Whenever Mary, John, and their two children visits her family or friends, she always feels like she is the worse parent. Recently they visited their parents. John spent 30 minutes the first time the entire week throwing the football with the kids outside. Mary watched. As soon as her parents joined them, John remarked, “The kids love being outside. If I don’t teach the kids to play football, they’re going to end up spending all their time indoors.” He made several similar remarks throughout the weekend visit.
John attended one piano recital for his 8 year old daughter. At the end of it, he commented in front of Mary’s best friends that his daughter was naturally talented and must have inherited the natural skills from him. She did not need to practice or work hard at playing piano, and all the money his wife was spending for piano lessons was a waste of time. Mary feels that John takes every opportunity to put her down in front of others. John feels that she is being overly dramatic. He feels that he is trying to build the self-esteem of his kids and his intentions are good for the children.
John and Mary have started the pattern of disconnection from one another. Based on their actions, John is trying to focus on parenting style. No two parents have the same philosophy or should behave in the same way even if they are married. John and Mary’s situation is not uncommon, at all. However, instead of focusing on their parenting and working on developing better relationships with their children, their actions are now based on focusing on the differences between one another.
This level of disconnection is very common in a marriage. This is how democrats and republicans distance and disconnect from each other. This is how we disconnect from a family member who is more successful than us. This is how races disconnect; ethnicities disconnect; the sexes disconnect. We focus on our differences. While this may be necessary and even appropriate in some situations, this is what makes it difficult to communicate in a relationship.
When we focus on what we have in common with other people (rather than the differences), we begin to be able to empathize with what’s going on with the other person. We start building a sustaining and meaningful connection with our partner. For example, if John was aware of the right tools for stopping disconnection in his relationship then his conversation would have two parts. He would say that his daughter is talented; and that Mary had a role in nurturing and developing the talent in his daughter.
We all have the feeling that sometimes we contribute with more that our partners. Here John really feels the talent his daughter inherited outweighs the piano practice and the hours invested in making his daughter develop the skills to be good. That is a natural thought for him to have. However, our responsibility in a relationship is to educate ourselves about the other person’s experience and contributions. When we are willing to go there and touch that part of ourselves that first seek to understand our partners we can start to connect with our partners. But if it makes us too uncomfortable, then we focus on our differences. These difference make us disconnect.
The consequences for disconnection are severe. Not only to the relationship but to yourself as well. Imagine leading a life where only what you contribute matters. You may feel good about yourself, but you’re leaving behind a trail of hurt souls and lost love. None of us mean to live this way but we end up in this trap of disconnection. So take a second to think about the things your partner does and value the effort they are putting forward.