Lesson 20: Leave work at work

How many times have you heard this one?  What does that even mean?  Leave work at work?  It sounds a bit cliche, I admit, but this is an issue that, no matter how well you think you have a handle on it, is always difficult to accomplish.  Emotions are difficult to control and even harder to forget or ignore.  There are a lot of different ways to go about this, but you have to find what works best for you.

I have found that having some kind of outlet between getting off work and getting home has worked in the past for me.  It creates a separation between work life and home life.  For me, it is going to the gym and spending time focusing on a task that is not frustrating to me.  Lifting weight takes a lot of concentration, focus, and physical exertion.  All of that built up energy gets put to good use while also taking your mind off of the office.

This accomplishes more than just feeling and looking better.  You get home and work isn’t so fresh on the mind.  You have had time to focus on something you like or enjoy and your mood is significantly improved.  Looking back on the workday is done with some time of reflection in between and you are more likely to not potentially download what might have been a bad day in a place that is meant for love, rest, and relaxation.

Rather than taking out your anger towards a difficult customer or colleague on your significant other, you throw that fuel into a few extra sets on the weight room floor.  Or maybe you spend an extra 10 to 15 minutes on the treadmill or elliptical machine.  Instead of allowing difficulties at work to spill over into your home life, put them to good, productive use at the gym, or in dance or karate class.  Anywhere but home.  Leave it anywhere else.  Don’t bring it home with you.


Lesson 19: Get off your cell phone

Technology is addictive.  You can say it isn’t all you want.  The only person you are lying to and fooling is yourself, which is another problem entirely.  It is also among the biggest distractions that can greatly hinder your relationship.  Every moment you spend on your phone is a moment that is not being spent with the person or people you care about most.  

That little dopamine hit you get when your phone goes off, whether it is someone sending you a text message or getting a like on something you posted on your Facebook or Instagram page or engaging in battle on Clash of Clans, will fade quickly.  You will probably jump on again shortly after to get another hit.  You keep doing it, but you are missing what it will likely cost in the long run.  Experiencing life.  Real physical and emotional connections with others.

How many times have you gone somewhere with someone and they spent enough time on their phone for you to notice?  You decided to go on a day trip somewhere really special.  Maybe it was the beach.  Maybe it was for a hike by a beautiful river or lake.  Maybe it was to go take a tour of a really cool castle.  It is understandable that you want to take pictures to commemorate the wonderful time you had there.  I even encourage that.  Try to minimize phone usage.  You aren’t fooling anyone and you are missing the moments that matter.  Spend too much time taking pictures in an effort to capture the memory and you will miss out on the actual making of the experience.

This goes for meals as well.  Put the phone away.  I understand that emergencies happen, but that is no reason that you can’t set your phones out of reach.  If it goes off, minimize contact.  Better yet, tell people in your life about specific times you will not be interacting with your phone.  During meals, work, sleep, etc.  That way, if they call, you know it is likely urgent.  Phones are great tools, but like all great tools, there are times and places that they are not appropriate or even helpful.  Pay less attention to the phone and more to the people around you.  I assure you, they are worth so much more than whatever is on your device.


Lesson 18: Keep track of the things they like

Makes sense right?  Sounds easy?  Seems logical?  This is one of those things that falls under the category of “common sense is more uncommon than you think.”  As sensible, easy, and logical as this concept might seem, it is so much more integral to a relationship than you might first believe.  It is another one of those things that can either work well in your favor or build-up to the relationship’s demise.  

It is about so much more than giving them the material things they want or taking them to the events they want to attend.  This is one of the areas where your true commitment and devotion to the relationship are being tested.  How much attention have you been paying?  Are you listening to what they say or carefully observing the things they do?  Attention to detail is more important than you might think.  Momentary distractions that seem inconsequential, like spending too much time on your phone, watching the TV, or even listening to something else while they are talking, can spell disaster.  

All of a sudden, strategy and compassion become close teammates.  Put them together and you will find that things start to work out in your favor.  Subtle comments and behaviors are easy to miss.  The statement “that’s pretty” or “wow look at that” can mean so much more than “I want you to see this too.”  It is an opportunity.  Maybe not at that very moment, but buying that as a gift at a later date, or even talking about it at a later time, you demonstrate that you were paying attention.  It is important to show them that the things they like are important.  They are important enough to make the things they like or care about important to you as well.

There is no shame in writing things down.  Life is difficult and unpredictable.  Things happen.  Maybe you were paying attention but then things happen that cause you to forget.  A missed opportunity, even on accident, is still a missed opportunity.  It is easy to get overwhelmed and forget.  Writing things down not only helps you remember the places and things, but it also helps to reinforce how important they are to you.  Take the time and make the effort.  Taking 30 seconds to write something down is a small price to pay for the continued happiness of the person you love.


Lesson 17: Know when and how to properly walk away from a fight or argument

This is probably one of the hardest things to do in any relationship, romantic or otherwise.  Emotions are running wild, chemical levels in your body are all over the place and completely out of control.  Ego steps in.  Or maybe it is pride.  You want to strike back and you even get that feeling like what you are about to say is going to put them in their place and establish your dominion in the land of “I am right.”  

