The Biggest Lie You’ve Been Told About Relationships

If only I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard it:

“Every couple fights.”

You’ve probably been told that you’re not going to be able to help fighting with your life partner. And you’ve also probably been told that it’s a natural, even healthy part of being in a relationship. That you need to “know how to fight” and “know how to make up.”

That is a lie.

Fighting Over Things vs. Working Through Things

Don’t get me wrong. Struggle is a natural part of being in a relationship. And refusing to deal with issues is certainly unhealthy.

Every couple I know has to deal with hurt, frustration, disappointment, confusion, annoyance, and misunderstanding. And that’s okay. Nobody’s perfect.

And it is healthy to share those feelings, to work on things, to talk through things, to be scared, to cry, to plead, and to challenge.

But do you really think it’s impossible to say no to fighting? Especially with the one person you promise to love, support, respect, and care for with all your heart?

There is a difference between discussing and fighting. It has to do with kindness and respect. And when you are fighting, you are giving up on those. Working through things constructively, on the other hand, is a part of kindness and respect.

Some Couples Really Don’t Fight

Don’t just take my word for it. I have only been in a relationship for about three years. But I know other couples–couples who have been together for a long, long time–who say they have never had a fight. Oh, they’ve been through a lot, struggled a lot, shed a lot of tears. But they have never “gotten into it” with each other. They have never really fought.

And I think there’s something really special, really loving and caring about refusing to fight with someone, no matter how familiar and comfortable the relationship gets.

This doesn’t mean that if you’ve fought, you’ve failed. There’s nothing “better” about me if I don’t fight with my girlfriend. We might end up having some fights, anyway.

But all the excusing and explaining and justifying fighting, as a “normal” part of relationships, has got to stop.

Why Fighting Doesn’t Make Sense

I don’t claim the peace that my girlfriend and I have had is because of something great in us. But I am thankful for it. And I wish that more people would believe it’s possible to have peaceful relationships. Because believing you can stop fighting is the first step.

I do, though, think I have an idea of one big thing that’s keeping us from fighting. And I want to share it with you. Because the point is not to judge couples who fight, but to give hope and encouragement. So here’s what helps my girlfriend and I say no to fighting:

We are a team.

We stand and fall together. If we fight each other, we fight ourselves. If we support each other no matter how hard it gets, we support ourselves.

One of the most valuable things we provide for each other is the comfort of knowing we have someone on our team, in every single part of our lives. Someone who cares for us, will defend us, and will help us.

So when one of us is stressed out, the other understands. When one of us disappoints, the other forgives. When one of us fails, the other picks up the slack. And when one of us doesn’t pull enough weight, the other gently asks for a change.

Staying Focused on Teamwork

We don’t escape fighting because we’re perfect. If we were perfect, we would do a lot less crying, a lot less sitting in confused silence, a lot less apologizing, and a lot less hugging.

I think we escape fighting largely because, no matter how tough things get, we keep this in the forefront of our minds: We are a team. We have to be a team!

I know we may fight someday. (And the surest way to make it happen is by saying we’ll never fight.) But if that becomes a part of who we are, shame on us. Because fighting is not necessary. It is disrespectful, self-centered, and damaging. We’re supposed to be a team, and that means having each other’s back–even when it hurts.

I’m not willing to assume Alyssa and I will ever fight, though. Because there are couples who just don’t do it. And, like them, we make a point of remembering that we’re on each other’s team.

“Every couple fights” is a lie. And it’s one that’s damning a lot of young couples to very hurtful and lonely relationships.

What helps to make your relationship peaceful and supportive?

6 Steps to Stay on Track When You’re Discouraged

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I’ve been struggling with some personal things lately. Just some discouragements I’ve had to work through. Sometimes when you’re discouraged, it’s easy to lose sight of where you want to go–to doubt you’ll get there. And when you’re not fully expecting to get somewhere in the future, it’s not easy to discipline yourself to do the hard work today.

I remember learning this the hard way in my first job. But then I learned how to keep going anyway. Staying diligent through discouragement is hard, but it’s not impossible. Here are 6 steps you can take when you get discouraged. They’ll keep things in perspective and help you stay focused and productive.

     1. Calm your mind.

This is the first step I take in just about any personal challenge. When your mind is fighting (with itself or with outside influences), it is full of adrenaline and doesn’t think clearly or make careful decisions. So the first step to solving a mental and emotional crisis is to just calm down.

I like to go to a quiet place if I can, where I’m not surrounded by people or distractions. Sometimes I close my eyes and just breathe deeply. I let go of some emotions like anger and panic. I relax my mind until I am in a better state to think carefully.

