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Ever wonder why some couples seem to have it together? How do they pull that off? Wellness and healthy relationships go hand in hand. After many years of stumbling blindly (and largely unsuccessfully) through romantic relationships, I had the good fortune to connect with my incredible wife, Erica. She is smart, kind, sensitive, caring, creative, flexible, thoughtful, insightful, beautiful, and motivated. The fact that Erica rocks doesn't hurt, but her awesomeness does not account for the success of our relationship. She, like me, went through a long series of failed relationships before we connected. We talk frequently about how lucky we are and about what it is that makes our relationship work so well. Here is what we came up with:

We are genuine partners.

Neither of us is perfect and we both brought emotional baggage to our relationship. It took some time for us to recognize that the parts we played in our past relationships did not apply to this one. In the past, we had experienced imbalances in power between ourselves and our significant others. Settling into dominant or submissive roles was not an option for us. We are complete, fully-functioning adults with or without each other. Neither of us needs or desires to parent or be parented by the other. We are partners in the truest sense of the word.

"...true partners appreciate the talents the other person brings to the table."

As we go about our daily chores, we have a rule we employ that has saved us tons of grief, “You can do it. I can do it. We can do it together. But, you can’t have me do it and also tell me how I should do it.” For example, I fold towels one way, Erica folds them another way. If I want her to fold the towels, I cannot also make her fold them my way. If she wants me to wash the dishes, she cannot also tell me how I should wash the dishes.

On the flip side of that, true partners appreciate the talents the other person brings to the table. For instance, I am a pretty effective writer, but weak when it comes to design. The articles in A Guide for Aging Heroes are mostly written by me and edited by Erica. The reverse is true for the design of our site. We love learning from each other and have opened each other to new worlds of knowledge and insight.

We own our own shit.

My kid asked me once what it meant to be an adult. I said that when kids screw up they blame others or make excuses. When grownups screw up, they take responsibility and try to do better next time.

"For Erica and me, when things go sideways our first internal response is, 'Is this my shit?'"

For Erica and me, when things go sideways our first internal response is, “Is this my shit?”

Did I miscommunicate?

Did I misinterpret what she/he was communicating?

Am I overreacting?

Am I in a bad mood?

Am I angry about something else and projecting it onto her/him?

How did I contribute to this conflict?

What can I do differently next time?

This sounds very simple, but it actually takes a great deal of maturity and self-awareness to pull off.

We play by the rules.

You may have noticed the same dramas playing out over and over again in your relationships. Your conflicts may have to do with financial issues, household responsibilities, jealousy issues, child-rearing differences, control issues, or any number of other relationship conflict themes. Whatever the problem, adhering to some basic rules can help navigate the rough patches. 

  • No name-calling, blaming, or otherwise attacking the character of your partner. Ad Hominem attacks do nothing to resolve a conflict and can result in some long term hard feelings. You can’t put the genie back in the bottle.

  • Do not try to resolve problems when you or your partner are upset. A primitive part of your brain is activated when you are upset and it tends to short circuit the reason and problem-solving centers. Both partners should agree to back off at the request of the other and resume when things cool down.

  • Own your shit. Is this the same conflict you had with past partners or other people in your life? If so, this could very well be your shit! Feeling true and being true are often not the same. Feeling jealous doesn’t mean you have something to be jealous about. Feeling angry doesn’t mean your anger is justified. Feeling scared does not always mean you are in danger. Trying to view the situation from the eyes of an imaginary third party can be a helpful strategy for recognizing your issues.

  • Present possible solutions to the problem. “What can I do, now or in the future, to resolve this?” or “This is what I would like for you to do, now or in the future, to resolve this.” Once you and your partner agree to a strategy, STICK TO IT.

  • Respect what your partner says he/she wants from you and don’t be skiddish about asking exactly what that might be. Resolving the problem NOT winning the conflict should always be your ultimate goal.

Photo: Rusty Harrison & Erica Schwarting-Harrison 

2 comentarios

kimmie8944 What great insights! I love these comments. You should be writing articles yourself! "Introspection and freedom" totally hit the mark. It really takes maturity too. To stay rational and not go down the rabbit hole of negative emotions can be a very tall order when people are in conflict. I have learned a lot from Erica about staying focused on resolving rather than inflaming issues. Thanks so much for throwing in. You gave me some new ideas to toss around.

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06 may 2020

Great article and I wholeheartedly agree on all points! Basically you’re narrowing it down to freedom and introspection. No adult wants to be owned, led, or managed by another. We want to be free to be ourselves with any good or bad that comes with it. That desire doesn’t change simply because we enter into a relationship with another. But we often gain this sense of ownership when in a relationship. Hence your guide of being genuine partners. You have to let each other be. I own me, you own you. And the second part of introspection intertwines with that. If I focus on me (owning my shit) and you focus on you then the end result is freedom. N…

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