The greatest stumbling block in true communication is the tendency to play lawyer.
~ Muriel Schiffman
Last week I talked to two lawyers.
One was an actual attorney, the other an amateur.
Both struggle with relationships for the same reason:
They want it their way, and they’re pretty determined.
The first (actual) lawyer tells me she’s mad at her new boyfriend because he adopted a puppy without consulting her. “I’m a cat person,” she explains. “He knows this. And if we end up living together I’m going to be very unhappy.”
The second (amateur) lawyer tells me everything’s been going great with his girlfriend of six months: they like the same food and music, they laugh a lot together, and the sex is terrific. “Still, there are red flags,” he frowns. “She’s bad with money. She spends too much time on Facebook. And I don’t like her mother.”
I asked each of them two questions.
“Have you talked to your partner about this stuff?” is the first.
Both answer No. They’re upset, but neither wants to rock the boat.
“How do you feel when you’re with this person?” is the second question.
Both smile and answer, “Happy.”
“Okay,” I say to them. “I hear three problems here.
“The first is a boundary problem. Yours are fuzzy. You’re not clear on what is your business and what isn’t.
“The second is a communication problem. You need to share your feelings with your partner. Not as a complaint or a demand, but as information. They need to know what you like and don’t like, what pushes your buttons. How can you communicate and reach agreement with someone who doesn’t know what’s going on inside you?
“The biggest problem, though, is a control problem. You’re looking for a level of control you can’t have.
“I understand why. You’ve been hurt in past relationships. You don’t want to get hurt again.
“But you can’t indemnify yourself against hurt or disappointment or frustration with some sort of emotional contract. You can’t list your demands and expect your partner to sign the dotted line. That’s unrealistic and frankly, disrespectful. How’d you feel if someone made you sign such a contract?”
“Anyway, it’s just bad for relationships. A relationship is a living thing. We can’t control it; we have to care for it, the way you care for a flower. You water it with attention, you feed it with communication and patience, and you let it grow in its own way and at its own pace.
“Trying to edit it according to your expectations is like cutting it and putting it in a vase.
“Sure, a cut flower is pretty. But you know what happens to it.”