Lessons Learned, Relationships

Lesson 14: Ask questions instead of making assumptions

This is where that pause you take while using that mind-mouth filter comes in handy.  A quick answer only comes off as intelligent if the answer you gave actually answers the question in an intelligent way.  Sound confusing?  If you know the person you are talking to well enough, it shouldn’t be.  Regardless, make the effort to understand and empathize with whoever you are talking with.  It will prevent you from looking bad.

If you don’t understand something, ask them.  Or, ask someone that knows.  If a text message is too confusing, or you even think it could be interpreted in more than one way, ask the person to clarify what they mean.  If something looks bad, it is not necessarily bad.  Rather than jumping to a conclusion that could be wrong or way off base, ask.  If the person you are asking has a problem with you wanting clarification, there is likely a bigger issue.

You don’t know what is happening on their end of the message.  Their microphone might have picked out the wrong word, the predictive text might have changed something without them noticing, or maybe they meant one thing but didn’t realize it might cause you to interpret something else.  In the end, if you are unsure whether it is a good idea to ask them to explain or clarify, ask yourself whether you prefer to possibly annoy them by asking for clarification, or make an assumption or conclusion that could potentially lead to a verbal or physical altercation.

Asking for clarification serves other helpful purposes as well.  It helps you to better understand the thought process of whoever you are talking to.  It helps you get to the bottom of what the actual issue or message might mean.  It will guide you into a much more productive conversation and put you on the same page as the other person so there is no confusion.  Most importantly, it demonstrates that you care.  You care enough about the other person to make sure that what is being said is understood and you want to make sure that the message is properly received in the way it was intended.

Lessons Learned, Relationships

Lesson 13: Stop caring so much about what others think

Your relationship only belongs to you and whoever you are with.  No one is going to make your choices for you and no one other than you and the person you are with has to live with the consequences of your decisions.  It is yours to be shared with whomever you choose who also feels the same way about you.  An outside perspective may be nice, and in many ways, can be very helpful.  The trick is to understand that, no matter what is said, that perspective is coming from a person that will never have all of the information available or necessary.  

It is so easy to forget that everyone has input when it comes to the lives of others.  Everyone has their own opinion.  Everyone has their own way of how they believe everything should be and their opinion on the matter is the one and only relationship truth.  That doesn’t make their opinion yours.  The only opinions that truly matter are the opinions that you decide matter.  Even then, in the end, the decisions you are making are yours.  Others don’t see everything.  Their opinions are based solely on their encounters with you and your significant other an  

It is one thing to let someone spout their opinion, it is another to let that opinion unjustly impact your own.  Others may think that they understand or see, but they are missing a lot of the little details that have a tendency to make the greatest impact.  Little things that seem insignificant, but when mixed with enough of the other little, unseen things, end up making a big difference.  It is also important to understand that the consequences of letting others dictate how your relationship should go, do not just impact you.  They will affect your significant other as well.  Pick and choose the opinions that matter to you most, but remember, that never has to be what you think.

At the end of the day, the only thing that truly matters is what is between you and the person you love.  They are the ones that you come home to and they are the ones that your life will continue to be associated with.  Others can say and think whatever they want but when talking about the relationship of others, remember that they are not the ones going home to face them.  There is a lot that takes place out of the view of others.  It is a balance and you have to determine what is acceptable to you. 

Lessons Learned, Relationships

Lesson 12: Forgiveness can’t be bought

Money can buy a lot of things, but not the things that most reasonable people would consider to be of actual value.  The gifts are nice.  Thoughtful gestures are almost always welcome.  They are great for special occasions and even better when done randomly, and for no other reason than to let your significant other know that you were thinking about them.  Like everything in life, know the limits.  Be sure you can see the line and make an effort not to cross it.

There comes a point when your “thoughtful gift” can portray the wrong message.  Sure, flowers accompany an apology quite well, but the time will come when the offense is repeated and your thoughtful gift starts indicating that you might actually believe that forgiveness can be purchased.  That there is a price tag on apologies and so long as you can foot the bill, all will be forgiven.

There is no excuse for being a jerk and there is less for someone who believes that forgiveness can be bought.  There is no excuse.  There is no quick fix.  There is no present or surprise.  There is no price tag or four-wheeled beauty that can make up for being a jerk.  Words cannot be unspoken.  Actions cannot be undone.  Hurtful exchanges, last.  There is no fix.  That sting will always be there.  The pain will always be remembered.  

