationships that Work, or Those Romance Novels Aren't Too Good to Be True

Version 1: Spin

It seems that lately, I've been bombarded with people complaining about their relationships. Maybe all those holiday lights illuminate our loved ones' faults, or maybe with all the holiday stresses and the days getting shorter, we're expecting more from our relationships. Whatever it is, it's put me in a smug and preachy mood. Or, to put it more charitably, it's made me want to share what insights I've gained over 22+ years of a successful marriage.

Granted, I have The Perfect Husband. Perfect for me, at least. And it's tempting to just bask in the glow and pity everyone who had to settle for second best. But wonderful as he is, I can't really believe he's that unique. And much as I'd like to, I can't take the credit for making him that way. So why am I happy while my friends are complaining? It's all in how you look at things.

Ever have an assignment in school where you had to look at the same object or event from different perspectives? Or a debate class where you had to argue both sides of a question? It's that sort of thing. It's like politics, and putting a spin on things to make your side look good and the other side look bad.

Any decent marriage can look like a romance novel, if you put the right spin on it. And spinning it right, even to yourself, leads to being happier in the relationship, which in turn makes the relationship better. It's not a matter of hiding your head in the sand and ignoring real problems. It's a matter of focusing on the positives.

The irony is, when you focus on the negatives, a few things happen: you see more negatives, you create more negatives, and in all the sea of negatives, true problems get lost.

If you're looking for things to complain about, you'll find them. And the more you look, the more you'll find. And if you complain to your spouse about every little thing, they're going to come to the conclusion that there's no pleasing you, so why bother trying?

Ever look up at a clear night sky, somewhere away from city lights? It's awfully hard to pick out specific stars. It's the same thing with negatives in a relationship. Focus on them, and the fact that you haven't had a meaningful conversation since 1998 doesn't stand out much more than the dirty socks on the floor. But if you focus on the positives--add some overcast or city lights--only the most important ones stand out.

The same goes for positives. Look for them, focus on them, and you'll see them. And when you tell your spouse about them, they'll be more likely to repeat them, and to do other things they hope you'll like. Positive reinforcement. Psych 101. Sounds manipulative, but so is negative reinforcement, with much less appealing results.

Case in point. We had a lunch date yesterday. Yes, that's a euphemism. We did go out for lunch, to my favorite Indian restaurant, no less, but the... ahem... main course was taking advantage of an empty house and having sex without having to worry about being quiet and staying behind the locked bedroom door. In the middle of things, he stopped and pointed out all the things he likes about my body. It was effective, to say the least. And, avoiding TMI territory, it benefitted him, too, because one good turn deserves another, after all.

I've said similar things before (just click on "relationships"--it's one of my favorite topics), but I think it's important enough to repeat. Friends often tell me how lucky I am to have such a great husband/marriage, and I agree, but it's also because that's how I spin it. Maybe because my parents' marriage fell apart, and sucked before it did, part of my self-image is having a successful, happy marriage. Maybe it's pathological and if I were saner, I'd be bitching as much as everyone else. Eh. If it's a choice between sane/normal and happy, I'll pick happy and nuts.

Huh. Ever start writing, think you're going in one direction, then discover you've gone in a completely different direction? I thought I was going to write about men that actually talk, but it turned out to be about spin. Go figure.


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What's this "avoiding TMI territory" business? If you leave it to my imagination . . . well, you don't want to know ;)

I agree with your thesis, but I have to point out: throw enough stressors into the mix and even the best relationship shows the strain. I sometimes think the only reason my wife and I are still together is sheer stubbornness.
Heh. Trust me, it's TMI. I've got a pretty darn good imagination myself.

Absolutely, stressors make a huge difference--but they tear some relationships apart, and others just become more solid. The way you view things, or spin them (since that's apparently my word for the day) does make a difference, even, or maybe especially during rough times.

I'm being overly simplistic, I know. I tend to think things through in great detail, and then distill them down to the simplest form, expecting people to fill in the blanks. I'd suck as a teacher. :)

Hmmm. I should post about that. And about the virtue of stubbornness. It's saved our marriage before, too.
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