I’m going to assume at some point in your childhood you either took part in or watched a game of dodgeball. For some players their competitive side kicks in and they become laser focused on hitting as many opponents as they can, throwing the ball with all the force and speed they can conjure. For others it’s all about survival-duck and run! The mere thought of the sting that rubber ball may leave behind brings on all kinds of anxiety and fear.
There’s a different kind of playing ball that not everyone has played or remembers but you can easily imagine. The gentle back and forth toss a parent or caregiver plays with a young child that is usually met with squeals of delight or how about a relaxing “catch” with your mom or dad in the backyard. Just the two of you, a couple of well-worn baseball gloves and a ball. With every toss time stands still and in that moment all that matters is sharing how your day went, what you want to do over Summer break or taking bets on who will win the next World Series. Whatever the conversation, it is likely attached to feelings of safety, love, calm and happy memories.
Now take a moment to think about a time your spouse came home from work in a crappy mood and instead of their usual happy greeting you’re met with sarcastic, snappy or critical comments. Perhaps another scenario comes to mind-you’ve got plans with your extended family over the weekend which brings up all kinds of stressful thoughts for you and before you know it you’re taking out these frustrations on your partner when they really don’t deserve it. When your spouse or partner snaps or yells it's like that dodgeball coming at you fast and hard. What’s your first instinct? Do you react by picking up the ball and hurling it right back? Or do you respond by choosing to toss the ball gently back?
To be human is to be perfectly imperfect. I was listening to a podcast recently about the role that self-awareness, particularly being aware of your strengths and weaknesses, plays on your overall well-being. It was directed at individuals but got me thinking about how these concepts apply to awareness of ourselves within our relationships.
Self-awareness allows you to take a look at what is going well in your life and which areas you would like to improve on. For some it can be difficult to look inward and freely focus on the things not going so well. For others, it is where they spend a good amount of their emotional energy-seeing only their faults.
For the person who is more naturally inclined to see only his or her areas of strength, it's not necessarily a bad thing. Embracing that confidence and security can very well get you closer to your life goals but when it gets in the way of truly hearing your partners needs or being able to listen with an open mind to how they are experiencing you, you may be missing out on key opportunities to connect with your spouse and your relationship may eventually suffer as a result of it.
Consequently, for someone who goes through their days with the voice of doubt whispering in their ear that they aren't good enough, they likely struggle to put a name to the things they do well. Not only is it difficult to feel proud of your personal accomplishments, you may find it difficult to acknowledge what is going well in your relationship. Likewise, you may focus on your spouses flaws over their good qualities-simply because your mind has been trained to look for the negative.
When I talk about improving your relationship through self-awareness, I'm not thinking about weighing out your strengths and weaknesses as they are reflected in your marriage or dating life. When we're open to exploring and expressing our emotions with our spouse we're able to better understand some of the areas of emotional vulnerability that we bring with us into our relationships. These areas of vulnerability not only effect how we perceive ourselves but they also serve as a lens for how we view others' behavior toward us.
It's taken some time-maybe a whole lot of time-to learn this simple but valuable life lesson. If you go into a situation with realistic expectations you greatly reduce your chances of walking away disappointed.
What I'm really referring to is interactions with people in life. There's a saying that you can't get blood out of a stone and realistically the same may feel true for trying to get your emotional needs met from someone who struggles with the skills to give you what you need. Some people that enter your life are natural givers and providers of empathy, support and guidance, for others it's like trying to understand a foreign language.
John C. Maxwell in Thinking For A Change shares that "reality is the difference between what we wish and what is." He goes on to say that it took him a long time to learn that he couldn't possibly please everyone which is true for all of us but so is the flip side, we can't expect everyone else in our lives to please us all the time. It's time to be realistic and release the burden-if you are aware of those in your life who for whatever reason are not able to meet your emotional needs then you can significantly reduce your chances of being disappointed by them. Release the expectation and reduce your disappointment.
There's no blame or shaming here. We come into this world with an innate desire to empathize with those we care about but sometimes the path to expressing it becomes blocked by different things such as mixed or unclear messages, or even fear of what may happen or has happened to us in the past. The good news is change is possible and once the blocks can be identified, they can be released as well.
"Change alone doesn't bring growth but you cannot have growth without change" -John C. Maxwell. Growth and change within a relationship of any kind is a two way street and requires a willingness on both sides to take a realistic look in the mirror.