Continuing the list of respectful and healthy relationship behavior, this article highlights specific attitudes, behavior, and approaches to a relationship that can work on improving an intimate partner relationship. As in the previous article, a copy of the full list is at the end.
11. Give the Benefit Of the Doubt: Occasionally, an intimate partner does something that might initially seem designed to hurt you, or at the very least be a decision that violates an agreement or personal request. While it is possible this could be true, contempt is built up by having negative assumptions about other's motives and behavior. To maintain respect and health, it can be important to have an initial impulse to consider that your partner's behavior may not be about you, or may not be what it seems. You are in this way providing a sense of doubt about an attack on you, and allowing space for that person to provide their perspective, motive, or information before deciding how to respond. If your partner truly intended to hurt you, then you can respond by setting limits or potentially recognizing that this behavior is unacceptable and ending the relationship. In essence, a partnership is about defending the other person by being supportive and not assuming the worst until it is clear the worst is the reality. When choosing battering behavior, motives often dwell in the realm of negative assumptions and attacks, as well as a pattern of building contempt. To work toward repair, someone who has been abusive needs to begin choosing to walk back contempt and instead find ways to defend their partner, if the relationship has not been too broken to continue. In a healthy and respectful relationship, benefit of the doubt is often a default based on value for an intimate partner and a desire to defend them and support their decisions, even if they are different from ones you might have chosen.
12. Discuss Your Values and Meaning in Life: We all have long held and developed beliefs about both the rules we have in how to live life, but also what we value and care about. While it can be challenging to identify, we also have a certain understanding of what makes life meaningful which can include goals to accomplish, patterns of behavior to maintain, and connections that are most important. These are important conversations to have with a partner, and helps to develop emotional intimacy - a knowledge of another person that develops closeness. It can also help in building commitment, as we tend to grow closer to people who have similar values and goals in life. It can be a trap to only identify things we do not like, what we dislike about other's behavior. Values are about what you want - and how you want things to progress. Within a relationship, what shared goals to you have together, and do you have the same plans on how to achieve them? There can be trepidation about sharing such deep information, as it creates vulnerability - and often when someone avoids being vulnerable they also avoid becoming closer to others, which can make it easier to hurt and choose destructive behavior. It is much more difficult to hurt people who have similar values and goals, and having such overlaps in life also create unity and a sense of togetherness that foster health and mutual respect.
13. Be Okay With Not Having Complete Agreement: Building intimacy, particularly emotional intimacy, often means sharing your opinions, thoughts, and emotions - and in turn listening and caring about your partner's. As two separate people, there are going to be differences, and sometimes it's less about a difference and more about a different flavor or shape of the same thing. There are definitely differences that a deal breakers (see non-negotiables with #6 on the previous list), but there are also differences that enrich a relationship by creating strategies and approaches to situations that vary, and offer variable solutions. Knowing the differences between you is important, so you can listen and respect those boundaries (#2, on previous list), but also so you do not find incompatibilities with every potential partner. Some people get stuck in wanting a "perfect mate" and miss out on the reality that no such thing exists. When I do relationship histories as an activity with individuals in my classes, I find that the things that are listed as initial attractions to a partner can also in the end become specific reasons for disliking or finding problems with the other person. I think in part this happens because people learn more authentically about each other as they grow together, and initial traits end up either being a smaller part of themselves than portrayed, but sometimes people anchor these experiences and think they will never change and miss honoring differences and evolution within and outside of a relationship. You have to be able to appreciate differences, and be okay with disagreements that may never have a specific or satisfying resolution, but can help you understand your partner and acknowledge how such differences contribute to, instead of taking away from your relationship.
14. Make Time to Be With Your Partner: Life happens, at times in ways that create overwhelming schedules and difficult to manage recreational time. While it is important to have "alone time" (see #16 to follow), regardless of schedules it is important to make your time with your partner a priority in some fashion. For people in long distance relationships, this may mean phone calls or video chats, even online gaming. For those living together it may mean planning a "date night" or scheduling specific relationship time. Some may call on breaks or lunches at work, others may bond over social media. At the start of the relationship, there is usually a certain degree of physical passion that drives individuals to strive for time to be together. Over time, that needs to remain even if the specific methods need to change. If you work to find excuses to avoid your partner, that begins a slippery slope to not wanting to be together at all - so knowing what you wish to foster and build becomes important to the health of your relationship.
