About 10 years ago I invited our neighbours for dinner and we enjoyed an evening of wine and conversation. I had a lot of affinity for the couple, who had been together for more than 20 years, and had grown up children and young grandchildren already, but I was surprised as the evening progressed as both of them were constantly snipping and snapping at each other. It was a perpetual game of invalidating the other in every conversation and though I initially thought it was a bit of banter and fun, as the night progressed it became clear that it was a long term issue for the both, and they could not simply be there and communicate with each other without cutting each other up.
A few years later they split up and they are now divorced.
Then as I visited my father and his long-term partner, I noticed the same behaviour. Things seemed civil, but as an evening progressed with a few bottles of wine, their conversation became increasingly critical of each other, cutting each other up and being just plain nasty. I found it strange and confronting, as I was not used to such overt hostilities with guests sitting at the table.
I started to watch for the same behaviour and have now experienced two other family couples that also do the same. One is an elderly aunt and uncle who were so dramatically hating each other that they were hard to be around. They are unhappy people who seem to think the only relief from their unhappiness is to cut down the imagined “source’ of their problems – their spouse. The result is two very miserable people.
My most recent encounter was with my mother, who has been frustrated with my step-dad as he is a hoarder. She told me that while he is away for the next 10 days she is going to go through his belongings and toss out a bunch of old shoes, clothes and personal items that he refuses to part with, but has not worn or used in over 20 years. He is critical of her, and she is critical of him, and on a continued basis they are committing overts or creating missed withholds that will make their life together even worse. We had a long discussion and I pointed out that throwing away her spouse’s prized possessions while he is not home, is not a good recipe for a happy marriage. Certainly his hoarding is an issue — but trying to resolve it without his agreement or consent is going to result in more hostilities and though it may make the closet a little lighter, it will make the animosity in the household heavier. She agreed and is no longer going to carry out her plan.
It is sad that couples do this.
All of this has made it much clearer to me that the only way to have a successful long-term relationship is with OPEN and HONEST communication. It is vital to have consideration for the other and grant them respect.
‘Clean hands make a happy life’ is not a catch-phrase – but actually a rule for living that that really does work.
I also have renewed understanding that it takes two people to be in a games condition. If one person starts to snip and snap at their spouse, it can be resolved with straight and honest communication – not by having the other party then fall into the same pattern of committing small continual overts and withholds agains the other as a justification or solution.
If a person does not commit an overt (large or small) on their spouse, they won’t find themselves feeling upset, critical, nattery or simply hostile towards him/her.
And if they work to keep affinity, reality and communication and thus understanding high, then life on the home front remains smooth, fun, loving and enjoyable.
It is never to late to start to repair a relationship — and if you have witnessed the same sort of behaviour between couples, or within your own relationship, my advice is take action to resolve it, as it is the dwindling spiral of a tangled tango that destroys relationships and brings unhappiness.