Let me tell you something about the land of “I am right.”  It is also the land of the alone.  The land of the jerk.  The land of the one not getting anywhere in that relationship.  Potentially, even the land of the “This relationship is over.”  Arguing without any kind of calm or control is a great way to get the person you are arguing with to resent or despise you.  If that is where you want to be or where you feel comfortable, then, by all means, fire those opinions away.  

The satisfaction you will get from being right is momentary.  The damage to the relationship is long term.  My recommendation, walk away, tactfully, and cool off.  Not only does it help you collect your thoughts, but it also allows you to approach the situation in a much calmer and more collected mind.  It becomes a conversation, rather than an argument.  Arguments tend to have a winner and a loser.  Conversations can be won by both.

I am not saying that it is a conversation that needs to be, or should be, avoided.  Quite the contrary.  If it gets to the point where emotions are starting to come out in a negative way, it is most definitely a conversation that needs to take place.  That doesn’t mean it has to take place at that moment.  There probably isn’t a worse moment you could try communicating about the problem.  Tell them that you need to step away and tell them why.  You would be surprised at the results.  The heat begins to cool immediately.  Let them know that this needs to be discussed but not right then.

Like anything, this is not a guarantee that everything will be OK.  Walking away shows a level of emotional maturity where words can’t.  It demonstrates that you care enough about them and the issue to want to take a step back and put some real thought into the matter.  Once emotions and tempers ease, it is much easier to reapproach the situation and have a productive conversation.  Problems are so much easier to solve when you work together on them.


Lesson 16: You can only say “I’m sorry” so many times

It is important to admit when you’re wrong.  Showing fallibility is a strength, not a weakness.  No one is perfect.  There is a sense of integrity and trustworthiness that is associated with a person that can be honest enough to admit errors.  That being said, the words “I’m sorry” don’t always have the power to fix whatever mistake was made.

You can’t unsay or undo what has already been said or done.  No matter how honorable or noble you are and no matter what the circumstances, everyone has their own personal standards.  The lines that they have personally determined cannot be crossed if relations with them are going to continue.  Perhaps, so long as you are willing to admit your fault, it can be worked out.  But it is not usually forgotten.  It may fade, over time, but it will always be there.

There is no easy fix.  Similar to being unable to buy forgiveness, there comes a point when enough becomes enough.  Words are our most valuable resource, but they are only as valuable as the people using them determine.  If you keep making the same promise, but never deliver, your promises lose their value.  The same goes for saying “I’m sorry” too many times.  If you keep apologizing, especially if it is for the same thing, what value do you think gets placed on your apology?

Say the words too often, the words lose the little healing power they possess.  While capable of fixing minor infractions, they add up.  Eventually, the power wears off.  The words get drowned out by how many times they have been used.  It eventually becomes unclear whether you actually mean it, or use it as a crutch for flaws that you know you have but are incapable or unwilling to fix.  They become irrelevant when the person receiving the apology loses faith in the value of the words and the source they are coming from.


Lesson 15: Don’t wait until it’s too late

This isn’t just about apologizing.  This can be anything.  Waiting too long to apologize.  Waiting too long to carry out a promise that was made.  Putting off doing that thing you said you would do.  Before you know it, tomorrow has arrived, but the time to execute has already passed.  Just because you are willing at that moment, doesn’t mean the right moment hasn’t already come and gone.  Time can never be recovered and what is done is done.  There are no take-backs and do-overs will always carry the weight of previously missed opportunities.  

You can always apologize afterward, but it doesn’t matter.  Even if you come up with the best phrase or best solution of all time.  It isn’t worth much if you are too late.  Once the damage is done, in most cases, that is it.  Timing matters and that timing is not always, if ever, up to you, or on your side.  Don’t wait.  Short of an emergency, there is no reason to not do that thing you said right now.  They decide when enough is enough.  It isn’t up to you.  They determine whether or not your efforts are too late or you took too long to realize you missed the opportunity.  Once that opportunity is missed, nothing else matters.   

You can have a life-altering epiphany.  One that will change your entire outlook on how you want to treat your significant other.  Maybe you see that you have not been sensitive or compassionate enough.  Maybe you realize that you have something spectacular but have never really shown your appreciation or gratitude.  You decide that enough is enough and you are going to do something about it.  Something for them.  Something that will show them what they mean to you.  Come morning, they will know an entirely different, much better, more desirable relationship experience.   It all counts for nothing if it comes after the decision has been made that things need to end.  

Think of your relationship and timing as glass and missed timing is that glass being dropped.  Once the glass is broken, it can never be completely fixed.  Sure, you can put the pieces back together, but does it ever really look, feel, or function the same after that?  The best tools can’t undo the damage that is already done and will forever remain.  Timing is critical.  Don’t wait to show them how special they truly are.  They chose you.  Make it count for something every day.  Show them they are worth the effort of being vigilant every day.  Pay attention to everything, big and small.  The signs are there, but they are not always so easy to notice.

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.