Last month’s article in our continuing focus on strengthening law enforcement relationships introduced the concept of “We vs I” (made kind of obvious by its title, “The Concept of WE versus I”). Learning to shift our focus from a self-directed perspective (What do I need, what do I want, what do I like?) to one more “we-focused” (What do WE need, what do WE want, what do WE like?) makes sense intellectually, but actually making the shift proves difficult for many couples no matter how well-intentioned. What makes sense (hopefully) in the abstract stretches our abilities when it comes time to develop real-life practices that mean we have to sacrifice even a little of our autonomy.
But finding the proper balance to know what parts of our individuality need preserving (for the good of both in the couple) and where sacrifices must be made (also for the good of both of you) is hard. It requires open and honest communication between partners, the courage to assert needs and ask for concessions, and the willingness to ultimately make your self-interest secondary. Some of you reading this just tensed up and felt a flash of anger at the very suggestion! If you did, breathe deeply and keep reading; learning to embrace putting the focus on WE might be particularly important to you if you are in – or hope to get into – a lasting relationship.
Last month we introduced the concept and its four core principles:
- Being more than just partners – BECOMING ONE
- Forsaking all others
- Denial of the self
- Fighting fair
This month we begin to look at putting these into practice by giving some very concrete examples of each and how we have put them into practice in our own lives. We will look at each principle in turn, giving each its due and fleshing it to bring some concrete practices to rather abstract principles, starting with the first principle.
First, a brief word about cops and their egos…
At first glance, this might raise eyebrows - or even blood pressure a bit - because of the negative connotation the word ego can hold for some. To be suggested we are egotistical, either individually or as a group makes us defensive; it should not, though.
A strong ego – a strong sense of self and confidence in your abilities and role – is crucial to be a successful cop. You are expected to make important decisions, under stressful and fluid conditions, every day you are on the job. You are entrusted with powers few can handle or even want, and expected to exercise them decisively and within strict constitutional bounds. In some cases these decisions may even involve the heaviest of responsibilities – the judicious taking of a human life. Of course cops have strong egos! They NEED them.
But ego unchecked and lacking restraint or humility is a dangerous thing. Whether on-duty or off, allowing egos to grow out of proportion threatens your judgment and ability to consider the possibility of a better way or a more sound opinion. MY way becomes THE way, to the exclusion of any alternative (think about it... you probably know someone at work right now who this describes; maybe a particularly self-obsessed colleague or boss, or a subordinate who no amount of reason is going to shake from a misdirected sense of “my way or the highway”). You know the effects of this person at work and on the street, and how they turn off or infuriate others? Imagine being that person at home, trying to create a partnership.
Being more than just partners – BECOMING ONE
Last month we described this principle as “being not simply partners, and not simply lovers, but truly each other’s best friend.” This is really central to putting the focus on the WE; if you lack a best friendship with your partner – no matter how much you may love each other – you will return your focus to your own self-interest.
Althea and I had become friends well before we ever started dating nearly 23 years ago, and our entire relationship now is still predicated on friendship. Although we both have our individual interests and need for our own time and space, our foremost want is to be with and around each other, so nurturing friendship is how we strengthen our marriage. To do this, we’ve developed some habits to keep friendship alive and well:
Making time for each other – Too many couples become merely as “ships passing in the night.” To stave this off they MUST devote time - a lot of time - to each other.
We both lead busy lives, as most of you do too, but we’ve made the conscious decision to put some reasonable limits on our busy-ness and the way we do this is by making virtually all “non-busy” time about being with each other. Whether it’s time spent together just watching TV on the couch, getting out to try a new restaurant, developing a new project to do together, traveling, or taking up a new hobby, for us it’s all about being together.