     2. Acknowledge how much you change.

Your mind, heart, temperament, passions–they fluctuate by the day, by the hour, by the minute. Recognizing this helps keep things in perspective. How you feel right now does not have to define who you are. In fact, you are most certainly going to feel differently later.

Part of emotional maturity is being able to make decisions that are no longer based on current moods and feelings. But that takes perspective. It requires really understanding your mind, and appreciating how inconsistent it is, so that you stop basing decisions primarily on your mood. And take hope: You’ll feel better about it later!

     3. Get rid of unnecessary discouragements.

Don’t focus too much on the negative, but do take time to figure out what may be bringing you down. Maybe it’s problems on the job or in your relationship. Maybe you just didn’t get a good night’s sleep. Maybe you’re paying too much attention to one friend’s opinion. Or maybe you’re getting down on yourself for putting on a few extra pounds.

Some of these things will take longer to work on and will never be perfect. Like your relationship, or your career. You can’t just ignore those. But is there anything bringing you down that you can deal with immediately? Could you get more sleep tonight? Could you make healthier choices in your diet? Sometimes just getting rid of or changing your attitude about a little struggle can completely re-energize you.

     4. Ask yourself what you want your future to look like.

After deciding what I need to get rid of, I remind myself of what I’m trying to create. Try asking yourself where you want to be in the future. Be specific. What do you want to be able to do? Who do you want to be serving? How much money do you want to be making? Why? What do you want to be able to provide for family and friends? What experiences do you want out of life?

Dreaming of your future helps put things back in perspective. In fact, it’s one of the best ways to get re-motivated. What you’re doing today is not just for the sake of feeling good today. What you’re doing today is because you want to have something later. Whether you want to travel the world, start a charity, or send your kids to a good school, today’s work is for the sake of that future, not your mood.

     5. Ask yourself how you’ll get where you want to go.

Once you know what you want your future to look like–the place from where you want to be looking back on today–ask yourself two tough questions. They’re easy to answer but the answers demand your hard work and self-discipline:

Will you get there by being disciplined and productive? Maybe, maybe not (though if you do miss the moon you may land in the stars). But will you ever get there without being disciplined and productive? No. Definitely not.

6. Ask for help.

This might be the hardest step to take, but it’s often the most valuable, and sometimes the only one that’ll do it for you. When you’re struggling with discouragement, whether it’s laziness or depression, or just a little mood swing, reaching out for help can be a game-changer.

You can find encouragement, teamwork, accountability, or another form of support. And lots of people are ready and eager to help you. But you have to ask for it. You can ask friends and family. The most helpful teammate I have is my girlfriend, who knows me and cares about me more than anyone else. If you’re a religious person, you can reach out to God. An impressive amount of highly productive and successful people say one of the biggest anchors they have is prayer and church. Wherever you find support, don’t be afraid to go there. And when you feel embarrassed for needing help, that’s probably when you need it most.

These six steps help me a lot. I hope they help you, too!

We’re all in this together. What are some other ways you’ve learned to keep going when you’re discouraged?

My Favorite Trick for Mastering Nerves

In a 2012 study done by the National Institute of Mental Health, Glossophobia beat out Necrophobia (death-phobia) as America’s biggest fear: Public speaking.

Trying to speak to an audience, large or small, is absolutely terrifying. To most people.

It’s especially difficult when you’re moving out of your comfort zone, from one level to the next: Maybe you’ve mastered speaking in your rhetoric club, but step onto a stage in front of a crowd of hundreds and you still might freeze.

Personally, after lots and lots of practice (including psychological tricks, mantras, and “imagining my audience naked”–which really didn’t do it for me), I’ve gotten pretty comfortable with public speaking. I actually feel pretty comfortable speaking to an audience–like I’m in my element.

But there are still times and situations where the nerves will kick in. Maybe it’s a bigger group than I’m used to. Maybe a smaller group (actually scarier to me). Maybe I didn’t have time to prepare. Maybe it’s just been a stressful day. Whatever the trigger might be, the most experienced speakers can still get nervous.

So what do I do when I get nervous? I use my all-time favorite technique:

Look at the individuals in the audience!

If you have a chance, study individual attendees before you even get up to speak. Think about them–not as your audience, but as people like you. Look deep into their eyes. Feel their humanity. Realize that they are no different than you.

When you get up to speak, keep looking! Look deep into their eyes. Look at faces, look at clothes, look at their expressions, look at their thoughts–or at least imagine them. They probably think a lot like you.

