Couples Who Make You Want to Puke

Tiff and Dom EngagementYou know who they are: the couples that make you want to puke. I confess, I'm half of one. And we work hard to be this nauseating. I mean, really, who wants to go around holding hands all the time? The effort involved in all this damn smiling — you wouldn’t want to take it on, I promise. Totally exhausting. Add to this burden “perfect” children and “perfect” lives, and you’ve got the makings of utter hell.

Except that nothing inside a relationship is quite what it seems to the rest of the world, whether the world sees you as Jon and Kate or Ricky and Lucy.

The truth is boring; the truth is that most couples are made up of two less than perfect individuals. Take my husband and me, for example, two highly-emotional, Type A, self-absorbed, over-committed “losers at marriage” (we are both each others’ second spouse). Yet, somehow we manage to keep our marriage a thing of beauty.

(You may pause to vomit, here.)

One of the things that keeps it beautiful? We wrote our own Relationship Operating Agreement.

"Why would two almost-sane married adults go through such torture? How would the idea even come up?" (I can hear you out there, you know.)

Well, I got tired of him raising the same issues with me, and vice versa. Even worse, we got tired of repeating the same behavior anyway, no matter how many times we said "Sorry" and promised "I won't do it again."

"You know the definition of insanity?" Eric asked me one day after a tiff.

Unfortunately, I did: Doing things the same way and expecting to get different results.

"But how do we fix it?" he asked.

I took the plunge. "Let's do one of those couples mission-vision-values agreements." I held my breath.

To my surprise, Eric was relieved. We worried that our behaviors would become the dry rot at the foundation of our marriage.

We had both worked with operating agreements in our professional lives. The agreements we had seen resulted in clarity about how each person committed to act, and why.

"But aren't two people who love each other already in agreement about the important things?," you are thinking.

Um, sort of.

Take the concept of respect. To me, respect was Eric listening to me. To him, respect was me not yelling. Sometimes those two conflicted. {Uh oh}

We borrowed the ROA of another couple we knew, and we adapted it to fit our unique issues. Drafting our ROA made us intentionally reach agreement on what our key concepts looked like/felt like/sounded like, although we painfully teach each other new ones now and then. In our ROA, respect became not moping, yelling, calling names, or using sarcasm.

I think our ROA is so awesome, I'm sharing the whole thing with you. And you can adopt/adapt to your heart's content.

Maybe you're afraid your partner will place you on a involuntary psychiatric hold if you broach this subject, though, or worse, feel hurt or angry. My advice is to make it easy -- possibly you even start by sharing our agreement, or this post, and focus on the benefit to the relationship and what you want to commit to him or her, and not about what he or she is doing wrong. Finger pointing will inevitably take you down the wrong path to a big fat dead end. Give your partner some time to digest the idea, too. Especially for men, this concept may seem new and frightening. Hopefully, ultimately, they'll view it as logical and loving. Because, done correctly, it is.

Our ROA doesn't just hang on a wall. We pick it up, read it, think about it, live it, and change it. Occasionally it gets wadded up and thrown and has to be reprinted. When we misbehave, which we both do but me more than him, we quickly circle back to our shared commitments.

“Commitment?" you say. "Yeah, we’ve already got that -- we are in a committed relationship.”

I hear you, and sometimes I feel like I’m in a “committed” relationship, too, as in both of us committed to the funny farm, because we seem to have lost our minds and found a new way to nitpick each other.

But, seriously, we have discovered that taking the time to flesh out what we meant -- really meant, in detail (my husband. is an engineer, after all) -- when we promised to honor and cherish each other has made a huge difference in our marriage.

The most important concept we clarified? That it is our relationship that we must focus on, not each of us as individuals. If we take care of the relationship and put it first, then we take care of each other. So our every decision with regard to our relationship is about guarding, nurturing and protecting the precious and rare "lightning in a bottle" we have with each other.

In other words, establishing and maintaining intimacy is job one. My top job is not Eric, his top job is not Pamela. Our top job is The Relationship.

Sounds like work. Sometimes it is. But mostly, it’s fun.

I don't believe happily-ever-after happens by accident. Claim your fairy-tale ending. Live deliberately. Love with all your might. And if writing it down helps you, send me an announcement of your silver wedding anniversary.

Pamela F. Hutchins (Blog: Road to Joy)
Twitter: @PamelotH
Facebook Page

Photo Credit: Ben Grey

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