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Relations

Over the years I've had quite a variety of conversations about relationships. These have ranged from the "why won't he put the seat down" conversations to the "I quit, I'm calling the lawyer tomorrow" conversations. They all have a single underlying theme - the inability to affect meaningful change with a loved one. With years of attempting to affect some change through a variety of means, using both reward and punishment, polite requests and loud demands, regular hour long conversations and short snide passing comments, at some point desperation sets in.

It's heart breaking to see true desperation, to hear someone who's given up on affecting change, either because they've run out of options or it's become clear to them that the other person knows the problem and just refuses to change. That level of desperation leads to dehumanizing the partner, despising them, and eventually justifying all means of questionable behavior.

Of course it's easy nowadays to just say "well get a divorce" or even the opposite "suck it up and deal with it". People say things like "well you knew who he was when you married him" or "she's never going to change" emphasizing the hopelessness of the situation. In fact the relationship advice going around is fundamentally depressing, so much so that the only positive advice that can be given is "have you thought about counseling?"

There's the hopeful side of me that says that all of this is just non-sense. Relationships are easy - you tell your spouse what you need, they tell you what they need, you work out a compromise and voila. Sadly that doesn't work. There's a tit-for-tat syndrome, all negotiations aren't equal and the language of negotiation comes in two opposed languages, his and hers. You'd think that some of the negotiations involved nuclear disarmament with as much resentment, anger, and back and forth is required.

She says: "I'd like for you to take out the trash."
He says: "I'd like for you to stop buying so much junk."
She says: "I'd like for you to take me to a movie."
He says: "I'd like to watch the game with my friends."
She says: "Don't you have a shirt without stains?"
He says: "Don't you have something sexier?"

Eventually compromise becomes a dirty word. Too much giving in creates resentment, especially if one partner tends to give more than the other. A wife works hard to give her husband his space, tries not to complain when he spends an odd night out with his buddies or when he goes fishing. In return all she wants is some devotion, a rare night of focus on her. When she doesn't get it she might redouble her efforts, give him more time, more latitude, only to get burned again. At some point the husband begins to expect what he's getting, making any conversation or negotiation about recompense impossible. After all isn't it the wife's job to make the husband happy?

Of course the reverse is also true, of men who strive and struggle to make their wives happy only to be constantly rebuffed when trying to get something for themselves. The main problem is usually that the trading system for desire is non-existent. A man would think that providing the labor that allows for a nice dinner out would have some exchange value. However, while he can logically say $Dinner = $Pay * Time, he can't define the value of what he wants in return. He can't say $Dinner = Sex, he can't even say Effort = Effort. The problem with the first equation is the "prostitute argument" or the "so you buy me a nice dinner and think that entitles you to sex. Why don't you just throw a hundred on the table and drop your drawers next time!" The problem with the second equation is similar to the first, because a woman will be insulted at the idea that physical intimacy is something that can be traded and bartered. To them physical intimacy is a gift, given by choice, and not as payment or reward.

It is for this reason that so many conversations about relationships and how to repair them fail. Someone in the conversation will inevitably feel that their effort is undervalued and/or that they are not getting their fair share. It's a lose-lose situation. There's an idealized solution that says forget about compensation and reward and focus on doing everything you can to make your partner happy. That's awesome when it works and a disaster when it doesn't. It assumes that each partner will give 100% and it also assumes that both people understand what the other equates as love.

To some, love is a tender touch, a kind word, a bouquet of flowers. To another, love is taking out the trash, putting the toilet seat down, and fixing the gutters on the house. So the international language of love is not so universal and understandable as we'd like to hope.

At this point in your reading your probably wondering when I'm going to present my solution or explore my abundance of knowledge. WRONG! I absolutely don't have any solutions here. I'm one of the above dejected and desperate people wondering why my repeated attempts at finding a resolution has only ended repeated diatribes like this one. There are of course little wins here and there, and at the end of the day it's all cyclical. Our relationships dull and stretch over time and then at some point spring back to life. Over and over again. It's to be expected.

The sad thing for some people is what happens when you spend not months, but years in this stretched state, unable to spring back. Those people start looking to fill the gaps. At first it's innocuous like spending more time with a friend to see a movie or shopping. But then maybe there are other gaps that need filling and other friends to fill those spots. Flirtations with a co-worker or a guy at the gym. What starts out as something to just get you through the hump turns into a lifestyle. Then given opportunity, that night out at a bar, that simple ride home from work, those gaps turn into chasms.

76% of men say they'd cheat if they couldn't get caught. 68% of women say the same thing.