Looking for inspiration for this article, I asked my wife, Christy, to help me identify one dumb thing I do in our relationship. I should have known better. Only one? she asked innocently. Apart from the occasional Saint among us, the rest of us are pretty human and do our own dumb things in relationships from time to time. In my opinion, it is OK to make mistakes as long as we learn something as we go. A friend of mine says that if you learn from your mistakes, she is one of the smartest people around! Here is my top 10 list of the dumb things we can all do from time to time, if we are not careful.
Number one on my list is reading another persons behaviour in an unnecessarily negative light, not finding a better way to see the situation, if that is possible. When we mis-read their behaviour and dont cut them any slack, we tend to respond in very human ways.
The second dumb thing we can all do is not thinking before we speak or act. When we do this, often what we have to say comes out badly, at the wrong time, or we dont talk at all. When we dont think, we are tempted to do the same thing that helped create the problem in the first place.
Number three on my list is simply never finding a good time to talk due to concern about restarting an argument or unproductive conversation. The trouble with this approach is that many matters remain unresolved and the same issues come up again and again.
The fourth dumb thing we do is focusing solely on what the other person is doing wrong, trying to change their behaviour, rather than simply keeping the focus on what we are doing. When we do this, we are effectively trying to control what is out of our control rather than looking at any contribution we may be making.
Number five is insisting we be heard first rather than giving genuine understanding to how the other person is seeing things and how strongly they are feeling. If ever you watch a couple of people arguing, you will see them effectively saying, Shut up and listen to me!
dumb thing we do is focusing solely on what the other person is doing wrong.
The sixth dumb thing to do is to pretend you dont have any personal flaws. Unfortunately, this is one of the worst personal flaws you can have, making it hard for you to give genuine apologies, make amends, or learn from your mistakes. It is also very, very annoying for other people to be constantly blamed for interactions in which they feel you have also made a contribution.
Number seven is not taking other peoples sensitivities into account. This makes it easy to offend or hurt them even when this has not been our intention. Rather than treading carefully around issues that have been hurtful to them, we tell them they are over-reacting, to get over it, or to sort themselves out in therapy.
The eighth dumb thing we can all do is to think that our way of seeing things is the only way. When we believe this, we tend to try to pressure the other person to come around to our perspective.
Number nine is to think that other people are wired the same as you. People are different in what helps them to feel happy and have different ways of doing things. But it is the way we deal with differences that is important. By accepting that people operate differently or see things differently, it becomes easier to accept difference or negotiate a common understanding for the future.
The tenth dumb thing we can do is to make choices to meet our needs, but in ways not respectful of other peoples needs. For example, we throw ourselves into our work instead of giving priority to the needs of our family. Or we have an affair, drink heavily, or spend too much time on the computer, all of which are not respectful of our partners needs. When you dont take other peoples needs into account, or incorrectly target your efforts, they will not feel inspired to show consideration to you.
You might be tempted now to show your partner or a co-worker this article, circling the parts that apply to them. I suggest instead you might be better to say that there are things you can both do to help, keeping the focus on your own behaviour. Although my wife will remind me that when it comes to doing dumb things in relationships, men tend to excel in this regard. Fortunately, she also catches me doing a number of things right.