Identifying and Overcoming BS to Save Your Relationships
It’s almost impossible to avoid letting our current cultural and political climate seep into our relationships. Maybe we’re wired to focus on opposites and ignore the middle. We can jump to conclusions and forget how complex the middle really is. Or maybe it’s just that we don’t want to deal with the true messiness that is actually in the middle. It is there where we’re going to have to feel the most uncomfortable and vulnerable after all. There is a lot of exposure and unknowns in that space, so our natural inclination is to get the hell out of there.
Unfortunately, this leads us to blame, judge, and criticize.
Here, we’re going to get right into the bullshit that cuts into our relationships, keeps us from healing, and prevents us from reconnecting. Keep in mind that there are nuances in all of these that can make them more complicated than is discussed in this simple blog. In other words, if you’re using this as a weapon against someone else, you’re using it wrong. On the other hand, if you’re using this to learn about yourself, then you’re in the right place.
Bullshit point #1: Emotions don’t matter, only facts do.
I have seen this argument play out in all kinds of arenas. It can play out in relationship arenas too. This is usually used as a way to “1 up” an opponent. Imagine that for a second, you’re partner, friend, or family member is now your opponent!
It’s hard not to be pulled into this one. I know I can. The problem is that feelings and emotions are secondary to the being right. What’s even worse, is that you’re the only one that can be right in this situation. This leaves your “opponent” hurt and betrayed.
So what do you do?
Catch yourself in it. If you make the mistake of walking into this territory, circle back and give the other person an opportunity to share their emotional story. Let them know that you know where you messed up. This can help to build trust that they can return to this type of conversation, and that they can trust you with their heart.
This means that you’re going to have to deal with some uncomfortable stuff. It might even be about you.
Bullshit point #2: A closed case is always better than an ongoing, open case.
Keep the case open, and see how long you can tolerate that, before closing it.
SPOILER ALERT! If you haven’t watched The Night Of on HBO, you may want to skip this and go to the next part of this post by clicking here.
We are also wired to close cases. In the wonderful HBO mini-series The Night Of, the main actor, Naz is accused of a horrific murder. Until the end, you don’t know if he did it or not. And somehow, that doesn’t even end up being the point of the show. Instead, the show focuses on how quickly the legal system wants to close the case. It gets so severe, it doesn’t even seem to matter whether Naz is actually guilty to the prosecutors.
How often do we do this? We build up a story, pull the prosecuting paperwork together, and work to close the case. We try to find ways that the other person is wrong. Getting “close enough” to proof then becomes considered good enough, but it’s only good enough for side. Relationships consist of multiple sides, and multiple dynamics. In other words, we can close the case when there is more to discover, understand, and empathize with.
(Important note: This BS point is not about the issues surrounding arguments for “due process” on issues of harassment, assault, and boundary violations. That likely falls into BS point #3, so hold tight. This is regarding your primary relationships and friendships.)
What do you do?
Get more information. Rather than trying to prove anything, focus on learning more. When you’re dealing with another person, there’s always more to the mystery.
Of course you can close the case by establishing and holding to your boundaries. This means that you need to be aware of what they are.
This leads me to my final point. In order to deal with this BS point, you have to have trust. Without trust, you can’t live with the vulnerability of leaving cases open ended, to see what happens next. Recognize that closing cases is a sign of a lack of trust. This may be warranted in your relationship, or it may be a learned responses that you have in your life. Either way, know your boundaries, and focus on learning about how you can tolerate vulnerability, and where you should not.
Bullshit point #3: Things are “either/or.”
This is one of the most prevalent issues we’re dealing with. Every argument must be an extreme. We see it in our political climate with a polarizing effect. If you advocate for yourself in one way, that means that you’re against something else.
Here it is: you can be supportive of multiple things, because humans are multi-layered. The tendency to make people into simple, one-dimensional caricatures is preventing people from sharing their stories and understanding each other. It’s no longer OK to disagree, or stand for different things.
Don’t think this can happen in a relationship? I can’t even list the number of times I have heard one partner in couples therapy interrupt the other one and say something like, “noooooooo, you can’t say that now, because you just said something else before.” That is the same type of leveraging.
What do you do?
People are messy, deep, and complicated. Recognize this. Sometimes people have contradictory feelings. Other times, they’re not contradicting themselves at all. It’s just broader than the categories in which you’ve placed them. And they’re not necessarily against one thing, only because they have an opinion.
Don’t give up on your perspective, but be open to another one. Learn about the feeling of where it comes from. Advocate for yourself, and let others advocate for themselves too.
Draw the line in the sand when it’s necessary. Let your partner know what you’re not willing to tolerate in these kinds of discussions. For example, I set a boundaries with friends and family around insults, 1-ups-manship, and pontificating. If these things are occurring, I know that I can’t continue the conversation.