15. Learn and Talk About Your Partner's Hobbies: Everyone has things they really enjoy doing. It's not uncommon for intimate partners to develop a relationship around shared likes, including activities and hobbies. However, there will always be things your partner enjoys that you do not. What do you know about your partner's hobbies, how do you support them in that hobby, and how do you become involved with that hobby when your partner wants you to? I've heard several men in my groups complain about their partners, and things they enjoy that they mock openly. Often there is a nature of the mocking that involves a focus on financial expenditures - but very little appreciation for their partner's enjoyment or understanding why their partner may enjoy a certain activity. Learning about your partner's hobby also allows you to learn more about your partner. Showing interest in something you are not particularly interested in demonstrates caring and appreciation, and such attitudes and behavior foster health and respect. Being open to influence and learning to share time and space over activities you do not choose personally can be a window into negotiating and compromising over more challenging topics.
16. Encourage Space: While appreciating differences and learning about aspects of your partner's hobbies that are different from your own, it's also important to have a part of your life separate from your partner. Doing everything together, and always being in each other's business can become stifling. Making time for yourself is an important part of healthy self-care (#5 on previous part of list), and gives you something to later share about your life with your partner. Encouraging your partner to spend time with friends separately from you also fosters a sense of trust and care that are important to maintain.
17. Be Aware of Your Irritating and Alienating Behavior: As human beings, we are all irritating in our own ways. Often these irritating behavior are unconscious patterns and habits we have developed over time and have little or nothing to do with our partner. Easy ones to consider are biting nails, yawning loudly, physical tics, but there are several others that might be linked to attitudes or responses to certain situations. Often these things don't irritate us, personally, so we don't even think about them - but our partner might notice and dislike them fully. There's no way to completely eliminate all irritating behavior, particularly because in relationships over time each partner learns to accept such irritations either by considering them as part of who you are, or giving up when trying to stop those behavior. Sometimes in relationships, attempts to stop irritating behavior are like a grain of sand in a oyster, slowly building over time - but the result isn't a pearl but rather dissatisfaction, anger, and even in some cases the end of a relationship. It is important to know how you irritate your partner - what are small things that you recognize in yourself that you can work to minimize or stop, or at the very least choose to not do them around your partner? Related to this are various alienating behavior, and sometimes they are one in the same. We all do things that subtly (and sometimes obviously) push others away. A very common alienating behavior is avoidance, and avoiding conversations, situations, or others quickly builds into controlling or other hurtful behavior. In my classes, when I more broadly address hurtful behavior beyond violence, I talk about the "pyramid of harm" (an alternative to the Power and Control Wheels, this is an aspect of the Emerge Curriculum). When doing so I speak about the category of sexually harmful behavior in a relationship and how it builds. One of the irritating and alienating sexual behaviors I discuss is choosing not to talk about sex, or avoiding such discussions altogether. When you take something like the sexual aspect of your relationship, and do not talk about what is working and what is not, ways of improving it, what your desires are, what you do not like, then over time it creates a minefield in your relationship that must be navigated carefully - or ignored altogether and just build into other sexually hurtful behavior toward yourself and your partner. People who avoid conflict can do the same to emotional, mental, and spiritual aspects of their relationship, and taking personal responsibility for your irritating and alienating behavior can help to keep things like this from building up over time.