The only way to remedy the tragedy that follows an unforgivable word or action is not to have said or done it in the first place.  I don’t understand why it is so difficult, because being kind, loving, caring, and affectionate, in theory, is so much more simple.  I am not saying that you cannot be authentically sorry and forgiveness is never given.  I am saying that those flowers, the box of chocolates, a nice new convertible, are not enough to take away the sting.

It is your actions and words from that point forward that make up the path to forgiveness.  Apologize, of course, and flowers are the perfect gift for an apology but don’t make the mistake of thinking it ends there.  The price of forgiveness is the commitment to never saying or doing whatever it was again and letting the time increase without it ever happening again.  Words and actions are the true currency, and being better is the only price on the price tag for forgiveness.

Lessons Learned, Relationships

Lesson 11: Develop a mind-mouth filter

Get one.  Plain and simple.  For me, the military mindset worked when I was in the military.  NEWS FLASH FOR ME! I am not in the military anymore.  Whatever worked in the past, in different circumstances, you have to learn to adjust.  The mentality, attitudes, and language were understandable back then, in those circumstances.  Maybe it is even all well and good when you are talking to the guys or gals you are pals with.  It is another to treat the love of your life with a faulty arrogance that is actually rude, despicable, uncalled for, dispassionate behavior.  

It was bad enough that you went through these hardships.  It is even understandable, to an extent, having to use such philosophies and attitudes to get through difficult times.  Eventually, you have to ask yourself what purpose it continues to serve afterward, other than to demonstrate a complete lack of compassion and an absence of social decency.  All it takes is a little discipline and empathy to make the changes necessary to be a decent human being.  

Not everyone has a military background to attribute their raunchy sense of humor or more extreme beliefs and social behaviors.  Maybe it was a rough neighborhood, a tough job, poor family surroundings, the list can go on.  I am not saying that your background doesn’t matter.  I am saying that it isn’t a reasonable or acceptable excuse when it comes to your relationships.  Especially a romantic relationship.  It is difficult to make changes, especially when it comes to behavior that you have developed over a long period of time, but it is doable.

Your background is irrelevant when it comes to being a tolerable person in any civilized society.  It is behavioral conditioning, nothing more.  Conditioning can be altered by conditioning yourself to be better.  There is no excuse for being a jerk.  There is no excuse.  It only seems like it will take a large amount of effort to not laugh at something inappropriate or make that comment that was concocted to cause laughs or get a rise out of people at someone else’s expense.  Know when to speak.  More importantly, know when to keep your mouth shut.

Lessons Learned, Relationships

Lesson 10: Follow through with your words and actions

Finish what you initiate or start.  A little teasing may seem fun and innocent, and in some cases it is.  To a certain, and agreed-upon extent.  Like everything in life, there are limits you need to be aware of.  Too much teasing for too long and failing to follow through on enough occasions can bring you into dangerous territory.

This one semi falls under the mistake of getting stuck in your own world.  When it comes to teasing too often without following through, you are basically being a sensual bully.  It is one thing to do it with a more casual encounter, it is quite another to continuously do it to someone you claim to love.  Your significant other is not one of your pets.  They are worth so much more than that and you need to treat them that way.  Don’t tease without the intention to finish.  It is selfish and just plain rude.

Failure to follow through can also have many other negative effects on the relationship as well.  Your word is the most important and most valuable asset you have.  Communication can be both verbal and nonverbal so your actions speak a lot for you as well.  If you say you are going to do something and then fail to do it, your words lose value.  The same goes for your actions.  When you touch or behave in a sensual way towards your significant other but continuously fail to follow through, it can have the same effect.

Don’t fall into the trap of believing they will always put up with it or that, because they love you, it is OK, or that because they put up with it on a few occasions, they will always put up with it.  A slight tease here and there is one thing, but doing it long or often enough will serve only to reinforce the idea that you are deceptive and misleading.  Just because it doesn’t feel like lying to you, doesn’t mean you are not convincing them that you are a liar.  Know and understand the person you are with.  If you don’t see or know the boundaries, then ask.  Better to ask and understand, then assume and lose.

Lessons Learned, Relationships

Lesson 4: Focusing on the wrong times

I had so many plans.  So many dreams.  They were supposed to be a crucial part of all of them.  Without them, the plans will so easily fade away.  These plans were all well and good, but they lacked the most critical component, timing.  In the rare instances where hopes and dreams are gifted by luck and happenstance, then I say embrace the blessing.

