The past few weeks in my world have been filled with pull-ups, potty training videos, tee-tee picture books and repeated “accidents.” You know, the kind that involve having to wipe another person’s butt clean, change their clothes and wash whatever furniture they’ve managed to tinkle on. Yep, that’s my glam life you don’t have to tell me, I was there. But, amidst all of the dirty diapers and frustration I realized it’s a lot like creating equality in relationships/marriage. How so? you ask….
Much like potty training, establishing respect and mutual understanding in a relationship can take a lot of time, patience, repetition and energy. I really wanted to just be able to tell my two and half year old “Here’s the potty, where we go tee-tee and poop. Just sit down, wait for your body do its business, wipe yourself, flush the toilet, pull up your pants and you’re done. Got it? Got it. Great!” And then voila! She would officially be in charge of her own toosh and handling of said toosh. Unfortunately it has not exactly played out like that. It’s repeated conversations, demonstrations, and encouragement about how fabulous it is to “go” in the potty. Lots of talking up “being a big girl” and glorifying the milestone of no longer needing diapers. And prayer that she gets on board and buys into how wonderful it will be for all of us once she’s completely potty trained. So, what in the world does any of that have to do with relationships? Everything.
It’s tempting to want positive change to happen in big, dramatic steps and quickly. We are conditioned for impatience as a society. We want what we want and we want it now, dammit! Which explains why there is such a disconnection between wanting and getting. In real life (aka not the movies or in your impatient brain) long-term change happens gradually and over time. It’s not about throwing down ultimatums or asserting your feelings directly/explicitly. It’s about trying and trying and trying again until you find a way to communicate with your partner that he can hear, understand and respect. It’s also about holding him accountable in non-threatening and loving ways. Does that seems a bit confusing or paradoxical? It doesn’t have to be. I’d like to suggest that instead of trying to create equality in your relationship by using power or authority that you get creative and find a way to use your strength to model what you want to receive.
Whether it’s potty training or constructing equality in your relationship, it’s a journey of 5,000 baby steps not 3 giant leaps. Mother may I? Why, yes you may!
Here are a few real life examples of what those baby steps might include:
· Instead of coming up with solutions to problems on your own and then informing your man about how you two will fix something, ask him to be a part of the brainstorming process of searching for solutions.
· Don’t offer to do his laundry or clean his dishes, etc. unless you truly want to do it or there are some things he takes care of for you (ex: he cooks and you do dishes, he handles yard work so you handle grocery shopping, etc.). You want to be his partner, not his mother. Stay clear on how those roles are different.
· Drop hints about what you want to do for an anniversary or ask that he surprises you. Don’t make all of the plans or complain about where he decides to take you, if you know he’s making an honest effort.
· Do not downplay your feelings or wants in order to “go with the flow,” at least most of the time. This communicates that either A.) you don’t have any preferences, which is never completely true. B.) your preferences are not as important as his or other people’s.
· Don’t initiating the conversation about commitment before you’ve been dating less than 3 months. It shows that you need/want security before you’ve even had the chance to really get to know who you would be committing to.
· Stop avoiding broaching the topic of commitment after 6 months (or more). It’s one thing to allow yourself time to get to know one another, it’s another to avoid important topics out of fear.
· Be truthful about your values in a non-judgmental way. If you’re into Jesus, or boozing, or not vaccinating your future kids- say it. Not in a “this is the right way to be” kinda way, but more of a “this is who I am and it’s okay if you’re not exactly like me, but I’m not changing this thing about myself for anyone” kinda way.
· Resist the urge to be reactive. This means taking a deep breath in the middle of an argument and choosing not to engage in conflicts that aren’t constructive. If you’re trying to prove you’re right, you’ve probably lost sight of what it was you wanted to get out of the conversation in the first place. Put YOURSELF in a time out by saying “ I don’t like where this is going and I don’t like how I’m acting. Let’s take a break and come back to this conversation in 20 minutes.” Then excuse yourself and literally leave the room you’re partner is in.
· Don’t offer to pick out birthday, Christmas or any other gifts for: his mother, sister, friends, etc. It’s his job and function of that relationship to be thoughtful and loving. Don’t take that from him.
· Never, ever over give. If he buys you dinner do not cook him 2 meals. If he gets you a gift spontaneously don’t reciprocate immediately. Tit for tat is not the dynamic you want, so don’t start off that way.
· Don’t plan your wedding in your free time or while you’re at work before you’re even engaged. I’m not even going to explain why this is a bad idea. If you don’t know message me and we’ll talk.
All the little conscious efforts build up and gain momentum over time and eventually what was initially a lot of tiny steps toward awareness build momentum. Equality and intimacy have naturally developed in your relationship over time. And I keep telling myself the same thing about potty training. One day all of the youtube videos of potty training songs, “accidents” and on-going modeling of how to “tee-tee in the potty,” will catch hold. She’ll eventually be going without me and it will be totally worth it.
Are there any “baby steps” that you would add to this list above that have helped you create equality in your relationship or marriage?
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