Seems simple, so why is it important? Because it’s easier said than done. There’s a very natural tendency for speakers to glance around the audience without settling on individuals. It’s hard not to sense the audience as a whole–a grand mass of judgement and criticism. But your audience isn’t one giant judge, it is made up of a bunch of humans who are just like you. In fact, they’re individuals who consider you and your words worth sitting down and shutting up to listen to.

I can’t explain in a short blog post every different reason I have found that this works. And it might not work for everyone. But for me, it changes everything!

There’s something about focusing on and connecting with individual audience members that makes the big scary audience disappear and fills your heart with the warmth of the compassionate human beings surrounding you. You’re speaking to individual people, not some strange and unknown “audience.” They have friends, families, desires, and fears. Remember–they’re just like you. They are not scary!

And the easiest way to prove that to yourself is by sizing them up.

Don’t size your audience up. It’s big and intimidating. Size each individual person up. They’re really not that scary.

So that’s my favorite trick. As I said, I can’t promise it will work for you, but you’ll never know until you try–worth a shot? What I can say is that when I’m feeling nervous in front of an audience or before a speech, nothing calms my nerves, brings me back down to earth, and puts everything in perspective like breaking the big scary audience down into individual fellow-humans. And the easiest way to do that is by looking at them.

Not facing them. Not seeing them. Not speaking towards them. Looking at them.

Just remember: The audience may be big, but each member is as small as you.

Good luck!

How do YOU cope with nerves in front of an audience (big or small)?

Managers Beware: 4 Ways to Catch the Vague Plague

Whether they’re giving instructions or giving feedback, anything less than absolute clarity kills the effectiveness of managers. Especially silence.

As management expert Kenneth H. Blanchard puts it, “Unexpressed good thoughts aren’t worth squat!”

I used to be a very vague manager. There were several reasons clarity scared me. But lacking clarity made my entire job even more scary in the long run.

In his national bestseller, The One Minute Manager, Ken Blanchard explains why clarity is so important. The secret to effective management, he says, is in learning to give “One-Minute Goals,” “One-Minute Praises,” and “One-Minute Reprimands.” All those communications must  be done clearly. Painfully clearly.

I honestly didn’t realize for a long time that I had trouble being clear. But after my own leader had me read Blanchard’s book, I stopped beating around the bush with my team members. I started giving very direct, concise, clear instructions and feedback. And the results were beyond amazing: Suddenly things started getting done. And on top of that, my new short-and-sweet management style saved me time I’d been desperately needing.

Clarity is absolutely essential to effective management. Seems fairly obvious, right? Yet of the many managers I’ve worked with and learned from, only a very few have escaped the vague plague and wielded the powerful weapon of clarity.

So why is it that we managers seem to be born with the fear of being clear? I’ve seen four big reasons:

     1. We think we’re being smart, cool, and progressive.

Seems like a silly reason, but I’ve been guilty of this. For some reason we think it’s the “progressive” or “modern” way to speak only in generalities, suggestions, and maybes. No absolutes. We have to make way for our employees’ “freedom,” or “personal opinion.” No stepping on toes, no ranking our own voice above others.

Thing is, though, there’s a reason you were chosen to be the leader. Touchy-feely simply doesn’t work in a productive workplace. That does not mean you push people around! And it does not mean you don’t let your team make decisions for itself! But when the team (or a teammate) needs to understand something, being vague, or “subtle,” is not what you’re being paid for.

     2. We are afraid of frustrating our team and being considered unfair.

As every manager knows, the position comes with lots of scrutiny by a prejudiced audience. Being in charge isn’t always fun, especially when you have to make unpopular decisions or give critical feedback. It wears on managers day by day. But there’s an easy way to escape that–at least temporarily: Don’t make decisions and don’t give honest feedback. Be vague. Or silent.

For a while this feels good–like we avoided offending our team, like they’re happy with us. But without strong and honest leadership, teams and projects fall apart–that’s why you were made a manager in the first place. Before long, as things fall apart, your team begins criticizing you anyway (you are, after all, the leader), and what’s worse, your own leaders have a reason to be frustrated with you as well.

     3. We are afraid of having to take responsibility.

If we do give very clear instruction and feedback, we are in a sense accepting responsibility for the outcome. If we say “do it this way,” and it doesn’t work, everyone can point fingers at us. So even though it’s usually not on a conscious level, there’s often a protective mechanism inside us that warns, “Don’t lead clearly or you’ll have to take the blame.”

Maybe we should take one more step back, though, and tell ourselves, “If you don’t lead clearly, you’re going to get blamed anyway.” You just have to choose between getting blamed for mistakes you’ve directed or getting blamed for getting nothing accomplished at all. In the long run, it’s pretty obvious which of those options leads you straight to a demotion.

