“Any fool can burn down a barn. Building one is something else again.” – Old Proverb
I was standing in the foyer with Rich’s sister-in-law, Rebecca. We were both waiting for our partners – again – as they ever so slowly said their goodbyes to the rest of the family. I’ve noticed that at the end of an evening Rebecca and I head for the door immediately while our partners say goodbye to everyone.. and then continue to chat. They start to say goodbye again… and then continue to chat. Standing in the foyer, Rebecca turned to me and laughed, “The British leave without saying goodbye and the Jews say goodbye without leaving”.
Rebecca said that sometimes, in order for her to get home when she wants to, she and her partner take separate cars to social events. After being together for almost 30 years, this insight into their relationship was really helpful for me. Some parts of a relationship involve both partners working to shift their behavior so that they meet closer to the middle. But even partners in the best of relationships can simply agree to disagree and to find the workaround instead. Yes, even the best partnerships involve taking separate cars occasionally.
My chat with Rebecca came at a very good time. The weekend before, I had been frustrated that Rich continued to work around the house and didn’t sit and relax by the pool with me, as we had both been talking about and looking forward to all week. I am a very punctual person and knew we could get our errands done first thing on Saturday morning, leaving the afternoon to relax. While Rich is really reliable about timing when in his usual routine, time can get away from him when presented with an open day, too much to do and the feeling of being overwhelmed.
I’ve been told that “there is what happens, and then there is what we make what happens mean”. It was a fact that Rich didn’t get his errands done in time to relax by the pool. What I made it mean, however, was that he didn’t appreciate the little time we have together or recognize that I had a need to relax and felt overwhelmed also. And that made me mad.
My personal interpretation of events would have motivated me to continue to try and get Rich to do things differently. But fortunately, I suddenly realized that expecting him to stick to a schedule during a time when a house renovation and yard overhaul were sending his stress hormones into overdrive was an unreasonable approach. Its not that he didn’t want to sit by the pool with me, its that he just could not. In the same way that he and his sister really find it difficult to leave after a dinner party, he could not take himself out of overdrive when outside of his normal routine. I just had to let it go and find the workaround.
The workaround would have involved sitting by the pool by myself and getting the relaxation that I needed with no expectation that Rich would join me. If he showed up at some point, that would have been a pleasant surprise. When his life became a little less overwhelming, we would again be able to sit and relax together on a Saturday afternoon. There would have been no frustration or anger in that scenario – for either of us – and we would have truly been together when that occurred rather than my feeling resentment when he finally sat down.
I used to work in a small office with a woman named Melissa who, when taking phone messages, often reversed two numbers within each phone number. It was a glitch she was aware of and I would observe her repeat the phone number back to the caller to verify she had written it down correctly. Despite her awareness and best efforts, she nevertheless would reverse the numbers on many phone messages. The inability to write down numbers correctly when part of your job is to take phone messages is a problem. However, Melissa also had a number of other responsibilities within the small office which she did very well. She was very personable with clients, managed the remaining support staff in a very organized and efficient manner and had been a loyal employee for many years.
Melissa’s boss would get angry and reprimand her every time a phone number was incorrect. As much as Melissa explained that she did not intend to reverse numbers and that she was trying her best, her boss would get more and more angry about the situation. After observing this for some time it occurred to me that the boss was the one with the real problem. She was hyperfocusing on Melissa’s one area of difficulty and seemed to take it personally. The boss seemed to think, “She just isn’t paying attention. She isn’t listening to me when I tell her to stop doing that. I guess I just need to tell her again – and this time I’ll threaten some sort of punishment for doing it – and then maybe she’ll stop doing it.” The boss was banging her head against a wall that neither she nor Melissa was able to budge. The boss should have just let it go and found the workaround instead. And what might that have been?
A good way to begin to find the workaround is to ask, “How can I help this person succeed?” Melissa should have been told to forward callers to voice mail, relieving her of the responsibility of writing down phone numbers. She could continue excelling at the remainder of those tasks assigned to her. The boss would have received phone messages that were correct, Melissa would stop being attacked about her one fault and the morale of everyone in the office would improve considerably. Problem solved.
“The inferior teacher tells you that something is wrong with you and offers to fix it. The superior teacher tells you that something is right with you and helps you bring it forth”. – Alan Cohen