Before I can even begin sharing my journey of learning new ways of being sweet not salty, it’s imperative to sort of undo the bad habits I have either inherited or created on my own. These bad habits have indeed affected my own relationships in a negative way. Much of the time, I am either mildly or extremely aware of my behavior immediately after the occurrence. If you have ever raised your voice at your mate out of frustration, anger or just flat-out feelings of superiority, then you are in good company here. No one is perfect! Period.
To get started, I will be listing my top 6 relationship bad habits that will be known as “The Dirty Half-Dozen.” I must admit my work as a therapist only ever highlighted my best self, and let’s face it…I am basically trained to filter my feelings so that they don’t harm the person I am helping. This blog is a great opportunity to showcase my flaws, my humanity, and my mistakes in the hopes that it will help someone relate to the struggle of learning to be sweet not salty;)
- The Dirty Look– You know the one. That look you give when you are sending a message, and you are aiming to stop a person dead in their tracks. It’s usually a look used when feeling offended, pissed off, or just flat-out tired of whatever someone is doing. It tends to start with an intentional stare, a frown or a piercing of the lips. I sadly must admit, mine is probably the resemblance of a pit bull with ears lowered back and a hint of canine teeth showing slightly through a raised lip threatening to bite at my husband’s next movement. When I give him the dirty look, my body language is threatening, “That’s it mother fucker; you had better stop whatever you are doing, saying or suggesting immediately!” While I recognize this is pretty irrational, the reason I have used the dirty look is because it was inherited. My mother could give me a look that sent a million messages in one big blow, and I knew if I didn’t change my behavior, I’d get a solid spanking or punishment. The problem is that this is a manipulative and aggressive tactic, and I honestly wish my mother had taught me a more appropriate way to express displeasure. Giving my loved one a dirty look has been mostly hostile and unnecessary.
- Raising Of The Voice– I have been known to raise my voice more than my share. Another one of my inherited traits. I was yelled at on nearly a daily basis throughout my childhood. I swore to myself that I would never be a yeller, and for the most part I try not to yell. However, I do raise my voice frequently when I feel triggered. This happens when I feel my husband is pushing my buttons. My internal dialogue makes excuses like “well, he isn’t really listening to me” or “he made me mad”. Probably one of the worst excuses I have used is that he raised his voice first, lol. I have to laugh in retrospect, because of how blatantly immature that last one is. Raising your voice is like being in a dance club with loud music playing, and after having tried yelling a message into your friend’s ear while they look at you in confusion, you realize it’s useless. They can’t hear you. It’s too darn loud. Well, I have realized that my husband can’t really hear my intentions if I have raised my voice at him and put him on the defense. So, for whatever the reason…I have to learn to stop raising my voice!
- Withholding Of Sex-Yes, I know it sounds bad. I did not inherit this one. Many times, I created this one all by myself. I have made excuses to withhold sex from my husband by blaming him for it. If I am unhappy, I don’t want sex. If I don’t feel loved, making love is just not an option. Obviously, this doesn’t improve my marriage one bit. It provides the opportunity for my husband to become sexually frustrated. He has also shared that his love language is through physical touch, so he is left feeling doubtful of my love for him. Now please don’t misunderstand. I am not saying a good wife or husband must always give in to his or her mate’s sexual urges. I am simply admitting that withholding of sex at various times has left both my husband and myself in a more complicated state than before an initial disagreement.
- Interrupting– Though I learned as a child if I wanted to be heard, I had to interrupt. This is one of the most dismissive behaviors I have shown my husband. He has asked me multiple times throughout our relationship of 21 years to allow him to finish a full statement. I never thought of myself as an impatient person. Afterall, I’ve given my clients huge blocks of time where I just listen and immerse myself in their though process. However, I just don’t seem to give my husband the same courtesy, which he then translates as me being dismissive or disrespectful towards him.
- Needing Him To Acknowledge That I’m Right– It’s not that I need to be right all of the time. I value correction if I’m wrong. There just seems to be a need to hear my husband validate me when I am right about something. Obviously, this gets on his nerves. As you might imagine, he translates this as me needing him to say he was wrong. Forcing someone to always admit out loud that they were wrong while you were right, even about the smallest things, can take a huge toll. While it’s nice to be validated, I need to work on feeling good about myself when I get something right without needing to hear it.
- Making Love Appear Conditional- Notice how I use the word “appear” in number six. It’s because the truth is that my love for my husband has no conditions, but from time to time I allow him to believe there are conditions….yet another manipulative tactic. The thought process goes something like, “If I make him believe I will divorce him if he won’t change x,y,z, then he will be forced to make changes.” This bad habit has been reinforced in the most scientifically proven ways. Much like the way casino’s get gamblers to stay and gamble longer. It’s called intermittent reinforcement. It’s a term coined by B.F. Skinner’s research on operant conditioning and behavior. It’s basically when a reinforcement or reward is given after a desired behavior, but not necessarily each time. If I set a condition on my love for my husband based on his behavioral change, and he occassionally makes those changes, then it has been reinforced to me that this method will deliver my desired outcome sometimes. Some of the time seems better than none of the time right? But it truly is an unhealthy way to operate in a deeply devoted relationship. It provides the perfect breeding ground for emotional insecurities and doubt in another person’s love.
As you can see, the above listed bad habits and behaviors are definitely not sweet. I have made these mistakes too many times to count, and have only reinforced dysfunctional patterns in my fairly functional marriage. If you are like me, you too may see yourself making mistakes that you just don’t want to keep making. It’s important to hold ourselves accountable and take steps to improve if we truly want to achieve satisfying relationships. I am hoping that there are pieces of my story that resonate with you, and that if nothing else, you can find that you aren’t making all of the mistakes I have.
If my mistake reminds you of how you don’t make the same one in your relationship, then feel free to be proud of that. I want you to feel good about yourself. Even with all of my flaws, I feel worthy of love and respect. I am not here to tell you what to do, or give you a prescription to fix your relationship. I am offering you the opportunity to take this journey with me, while I figure out ways to be a little sweeter and a lot less salty.
Until next time,
‘Cause if your love looks like hate, it could be a mistake!