Have you ever been told not to celebrate too early?  Envision the finish line, but don’t get too far ahead of yourself.  Planning the rest of your lives together is advisable, but losing sight of the present could completely negate even the most well-laid plans.  The love may very well be there, and the potential for a bright and wonderful future might seem inevitable, but just like constructing a building, plans require day to day attention.

What good is it to have the wedding, honeymoon, and a 20-year plan in place, if you neglect the day to day issues that will most likely come up.  You can spend all of your time fantasizing about the future, but what is the point if you stop paying attention to the present.  There is nothing wrong with a fantasy unless you let it overtake the reality.  You end up falling in love with what hasn’t happened yet, and the reality tends to suffer.

There is no set time on this.  Everyone has their limits.  These limits are based on whatever it is they want to base them on.  This isn’t a law or even a rule.  It is a guide.  Plan for the future, but don’t let that get in the way of living in the present.  Don’t allow yourself to be blinded to what is, by what isn’t.  Open your eyes and don’t let the wrong time and place distract you.

Lessons Learned, Relationships

Lesson 3: Communication

From the deepest, and most heartfelt argument, to the easiest of texts to show consideration and respect, communication is critical.  That doesn’t just go for romantic relationships.  That goes for any relationship.  Communication is just especially important in romantic relationships. 

Communication is how understandings are reached and expectations established and shared.  Understanding the importance, not just of what was said, but what was intended, or meant.  It is so easy to misunderstand or misinterpret messages and it is a quick way to an argument.  Arguments are so easy to avoid, in theory, but in the heat of the moment, poor communication, misunderstood and misinterpreted messages are the fastest way to a disagreement that can get verbally or even physically violent.  

Ask as many questions as you can or need, but be tactful.  Get clarification and ensure you actually understand what was said or intended.  When they ask you where you were, that isn’t just about where you physically were.  It is also about why you weren’t where they thought or were under the impression you would be.

Pay close attention to tone and body language as well.  Any seemingly innocent or inconsequential question could have the type of underlying meanings that are not so innocent or inconsequential at all.  The same statement or questions, spoken in different tones, can have two entirely different meanings.

Think about times when you were asked “How was work?”  Sometimes, you are actually being asked how your day was at the office, store, etc.  Pay close attention to how it was asked.  You of all people should be able to tell by a certain point when there is some distress in their voice.  Perhaps they are asking this question as a hint that you should ask them how their day was because it was miserable and they need to talk about it.

Treat communication as a pleasure rather than responsibility and things will go so much better.  Disagreements will happen no matter what.  No matter what, you are different people with different experiences and clashes are inevitable.  How you communicate will always determine the outcome of these clashes.

Lessons Learned, Relationships

Lesson 2: Not showing enough affection and love

You could say “I love you” a thousand times.  They are some of the most powerful words you can speak.  They possess the greatest meaning of any phrase ever spoken.  They are magical for the ears and medicinal to the soul.  Remember, at the end of the day, they are only words.  The meaning and value can only be defined by the actions that accompany them.  

Small actions like holding hands a little more tightly and a little more often.  Maintaining those hugs and kisses a few seconds longer than you normally might.  Looking into each others’ eyes with passion.  Holding that gaze long enough to realize that you are both seeing more than just each other’s eyes.  Caressing their face gently with your hand, reinforced with all the love you possess.  

In most cases, all of these are so much more desirable than a meaningless butt grab.  While fun at times, these serve no further purpose than demonstrating childishness and disrespect.  Don’t get me wrong, in the right setting, the right context, a consensual grope in certain areas can have a good, loving, and desirable effect.  Knowing when, where, and how these gestures are appropriate should be communicated with the other person.

They deserve to be shown every day and every night how much love you have for them.  All of the little gestures of love and affection add up.  Love isn’t any one individual moment.  It is all the moments.  All of the moments added up over time.  Like a beautiful plant, it needs to be continuously tended to.  Without constant effort and attention, it will wither and die.

 Grand gestures are the best, but they are not the only way.  Instead of buying them a bouquet of flowers, go out and pick one.  Instead of taking them to a restaurant, cook something.  Cooking together is nice, but having something ready when they get home is nice too.  Instead of going to a bar or club, put something nice on the radio and dance around your home.

Lessons Learned, Relationships

Lesson 1: Learn to actively listen

There is a big difference between hearing what was said and actually listening.  It is so easy to confuse the two.  It is also easy to get distracted.  Maybe it is even just by the sound of her beautiful voice.  News flash.  The words coming out are important too.  You might want to consider hanging on to them.  Especially over time.  As time goes on, it becomes easy to lose track of things.  Something that is said and doesn’t come up again for a long time.  The message can get lost because not enough importance was placed on it.  Things you didn’t know you were expected to remember.  Even if the importance of it was never emphasized.  