18. Own Up To Your Mistakes and Harmful Behavior: We all do hurtful and harmful things toward others. Humanizing this is an important dynamic to include during battering intervention classes, because if you instead shame, punish, and dehumanize there is almost no benefit in admitting to harm other than getting a facilitator to leave you alone. I believe it is an important aspect of battering intervention classes to, as a facilitator, openly admit to my mistakes and harm I might inadvertently choose during the classes themselves. For example, once in my class I had a participant who left the group to go to the bathroom. I have had various policies about bathroom use in my classes, and it often has to do with access - if the building has a setup where there is a bathroom right by the room we conduct class, I have no problem with participants using it if they go in and do their thing and come right back. I mention that I don't want them to spend 20 minutes in there doing their morning or evening "constitutional," but I haven't found that to be an issue. So, this man was gone for over twenty minutes - it was long enough to both be noticeable, but also I became concerned he had just left the class entirely. When he came back, I interrupted the topic I was on in the class and took time to directly address him and the group about the bathroom policy and asked him not to spend that long in the bathroom. He balked, taking insult at me calling him out, and I caught my mistake at about the same time. In the moment, I said it was not a huge deal I just needed to make sure everyone understood the policy - which did not decrease his anger, but he did stop talking. After class, I took a moment to ask to speak to him when everyone had left. I told him I recognized that calling him out like that was shaming, was inappropriate, and was not okay for me to do. I told him it would have been better to speak to him after the class, and that in the future I would make sure I did that. Just saying those things led to him changing his demeanor entirely. I asked him if he would mind if I apologized to the entire group the following week, and when he said that was okay - I did so. I think the ability to own up to mistakes allows others to see your humanity, it models behavior you want to see, and in a relationship it is important as a first step to working toward repairs. If you do not identify the problem, how can you possibly work to solve it? I think there are methods in battering intervention classes to have participants authentically describe and discuss their hurtful behavior - but a big part of that has to do with how I elicit that information. Developing emotional and mental intimacy with a partner makes it easier and more real to do such admissions, and acknowledging harms and being able to describe why they were not okay start to create goals on how to change behavior as well.
19. Know What Kind of Support Your Partner Appreciates and Do It as Often as Possible: There are methods of counseling and therapy, particularly those focused on marriage and family, that identify the concept of a "love language." In essence, this idea postulates that we all have specific kinds of ways we express our love of others, and often it is also how we personally want to feel loved. Part of the challenge is that in an intimate partner relationship, there are bound to be differences in how each person feels and expresses love, and by extension, support. If I am a person who feels happy with loving touch (pats on the back, holding hands, running my fingers through my partner's hair), then chances are that I do those things to my partner in my attempt to show appreciation, support, and love. However, perhaps my partner is in a different place in her preference for expressing and feeling loved - maybe she does so through service, such as by making a delicious meal, buying me a present, staying up late to spend time with me if I work late. In such a situation, I might appreciate her gestures, but I might not think of those as being things I should reciprocate if I am focused on physical loving touch to demonstrate love. She, in turn, may feel I do not love or appreciate her if I do not do service behavior for her. This can lead to all kinds of negative and hurtful self-talk, and a growing list of assumptions and hurt feelings. In a relationship it is important to put yourself outside of your own experience and focus on your partner's experience. Many of these categories of health and respect talk about different ways of doing this. In this example, that means you have to know more about how you feel loved - it doesn't mean you stop doing things with your partner that are things you personally like - it means you know you are doing those things as an extension of what you like. In turn you have to listen and be aware of the differences in how your partner feels loved, and then directly do them. Often. This is something you can continue to learn and develop as your relationship evolves.
20. Understand the Difference Between Negotiation and Compromise; Use When Your Plans and Ideas are Different: I ask participants in my class to describe the difference between negotiation and compromise and they often give the same definition. Conflict tactics are important to both be able to practice, but also be able to understand, and in many ways negotiating and compromising are the bread and butter of healthy conflict management. Both need to be used at different times, though, so knowing the difference is good for knowing when one is better than the other. Negotiation is about trading - I think of it like a pendulum that swings my way, then my partner's way. There are situations that come up where there is no way to come to a middle ground, and in such cases you can either agree to disagree, which is unsatisfying and often untenable if a decision has to be made, or you can railroad your partner into your solution or passively give in to your partner and build up resentment as a result. Neither is a good choice, so negotiation is the practice of being open to influence. You directly and authentically choose your partner's decision, with an understanding that in that category of conflict next time you both will try your decision instead. Where this can become messy is if someone negotiates incomparable categories - after all saying you will do a specific chore more often if your partner gives you more sex both starts to consider sex as a chore to be completed, but also means if you do such a trade then the person doing the chore might feel entitled to doing a different chore less often. So negotiation needs to be in the same topic, and needs to be discussed more thoroughly. Parenting decisions are often a category for negotiation if you have different parental instincts or idea on how to deal with your children's mistakes. Compromise, however, is about either coming to a middle ground (where you both do not get 100% of what you want, but you get some), or choosing a third viable option that neither of you had considered during that conflict.
Next article will finish up the remaining ten on the pamphlet and will include one additional so anyone wanting to practice these for the 31 days of January will have their days filled with practicing a different kind of respectful and healthy behavior each day!
THIRTY RESPECTFUL AND HEALTHY WAYS PAMPHLET