“I’m so sorry, honey,” he muttered with slight embarrassment, “I thought you were being thoughtless and deliberately coming home late again.”
When our partners do something we don’t like it’s easy to bring up the other times this has happened and assume we’re being treated poorly. However, rarely are those who are not meeting our hopes and expectations doing so deliberately. They’ve just made a mistake. They’ve failed.
The times when people behave badly deliberately are usually motivated by hurt feelings or unmet needs; and honest, open conversations can get to the bottom of this. In relationships there has to be room to mess up, think about me rather than you, and have things happening in my life that get in the way of the promise I made to you. For trust and intimacy to deepen there has to be room for failure, followed by forgiveness.
My intention is to be home for dinner at 6pm. On the way I notice I need gas and oh, I’ll get a bottle of wine to surprise the man I love, which means I roll in at 6:30. Late again. The other day I was late due to a work delay, and the time before that my friend Debbie called with an emergency, and the time before that I just completely spaced out. To me, these are all very different experiences. On every occasion I felt terrible, like I’d failed and did my best to get home as soon as possible. The man I love sees one thing: I’m consistently late and he’s feeling unimportant.
If you’re the one coming home late, what approach from the person you love would work better?
A) You walk in the door and they loudly say “I’m sick and tired of you acting like I’m not important.”
B) You walk in the door and they give you the cold shoulder.
C) You walk in the door and they walk out.
D) You walk in the door, they give you a big hug and ask gently: “What happened?! I know you’re doing your best to get home on time.”
Most of us would prefer option D. We’ve done our best and still failed, which feels bad. Having our good intentions acknowledged can lead to a much more enjoyable evening and give us room to be honest if we were being a bit thoughtless. Failure is normal and part of being human. We have to get things wrong in order to learn, and this applies to all of life. You’re destined to make some mistakes, whether or not you’ve done this before. The question is how do we embrace and get comfortable with owning our errors, and our partners’ mistakes?
The first step is the hardest, and that is to decide what type of friend/lover/wife/husband we want to be. Not because we ‘should’ be more forgiving, curious, and caring but because we want to be.
The second step is easier: ask questions, be committed to getting curious about why your partner did something, rather than deciding for them.
The third step is even easier: choose to believe what they share with you, be willing to step into their shoes and see the world through their eyes.
The final step is the most fun: Tell them you get it. You understand. And check in that they understand your perspective. It can actually be quite enlightening to sit together, see two sides and have both be true!
Failure becomes a great way to know each other more deeply, love more honestly, and experience greater acceptance. If that sounds good to you, then you’ll probably relish practicing the steps above. In the words of actor Will Smith’s grandmother: “Don’t let failure go to your heart, and don’t let success go to your head.” Ah, wise woman.
Clara Chorley is the CEO and Founder of Clarity Unlimited. She has an extensive and unique background as an international business consultant and coach, speaker, humanitarian, and explorer. Clara grew up in England, has lived all over the world but now resides in San Francisco. She has traveled and worked all over, helping increase the leadership effectiveness of a number of top tier companies. Clara believes that putting people first is foundational to the successful implementation of any organization’s vision. Developed over two decades, Clara’s powerful 4-step process: The T.U.R.N.™ has helped thousands of professionals transform counterproductive behaviors into invaluable skills for greater clarity, focus and action. In addition to being a successful entrepreneur, Clara Chorley is been an avid volunteer. She is author of the book “The T.U.R.N ™” and has been featured in the documentary film “Achieve Your Ultimate Success”. She is trained in Voice Dialogue, is a certified facilitator, and member of the National Speakers Association.