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Successful Relationships Require You To Think Before You Act - 5/29/2012

I’m sure most of you, at one time or another, heard your parents say “Count to ten before you act.” The problem is that their sage words probably would have had more meaning if they had told you what to do while you counted to ten. On the surface, they were saying quick reactions aren’t necessarily going to be appropriate, and are likely to result in actions or words that are difficult to retrieve.  Therefore, it behooves you to exercise caution before impulsively issuing forth what’s on the tip of your tongue.  

I tend to think they needed to go a step further. They should have added, “And while you’re counting to ten, ask yourself two questions. One, what am I reacting to?  Why am I getting angry, irritated, or upset?” Two, “What is the other person really saying to me?”  Not the words alone, because most of you can hear the words and agree on the surface interpretation applied to them.  I would, however, urge you to go a step further, to learn to read between the lines, in order to hear the real message. Let me provide two examples that, for me, tell the story far more clearly.  

Jackie had been going with Michael for over three years.  Actually, they had known each other in high school.  Their relationship, in Michael’s own words, was the only one he ever experienced where, when he was with her, he didn’t think of his job, his financial concerns, or the future.  He just felt at peace and happy to be with her.  

But, three years to an impatient lover can appear an eternity and that was exactly the way Jackie felt.  Theirs was a long-distance relationship. He worked in a city over one thousand miles away.  Consequently, their meetings primarily occurred during holidays and alternate trips to each others’ homes on a somewhat irregular basis.  Over the time they dated, they discussed numerous topics, such as marriage, children and a future together. If there was any one area in which they disagreed, it was financial matters. She tended to be less concerned, more hedonistic and desirous of enjoying the present than “saving for the future.”  He, on the other hand, was a planner, a cautious individual, who lived a rather austere existence financially.  Indeed, he spent very little on what you might term frivolous or unnecessary expenditures.

The reason I mention this is to explain the intense reaction he had to the following incident.

Jackie’s friend’s were getting married, having showers, and several were expecting babies.  She was still the single woman, waiting for him to pop the question.  Christmas was close on the horizon and, in her conscious mind, she thought, “ Because it’s always so difficult to know what to buy someone, I’m helping him out by sending him an email listing three things, any one of which I would thoroughly enjoy.”  They were, one, a no less than two-carat diamond engagement ring; two, a gold bracelet from Tiffany’s; or, three, a new i-pad.”  Michael was aghast at her suggestions.  On the one hand, he had already purchased, albeit with great trepidation and concern over the cost, a perfect one and a half carat diamond solitaire ring.  Two, he thought it crass that she would “demand such expensive gifts.” Three, somewhere deep down inside, I’m sure he saw himself as having bought an inferior diamond.  The end result, he kept his diamond ring in his pocket, did not propose on the date he had planned to “pop the question” and began, instead, to evaluate whether, indeed, she was the person he wanted to spend the rest of his life with.  As a result she received none of the items on her list and felt rejected, unappreciated and unloved.  Christmas was ruined and a serious argument ensued.

It was then that Michael suggested they seek premarital counseling.  Based on the email he received,  Michael perceived Jackie as still another controlling, demanding woman, whose requests he could not fulfill and whose interests were only materialistic in nature.  Jackie, on the other hand, failed to put into words that it wasn’t the diamond ring, the Tiffany bracelet or the i-pad she desired.  What she was asking for, but was afraid to fully articulate,  was the love and commitment that any one of those items might have signified.  Neither of them were able to read between the lines.  Both of them failed to count to ten.  

There you have it.  When you’re counting to ten, remember those  two questions, “What am I reacting to, i.e.: why am I angry, hurt, upset?” and, two, “What is the other person really saying to me?”  What Michael needed to hear was, “Michael, I love you very much.  I have for years.  There’s no one I want more than you.  I’m willing to move to be with you, but I need some assurance that you care as much as I do.  I look around at my girlfriends, who are either getting married, making plans for weddings or having wedding and baby showers and I’m here, uncertain whether the man I desperately love, loves me.  Please know it isn’t a two carat ring I want, or a bracelet or an i-pad.  They were suggestions.  Perhaps they were the only way I could attempt to say what I’m telling you right now.”

To openly express those words, Jackie would have needed to have insight and awareness regarding where she was coming from.  Instead, she retaliated with anger, adamantly stating, “All I was doing was trying to help you with regard to what it would take to make me happy during this holiday season.”  Michael, had he followed rule number two and asked himself, “Where is she coming from?”, might have said, “I love you.  I told Dr. Ed, no woman I’ve ever met  could take my mind off work and my other concerns as totally as you do. You’re the calm in my life.  You’re the emotional support that I need and desire. I grant you, I’m frightened to make a lifetime commitment, but it’s only a matter of time for me to deal with my fears and to let you know, up front, how much I care.”

Both of  these individuals would have greatly benefitted if they had counted to ten and utilized the time to ask two questions that are pretty simple in nature, but whose answers are difficult to come by.  

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