What’s my dad got to do with your relationship?

My dad had a unique way of cleaning the garage when I was little.  He didn’t do much around the house (my parents have a pretty traditional relationship) but he did occasionally decide that the garage needed cleaning.  We lived out in the country and our garage was a dumping ground for old lawn mowers, tools, pet supplies, toys, bikes, tires – you name it, it was probably in the garage. 

My dad’s idea of cleaning it was to pull everything out of the garage and into the middle of the driveway.  He would start sorting everything and putting it back into the garage but would only put about a third of it back inside.  The rest he would just leave in the driveway.  Now, I’m not sure if it was that he felt accomplished halfway through the project and no longer felt the need to finish or if he just didn’t know what to do with the rest of it.  Either way, everything left out in the driveway would inevitably get rained on and need to be thrown away.

What does this bizarre story have to do with your relationship?  It’s a metaphor for the way most of us argue.  We unpack and clean out everything that is bothering us.  We drag it all out onto our metaphoric driveway, we bring up things that happened months ago, and we pile on transgressions until we run out of steam.  Once we run out of steam, we feel like we’ve accomplished something and maybe we’ve even gotten some resolution from our significant other.  Perhaps they apologized or are sympathetic to our side.  But we stop there, without full resolution or a plan to avoid a similar argument in the future.

Instead of stopping short of meaningful resolution, why not go a step further next time you find yourself in a disagreement.  Look more closely at what really caused the disagreement.  Was it simply a case of hurt feelings?  What could you or your significant other done to avoid the problem in the future?  Once you’re calm, let her know how you felt and what you would like her to do in the future.  She’s not a mind reader, so be specific.  Make sure you use, “I felt” statements instead of “You made me feel” statements.  This isn’t about attacking her; it’s about understanding and empathy.  After you tell her how you felt, ask her to perform a specific action in the future to avoid the problem.  For example, “I felt worried when you stayed out late with your friends and I didn’t know where you were.  In the future, please call and let me know so I don’t worry.”

My dad still cleans the garage by pulling everything out and only putting half of it back in.  It drives my mom crazy.  Don’t drive yourself or your significant other crazy by dragging all your relationship problems out onto the driveway without doing the work to actually resolve them.  It only takes a few minutes of thoughtful dialog to avoid having the same argument over and over again.

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