We all spend a lot of time trying to figure out how to get people to do what we want them to do. How can I make my boyfriend commit? How do I get my kids to clean their rooms? How do I stop that guy at work from coming in late every day? There are so many different tactics that we attempt to use in order to get what we want. We try to give someone “a taste of their own medicine” with the hopes that they’ll figure out how we feel. We try to buy someone off, or punish them by giving them the cold shoulder. There’s a million games that we play in relationships – and often they backfire.
For example, huge issues quickly arose when a dear friend of mine and I moved in together, but had never discussed what it meant to each of us to be roommates. Her picture was that we would do everything together, and she was very upset to find that I carried on my life much as I had before we moved in together. The angrier she got that I was leaving her out, the more frustrated I became that she was trying to control me. Looking back, I realize that the whole situation could easily have been avoided if we’d actually had a conversation about our picture of what living together would look like, instead of us each lashing out and getting angry with each other.
One of the things that can really help prevent problems from arising in relationships of any kind is to have a clear understanding of the social contract which establishes the “rules” for the relationship. When we actually make these rules explicit, it ensures that everyone is on the same page. Often, the problems that arise are simply because there is a difference in expectations.
I heard a story about the staff a daycare centre that was frustrated with parents who were picking up their children late. They decided to implement a late fee – a certain amount for each minute the parent was late in picking up their child. To their surprise, instead of solving their problem, it actually made it worse. Instead of parents feeling like they needed to be there on time, parents felt that as long as they paid the fee, it was ok to be late now. Daycare staff and parents had very different pictures of how the relationship was going to work. How different might this have turned out if instead of implementing the fee, the daycare staff had simply talked to the parents about how important it was to have the children picked up on time so that staff were not working overtime and being forced to miss out on their own family obligations?
How often do conflicts happen in life because we just haven’t really talked? Instead of playing games, trying to understand and be understood?