In a relationship, in love, everything is important.  It doesn’t matter if it is a deep conversation or a quick statement while out in public.  A quick little, “Oh my gosh I love that shirt,” or “I have always wanted to go see my sports team play against their biggest rival in our stadium,” may not seem like much at face value.  Maybe you assume it is just something the opposite sex always says.  It is easy to overlook these or brush them aside.  

Take notice.  These are opportunities.  No matter how small.  Opportunities to show that you were listening.  Showing up with that exact shirt on Valentine’s Day, their birthday, or Christmas.  Randomly whipping out a pair of game tickets and surprising them before dinner.  It doesn’t matter.  The message they receive is clear and of immense value.  You love them.  You care.  You care about what they want and what they have to say.  Most importantly, you are listening to them and they matter.  What they say matters.

Listen.  Learn.  Remember.  No matter how big or small.  There are few things in a relationship that matter more than listening.  No matter how many times you say “I love you.”  No matter how much you think or know you mean it.  The words don’t possess nearly as much value unless they are accompanied by the actions that demonstrate they are more than just words.  Listening matters.

Lessons Learned, Relationships

Flubbed Love

Everyone deserves a happily ever after.  No matter how tough, how cold, how emotional, everyone deserves to find the person that completes their heart.  Compliments their soul.  Brings out their best, and stands by their side at their worst.  You and I are no exception.  Somewhere out there is your special someone.  Your Prince Charming, your Cinderella, your other, better half.  Keep searching, and one day you will find them.  Maybe you already have.  Either way, I hope that what follows will help to ensure that happiness will always follow.

I am not here to tell you what to do.  You don’t need to be told.  I am no expert on relationships.  This is about showing you what I have learned.  Failure is life’s greatest teacher, but failure will always follow you if you don’t see and learn from your mistakes.  Most of your romantic relationships will fail.  It is a fact.  Most of mine have.  I am here to tell you, that is OK.  It is inevitable when you stop to think about it.  Only one relationship can be your forever and it takes time and a lot of failure and heartbreak to get there.  And if you are one of the lucky few who found their forever on the first shot, congratulations.  Good for you, however, you are missing one of life’s greatest lessons.  Heartbreak happens, life can become difficult, disappointment happens, but your ability to persist will make you stronger than you were before.

Do not mistake my meaning or intent.  Getting your heart broken sucks.  It is awful.  It feels like your world has shattered into a million pieces that can’t possibly be put back together.  They can’t.  But that doesn’t mean you can’t take those pieces and build something better.  Something different.  Something entirely new.  Lessons are learned.  Personal and emotional evolution takes place.  That is why I am here.  This isn’t about any one specific break up.  This is about them all.  What did I do wrong?  What did they do wrong?  What could have been done better?  What should I or they have done more?  Less?  

Some people may think these are dangerous questions.  I couldn’t disagree more.  These are the only questions.  Rather than looking at them as drowning in a sea of doubt and despair, look at them as guideposts along your path to becoming better.  Acknowledge your mistakes.  Identify theirs.  Come up with ways to change and improve.  If you ignore the problems, they will never get solved.  If you dwell on them, the same result.  Careful consideration.  Practical application.  If you think you don’t need to always get better, constantly improve, you have bigger problems than relationships.

This is about telling you my story.  What I have learned.  What I hope to do better.  What I want and need to do more or less of.  How I view the way I have behaved in relationships, but also, how I perceive what I was told by the person I was with.  At the end of the day, your opinion matters, but theirs does too.  If more than one person identifies an issue you have, it might be worth you looking into it.  That doesn’t mean there is something wrong with you.  Far from it.  All it means is that more than one person is perceiving the same thing.  It isn’t an anomaly, it is an observation from multiple sources.  I am not telling you to believe the crowd.  You are responsible for what and how you interpret things.  The more open-minded you approach anything in life, especially relationships, the more likely you are to succeed, even if it isn’t today.

Whether you are currently in a relationship, in pursuit, or just trying to improve, I sincerely hope that what follows will guide you on a path towards living in a happy and healthy relationship.  Read it all at once, or one at a time.  However you learn and improve, I encourage you to embrace it.  You deserve to find that special someone, and they deserve to find you too.