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Relationships can be wonderful, difficult, joyful, frustrating but always educational. They are the most challenging part of love and life. 2020 has been a real testing ground for relationships. While the upside of the quarantine has been that partners and families have had to spend more time together, that is also the downside. Many of us have had to find ways to make things work when we are in the same space most of the time, and under more stress than usual. This has forced us to examine our relationships with others, and with ourselves. Such examination is not always pleasant.

Those who live alone have had too much time to look within, to analyze their own thoughts and feelings, and to attempt to find safe ways to have some connection with other people. My friends in this situation have found their relationship with themselves to be daunting. Too much time for too many thoughts is just difficult. Most of them have found phone and zoom to be lifesavers that allowed them to keep up relationships with friends and relatives. Since absence often makes the heart grow fonder, their contact with others has been valued and generally pleasant; not perfect but pleasant.

Those of us who have shared our bubbles with others have had different challenges. When you have limited time with your partner or roommates you can often let problems slide, knowing that you will be at work or school or in another environment in a matter of time. Having to be in the same space most of your day makes it harder to overlook little eccentricities that you otherwise could.

In my former talks about nurturing love I have pointed out the differences between a mother/child-oriented society and the one we have today. In the former, the qualities it took to create and raise a child, a precious gift of life, were highly respected. These qualities are patience, perception, understanding, acceptance, and the ability to nurture. In today’s world these are not the qualities we are taught to value. Rather, we are encouraged to be aggressive, ambitious, logical, goal-oriented and focused on acquiring as much wealth and power as possible.

Now qualities which are valued have changed but biology has not. Because females give birth, they have the hormones during their fertile years that create the qualities needed to successfully do this and raise children. Males have different hormones that coincide with the qualities valued today. Everyone has both male and female within them, but usually one is a bit stronger than the other. It is possible, especially in today’s world, for some men to be more nurturing, and some women more aggressive.

But the differing qualities in men and women can make honest, peaceful communication difficult. As my daughter, who has grown up with my theory of history, explains it to people: Women live in the soup of life while men live in compartments. This means women are usually focused on a wider view than men. This wide view lets a woman all at the same time do her job while caring for her child, thinking about the shopping and laundry that needs to be done, wondering whether all the bills have been paid, planning the meals for the day, ruminating on what her partner meant when he said she looked tired, and dreaming about where the family should go if they are able to ever take a vacation. Right now, I am writing this, wondering whether I picked the right time for my second vaccine, checking whether the cat water fountain is working, considering when I will ever scan in the 1099s to the accountant, asking myself whether I gave my daughter good answers to some research questions, debating what snack I should eat, etc. etc. etc. I am always in the soup of life, multi-tasking in my mind if not with my body.

My husband is capable of laser focus on whatever he is doing. When he is in the middle of one task, he does not want to have to think about anything else. When he finishes that job, he goes on to the next with that same focus. To some extent these different ways of seeing life are shared by many couples. That is where conflict begins.

I see the dishes he left because he was involved with something else. It irritates me. I mention the fact that dishes should go in the sink. He hears me pointing out something he has not done and feels I am blaming him for something that just is not as important to him as it is to me. This could lead to an argument but, after many years together, we both know that argument leads nowhere positive. So, I take care of the dishes or ignore them until he moves to that compartment or do the honest communication of asking him directly to please put his dishes in the sink. This is a small example of problems that can become large.

Males and females see the world differently and communicate what they see based upon how they observe. Let us get down to other examples.

  • Women are more aware of everything in their environment, at the same time. So, they notice the dirty dishes, the clothes on the floor, the bird flying close to the road, and they say what they see.

  • Men are more focused on one thing and do not like to be distracted.

  • Women like to work out their thoughts, feelings, and problems by talking about them.

  • Men prefer to work things out internally.

  • When a woman begins to talk about a problem, most men think she is asking for him to fix it. They listen for a bit then offer a suggestion about how she can find a solution. The woman feels cut off because she was not looking for him to fix her problem. She wanted him to listen while she tried to work it out.

  • One partner is irritated because the other has not done something that she thought was obviously needing to be done. She voices her opinion. Her partner hears this as criticism because it is coming with a touch of anger and engendering a bit of guilt. This situation can often end up as a blame game, which really is not fun to play.

Let us look at some solutions for these common problems so they do not become major.

Generally, women enjoy talking about feelings and situations more than males do. For this to work, women need to be clear with men about what they want. If you want a man to help with the dishes, pick up his clothes, not hit a flying bird, tell him so in a calm voice. Men tell me they much prefer a polite, direct request to any other form of asking for help. Then the man needs to respond appropriately to the request and, if it is one that has been made many times, try to remember for next time.

When women need to vent their feelings while searching for their own solution, they need to tell their partner they need to vent and ask if this is a good time for them to do so. The male needs to honestly respond and then really listen, without comment, if he has agreed to do so. This is hard. Mothers need to do the same with their older children much as they want to solve all their problems for them. Young adults want to be heard not given unasked for help.

If you find yourself beginning or being drawn into your partner’s blame game, just stop and think. Are you making an objective observation or are you subtly criticizing? If so, apologize and start again. Making a joke of such situations is how I have learned to diffuse them, but the joke must be on you, not your partner.

For any relationship to work, both partners need to learn to take responsibility for his or her own feelings. It is easy to see what bothers you about your partner but not so easy to see what you do that bothers your partner.

I realize I have just touched upon the enigma that relationships are. There is so much more I would like to share, but not all today. For example, learning to fight fairly is critical to any long-lasting relationship because inevitably there will be disagreements. But we will have to table that for another time. If you have any relationship topics or questions you would like me to address, I would love to hear them.

I am not a therapist or a relationship expert, but I have learned a lot about myself and human nature from being with my husband for 43 years and spending 16 years in intentional community.

I hope this information has helped you to better understand yourself and those you love. Add some patience, perception, acceptance and nurturing to that and you will improve your life with those you love during this quarantine time, and after.

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