FIRST THINGS FIRST

“Tallest mountain we climb” does not exaggerate the difficulties we face if we shoulder the full load of making a relationship a true and lasting partnership. We each must choose: struggle toward the peak or keep falling to the valley when we give up. There are no helicopter shortcut rides to the top of a tranquil and fulfilling relationship. On the outside some people make it look easy. They are so sickeningly pleasant. Wait for the front door to close, and watch the windows. From time to time the noise of forging a great relationship will make those windows vibrate more than the well-polished low-rider’s trunk lid with the bass pumping. Only a few of us have never taken a breather on the front porch with a glued on smile. Fewer still calm the inner storm to return to learn how to quit merely arguing.

As you ascend the relationship range you learn family is like a draft board – you woke up the first day of your life and you were in boot camp. Not long into marriage and you wake up to the same reality. Hold your nose because parts of the family or the ways some behave will stink, in your opinion – but at the end of the day THEY ARE FAMILY. They may not agree with your opinion or even care to hear it. Some of you may not want to live in the same state with each other – but on occasion experience an unmistakable urge to “catch up” or make sure the hurt, ill or grieving relative is mending. Cards and invitations without fail announce weddings, births, graduations, many holidays, or notify of someone’s passing. When we get together, the very person who three months ago said they never wanted to see you again HAS to have a picture, or twelve, with you and all the other relatives they hated for reasons that now seem trivial.

We can feel incendiary emotions toward our blood, but still be overpowered by the need to find them and help when we learn of a crisis. They make us crazy, but we can’t bear to see them in pain – they are blood.

Programmers of social software and web pages sell a shiny pig in a poke based on some quite solid research about how people get together and become friends and later, relatives. Wedding chapels line the streets of every big gambling town for short cutters who meet at a craps table or a PTA meeting and decide on an impulse to tie the mythical knot. Truth: No matter how we got together, we must solve a beehive full of tough problems to initiate, build and maintain durable and satisfying relationships.

Solution number 1: Drop your end of the rope. I heard my father on more than one occasion as the mountain shook (my mother’s Ire) “I fought four years in “the War,” I did not come home to keep fighting.” At that point he would wheel and exit. Mom used to joke in her later years that he shut the door just before a plate crashed into it. The war of wills drives us apart – and that war is won in one heart first. Can it be yours?

Solution number 2: Choose your battles. Decades ago, our ship’s schedule changed and an overseas trip my wife and I saved dearly for was cancelled, then rescheduled for a different and shorter time. There was no way for us to talk. A shout out from Vietnam carrier group cost $200 AFTER the two week trip back to base. Jane (my beloved of only two years) asked Pastor Bill Yaeger, the second most important man in my life. His answer was brief: “Do you want to see your husband or keep the money?” I may require a hard swallow, but choose your mate, not your principle.

Solution number 3: Shut your pie hole, turn off the TV, or stop texting and LISTEN. Listen for what they are trying to communicate, rather than concentrate the flaws in how or what they say. Pointing out their errors won’t make you sound superior, or show they are a jerk, dim-witted, or a spoiled brat so maybe they let you get back to your show or project. Listen for the pain in their voice, not the pain they may be in your neck.

Solution number 4: Stay on the teeter-totter. Imagine you two are on a see-saw, one high, and one low. During conflicts your mate tries precariously to communicate what happened and maybe give some hints about how to make things right. You patiently listen all the way through. You notice they feel deeply hurt about some slight or hurtful thing you just said. You get it and feel so great knowing how to act at a future time to “make Momma happy so everybody’s happy.” Don’t just turn the TV back on, or simply say, “Thanks. I’ve got it.” That’s jumping too quickly off, and plopping her pretty backside in the dirt. She’s not going to be happy. If you do that, you just hope you’re as lucky as my father! What you MUST do is say something like, “Oh, I didn’t realize how that must have hurt. Sounds like you need me to . . . I will do that. I hope you can forgive my thoughtlessness.” You don’t have to be word perfect. Most men or women appreciate effort toward the goal. Remember, though, even on teeter-totter, practice makes perfect.

People in relationships face a mountain of problems. You don’t reach first base camp without a major trek over your own pride so you bend enough to fit together with a partner. How else do you earn enough trust so they commit themselves to climb with you?

There is a lot more, but we’ll get there soon enough.

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