A common predictor of a successful relationship is the ability to be open to the other person's influences. By this I don't mean being weak, easily swayed or allowing yourself to be controlled. But rather, the ability to remain open to new input, expanding your view of the world and not being threatened by new information that may alter the familiar road map you use to get through life.
This applies to any setting, such as work, extended family and friends, and, of course, your love interest. Though I'll focus on love, as that's what most of you read the blog for, right?
In the early stages of a relationship, we deal with uncharted territory. It can be very scary, especially if we've been down this road before, unsuccessfully. Yet, once again, we climb aboard, check our rear-view mirror, fasten our seat belt and gingerly step on the gas, hoping for a smooth ride.
Aretha Franklin said it best: :
We got some places to see
I brought all the maps with me
So jump right in...Ain't no sin
Take a ride in my machine
As we merge together into this "Freeway of Love," we are forced to blend two different world visions into one coherent, integrated road map. In a perfect world, we're able to find common ground and, over time, develop a new map that represents the world we want to build together, as a new couple.
Unfortunately, that's not always the case. Some people are unable, or unwilling, to let go of their road maps out of fear of losing control. Perhaps it's their first time driving. Perhaps they've had one too many crashes on that dangerous "freeway" and this time, they will do all the driving, damn it!
Regardless of the reason, this lack of openness automatically eliminates any chance of creating the shared values that are going to increase the chances of having a successful relationship. And that unwillingness, more often than not, gets couples into trouble and into my office.
The underlying message is usually, "It's my way or the highway." That, above all else, being "right" is most important. Time spent in therapy often involves finding different ways to justify our position, new ways of proving we're right and trying different tactics to make the other person give in.
Eventually, when an impasse has been reached, I ask the question: "Is it more important to be right or to keep the relationship?" It forces one to project beyond the present, beyond the conflict at hand and evaluate the overall impact the other person can have in our life. Positive or negative.
Regardless of what the argument is and whether everyone we've asked agrees with our point of view, we still have to face the reality that we've reached a fork in the road.
If we conclude that the relationship is unhealthy or toxic, then by all means we should choose to be right. Forget the fork, make a U-turn, take out our GPS and find the quickest route home.
But if we decide that the relationship is worth fighting for, that the good outweighs the difficult, then we need to take a step back and accept that being right is ultimately not the most important goal. It's not about being right, but rather about being heard, validated and aknowledged. When we only leave room for being right, we close ourselves off from growing and improving who we are. And who knows, maybe we'll even discover new and exciting pit-stops along the way that we hadn't considered stopping at before. It's OK to take the scenic route.
The trip we choose to take won't be any fun if the copilot we've chosen for our life trip is not able to partake in the choosing of the destination. If we're not willing to share the driving, then we'll eventually fall asleep at the wheel. And when we wake up, we may find ourselves in the middle of nowhere, trying to retrace our steps, wondering how the hell we got there.