I was having lunch with a recently separated friend. I had asked him shortly after he was separated if there was anything that he would have done differently. After giving it a few months thought, he told me that in a relationship, it is important to:
Always be aware of the hidden escape routes in your life.
He explained that there were points of conflict buried deep in his relationship that he had always been afraid or unwilling to address with his spouse. Instead of raising the issues and dealing with them, he always found ways of escaping the tension.
Most of us have experienced this. Rather than confront and deal with a situation we might:
- Work longer hours.
- Get overly involved in external activities like the PTA, or church ministries.
- Focus completely on the children or on house chores.
- Hide out on facebook.
- Hide in front of the TV.
- Get overly focused on a hobby or special interest (Golf?, Fishing?, Shopping?)
Why do we do these things? People naturally gravitate towards activities that will give them some mental reward, some form of positive feedback, or some feeling of success and satisfaction and they naturally gravitate away from tension or negativity.
Obviously none of these activities is inherently bad, but if done to avoid a conflict, or a family responsibility, then over the long run they can be devastating to your relationships.
A simple step that you can take to help avoid this kind of devastation is to:
Once a month, do a mental inventory of your responsibilities and relationship quality.
Make this an honest inventory. In my book Essence of Wisdom for Parents, I mention the multiple layers of responsibility towards your spouse – financial, emotional, and spiritual. Towards your children, you have these responsibilities and more: are you doing what you need to do to enable your children to be successful in their life?
Finding hidden problems in your relationships can be hard simply because they are hidden. Ask yourself: “Do I feel better every time I’m with my spouse, do I feel better when I’m with my kids, or do I rather feel like finding one of my escape routes?” You may need to start reading up on good relationship books (for example Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus: The Classic Guide to Understanding the Opposite Sex, or The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love That Lasts) to help you even identify the things that may be bothering you and more importantly, to find positive ways of turning things around. Few people actually like investing the time in reading this kind of material, but this is one the responsibilities that all of us have to keep our relationships on solid ground. Besides, its a small price to pay to avoid living in a cold house, or having to start over in life at a point when you should be enjoying a great relationship. Remember walking away from a relationship is an unhealthy escape route in itself.
How about you, care to share a time when you had some hidden escape routes that affected your marriage? How about those of your spouse?