“Oh my God - this place is a pig sty!” “You always leave your wet towels on the floor – I can’t stand it any more!” How many fights start over household tidiness. It often appears to relationship counselors that couples are more concerned with hygiene than they are with the state of their relationship. If only they could be as concerned with the state of their relationship as the state of the house living might be a lot easier. But where do you start with relationship hygiene?
First just as in household tidiness start with the big things and move to the details.
The big factors that support relationship harmony concern the rules of engagement and some basic principles to ensure emotional safety. As a general guide to cleaning up your relationship consider establishing a regular routine to ensure any unfinished business or resentments are cleared on a weekly basis – call this your clearing house session. Choose a regular time of the week – sit down over a coffee or a tea and lay out your log of “issues” – do it in good faith, with good will accepting that resolutions might not be agreed upon but assured that both parties have got their issues off their chests.
Between these times transact engagement with your partner in a disciplined manner ruled by the cardinal virtue/principle of respect. Show at least as much respect to your partner as you do to your work colleagues. See if you can be the one leading the growth to more respect, more consideration, more goodwill, more generosity and more conciliation.
Some people think this is false because it is not how we feel and is therefore false and not genuine This is an understandable but unhelpful idea. In so many aspects of our life we don’t “let it all hang out” and shout before we think. Why would we think this is a good thing to do in a relationship? Part of the answer is that in a relationship we think its OK to let all our “defenses” down and just say the first thing that comes to mind even if it is an insult. We allow ourselves to become like children. This might be OK as long as we could play nicely – but all too often the positive play of the honeymoon period morphs into vicious haranguing of the power battle. For a mature relationship we need to attend to good relationship hygiene or our play pen will become very messy indeed.
Start with the rules of engagement: You are two adults in a voluntary association. You both have different needs, wants and perspectives on the world and also what to make an effective partnership. Knowing these aims and challenges you transact the space between you with the diplomacy of a French diplomat: always be gracious and even when this fails ensure that respect rules the day. You don’t have to agree with your partner, you don’t always even have to like your partner but you can ensure that you treat him/her with respect. If you don’t think your partner is worthy of respect you might need to question your relationship or your capacity to maintain a healthy relationship. Respect forms the fundamental building block of a healthy adult relationship. It signifies a willingness to create a zone of emotional safety. It is this emotional safety that is fostered in a “clean” relationship house.