~ I love intelligent people and I’m fortunate to work professionally with a lot of them, people with Ivy League degrees and high status jobs. Yet I’m always surprised to discover the enormous gaps that can exist between a person’s intellectual IQ and their relationship IQ.
By relationship IQ I don’t mean knowing what you’re supposed to do in any situation. I mean your capacity to behave according to what you know in any situation. Anyone can talk a good talk, especially during the initial romantic stage of the relationship, when our openness and generosity of spirit flow so effortlessly. How many of us can walk that talk 10 years in, particularly when we’re triggered? So I want to propose a set of questions that focus on your behaviors in your partnership. This isn’t a test of whether you know the right answer – you surely do – but whether you’re able to act on them. Let’s get started:
1. When you’re in an argument with your spouse, is it best to: a) give in to keep the peace, b) try harder to convince you’re partner why you’re right so they really understand where you’re coming from, c) listen carefully to what your partner is saying and try to see it through his/her eyes, or d) bring up past instances of similar issues to show your partner how they are trapped in a dysfunctional pattern?
2. When you’re partner snaps at you over something you consider to be a minor offense, should you a) snap back to show them what it feels like to be talked to in that manner, b) take the higher road and explain to them why they are acting in a childish fashion, c) turn around and walk away, or d) give them the benefit of the doubt and assume there is a good reason they are temporarily not their best self?
3. When you’ve done something you’re not proud of, is it best to a) find a good time to tell your partner so you’re not carrying the burden alone and hope they’ll understand, b) put it out of your mind and hope they never find out, c) confide in one of their best friends to get their input on if you should tell your partner, or d) tell your friends because they won’t judge you or be upset with you?
4. When your feelings are hurt by something your partner said or did, is it best to a) tell them how angry you are, b) say your feelings are hurt and think out loud with them what it is about you that makes you particularly sensitive on this topic, c) blame them for upsetting you because they ruined your day, or d) complain to your friends because they will understand you better than your partner ever will?
5. When you have clearly messed up in your relationship, is it best to a) defend yourself to show your partner the context in which you would act in such an uncharacteristic fashion, b) remind your partner that they have done similar things in the past, c) give a partial “yes, but” apology because it wasn’t all your fault, d) step up to the plate and say “Yes, I did that and I’m sorry and I imagine my behavior caused you to feel…..”
Okay, like I said, the answers are pretty clear (c,d,a,b,d). You all got a perfect score and can get into an Ivy League Relationship University. But what really matters in life is what we can do with our knowledge, how much we are capable of translating the intellect into action, to behave in line with our principles. Otherwise we can espouse our relationship philosophies in coffee houses on first dates and seem all evolved until our date discovers we’ve been married five times because we have “bad luck” in choosing our partners. There is no test – not even raising children – that challenges us to live our principles as much as being a decent person to our spouse. It’s part of the reason so many people can be such incredible successes in the outer world and struggle so much in their personal relationship. It’s also why long term relationships are such incredible training grounds to help us become the full, compassionate, sacrificing, selfless people we are here to be. There is nothing like a marriage to help us develop the “it’s not about me” muscle.
And before one of you writes me to say this can be a recipe for codependency and abuse, I know that that is sometimes true. What I am focusing on here is the need for all of us to take responsibility for ourselves first before concluding our partner is the problem.