     4. We are afraid of what comes along with success.

Clarity is a vital piece of success. And success sounds great! Right? Who wouldn’t want it? But here’s the catch: Success brings with it several new things we may not want to face. Finally succeeding may force us to admit we weren’t doing it the right way earlier on. And then it means we had better start doing it the right way all the time, because now we are expected to maintain. And while “success” sounds great, maintaining your best work is definitely not taking the path of least resistance. In fact, it’s a lot easier to just keep “struggling” and being able to blame problems outside yourself.

There’s no simple trick to beat this one. I think it’s the toughest one to deal with. And that’s why it’s also the hardest to see and admit to ourselves. Succeeding means you no longer have any excuse for failing or giving up. Succeeding gives you greater responsibility and means you will be held to a higher standard.

So watch out for those first 3 reasons you might be a vague manager. And remind yourself of their antidotes. But the biggest challenge is that 4th one. You have to decide: Do you really want to succeed?

If you do want it, be a clear leader. Speak clearly–simply, directly, and honestly. No more beating around the bush. No more mister nice guy. No more of the vague plague. Your team needs your clearest guidance.

As a leader, even of yourself, what are some ways you’ve learned the importance of clarity?

3 Big Ways Your Listening Helps Others

“We have two ears and only one tongue in order that we may hear more and speak less.” – Diogenes Laertius

I often get to the end of a conversation only to realize I did all the talking. That’s one of the most disappointing feelings in the world to me. It certainly felt great in the moment to think only about myself, but  I bored my friend half to death. I may have even damaged the relationship.

It’s one thing to have the great friend who occasionally gets you to open up and talk your heart out, get something big off your chest. It’s another thing to be always talking, never listening. I’m afraid I do too much of that in my personal relationships lately.

But one thing that helps is realizing that being a good listener isn’t just for my own sake–it does a few powerful things for the person I’m listening to. So here are 3 reasons why I’m working on listening more and talking less:

   1. It makes the speaker feel personally cared for.

Author Bryant H. McGill explains: “One of the most sincere forms of respect is actually listening to what another has to say.” People need to feel cared for. To feel that what they think really matters to someone. That someone loves them deeply enough to truly listen and care.

It’s easy to “care” about someone, knowing that taking care of them brings you some satisfaction, some fulfillment–like if you’re their leader, their parent, their counselor. But it’s harder when the “care” doesn’t make you feel like a big deal. The challenge is caring for someone on a completely equal level.

I need to know that someone doesn’t just care about me because they feel good when they do, or because I pay them to. I need to know that someone who doesn’t have to listen to me wants to listen to me, just because on the simplest and most unconditional level, they care about me.

     2. It enables the speaker to listen in return.

“The most basic of all human needs is the need to understand and be understood,” says Ralph G. Nichols. “The best way to understand people is to listen to them.”

Have you ever had someone try to convince you of an idea without really listening to you in return? It’s annoying and frustrating. Why would you trust someone to have well-rounded views if they do not show interest in listening carefully to your own views?

On the other hand, when someone listens intently to everything you have to say about a certain subject, it is much more natural to trust their judgement and trust their response. They have demonstrated a willingness to learn, which makes them a more likely source of wisdom. And they have shown that they really understand your own viewpoint, which makes their reply much more likely to actually engage your own ideas in a constructive way.

Listening carefully and thoroughly to someone enables them to trust your wisdom–to listen when you respond, because you understand and appreciate their own thoughts.

     3. It encourages and empowers the speaker.

You have a lot more power over people than you may think. You have the ability to enhance someone’s self esteem and confidence and help them maximize their potential. And you can do it by truly and intently listening to them.

“There’s a lot of difference between listening and hearing,” G.K. Chesterton noted. Have you ever been talking to someone who is acting like they’re listening, but you can tell they’re just waiting for you to finish so that they can have their say? It’s like a silent kind of interruption. That kind of listening doesn’t help boost someone’s confidence or self esteem at all. In fact, it makes the speaker feel pretty lame.

But when someone seems to be hanging on your every word, you feel absolutely incredible. You feel like what you’re saying is important, like you are important, like you make a difference.

There is nothing more discouraging to a speaker than realizing his audience is just waiting for him to finish. But a captive audience is incredibly empowering.

Careful, connected, enthusiastic listening empowers the speaker to greater self-confidence and therefore greater achievement.

This week, I’m going to work on listening. I’m going to consciously approach every conversation I can with the goal of speaking a lot less. And I’m going to ask my girlfriend to keep reminding me (probably going to regret that).

And I’m not just doing it because it’s good for me–I’m going to do it because it helps others.

I’m sure you’ve worked on becoming a better listener before. What did you see it do for your relationships? Please share some ideas! :)