When you were kids who did you spend most of your free time with? Outside of school and related extracurricular activities, or with family, it was probably your best friend, right? (In fact, you probably spent a lot of time IN school and extracurricular activities – and even during family time – with your best friends) You sought out those sorts of friends, made them a priority, and sought solace and fun in their company. That’s how the friendship became “best” and grew, and how it was sustained. However, when time and distance came between us and our best friends from youth what usually happened? The friendship cooled (even if you may still, years later and miles apart, consider each other with warmth as friends) and we moved on. That happens – it’s expected to happen when we’re kids – but it shouldn’t happen with our spouse or significant other in adulthood. And yet, it too often does.
When you do have time off from necessary responsibilities, how do you fill it? Are you finding ways to be together, or do you add things that push you apart? Are you having date nights and special events (quality time) as well as time together just hanging out doing nothing in particular (quantity time)? Relationships are nourished more by the day-to-day, often mundane moments when you are merely together as a couple.
Learning new things together – Getting out of the rut of the “same old, some old” creates memories, builds positive feelings about and for each other, and puts partners on a level playing field.
Building positive memories together not only creates a bank of happy, shared experiences that build friendship, it also builds our self-esteem, increases our opinion of our partner, and can heal even serious past hurts.
Most relationships will have some stagnation over time; ours was no different. We fall into ruts and routine, stick with what’s safe and well-known, and become predictable and dull. While that may be reassuring in some ways, it can also foster boredom with life in general, and the relationship in particular, and that is dangerous. Althea realized this early on and has been a catalyst to make sure we are constantly learning, experiencing, and growing.
There are certain activities we’ve always had shared interest in, such as travel, reading, and good food, and we’ve indulged these loves together and individually. But we have also stepped off into the unknown together on a number of ventures that, left to our own devices, we might not have chosen on our own. Together, and in the very deliberate interest of building memories, we’ve taken ballroom dancing classes, learned to play tennis and taken up hiking and running, become devoted golfers, and leaped into the world of writing and training. We’ve traveled extensively and learned the art of performing improvisational comedy. We constantly seek new things to do and learn together so that we are constantly adding to the memories.
Showing courtesy to each other –People in a relationship often take each other for granted, or stubbornly defend their “right” to do whatever they want, whenever they want to do it, with little consideration for their partner.
This is simple. When one of us is asked to do something that affects the other – take part in a social activity, work an extra shift, teach or take a class, etc. – we go first to the other to make sure it’s okay. This is not abdicating our “rights,” it is merely being courteous. Only very rarely has one of us had an objection to the other doing something, and then for really good reasons, but we ask nonetheless. Unfortunately, a lot of people fail to realize the symbiosis of a relationship and how it can be easily upset by staunchly defending our self-centered desires against reasonable input by our partners.
Showing courtesy to each other also entails making sure to show your partner the same courtesy you’d give a stranger, your boss, or someone of status you admire and want to impress. Why do so many couples let down their guard around each other then? Why is there so much discourtesy within the walls of our own homes? I believe it’s often either laziness or, in really troubled relationships, contempt. Either way, make the effort to extend each other the simple courtesy.
Being willing to do what we might not otherwise want to do –Most people will not – under ANY circumstance – do what they do not want or are comfortable with if it can be avoided. Don’t be one of those people!
One of the things Althea and I admire most about one another is our willingness to jump into new adventures. Through the years I have taken ballroom dance lessons, assumed volunteer roles in areas I have virtually no experience (and moved into leadership spots I never would have thought possible by doing them), and shattered the walls of my earlier comfort zones. She has learned to shoot, immersed herself in the world of law enforcement writing and training, and taken up running strictly to support my decision to start a serious running program – and then became a much more enthusiastic runner than I’ll ever be. Because of this willingness, we’ve enriched our lives immensely and whet our appetites for even newer adventures. I’m convinced it keeps us physically and emotionally healthy.
But again, even more important than the big moments are the small ones. We spend the mundane times together, as well. Running dull errands or shopping, neither of which requires both of us to get done, we nonetheless try to do together. Spending time doing things we may individually not be fond of, but that the other enjoys, is a way of offering support and staying connected. It’s really not about the event, it’s about togetherness. It’s about being best friends.