You are the problem. That sounds overly simplified and aggressive, but at a base level, there is a form of truth to the statement. Of course, when I say you, I mean we, and in general, everyone, but for the sake of transitioning ourselves into the proper mindset, you are the problem.
In my experience, I have found that when someone is blamed for something that they feel directly innocent of, they retort in defense. Typically, the blame gets put elsewhere, or the issue at hand is deflected towards something (or someone) else. When someone tells you that you are the problem, your initial reaction is to deny that assertion and find something else to be the problem. Surely it’s not you.
In a relationship, this can lead to disagreements, arguing, or even verbal attacks. The point, and certainly the key here, is to resist the compulsory reaction to redirect blame and to address the issues in your life through the lens of yourself. What am I doing that hinders my success and how can I improve it? How am I the problem?
There is the old axiom that you cannot force others to change, but you can change yourself. I believe that if you can change yourself, you will put yourself in a position to help others change when they are ready to tackle that obstacle in their own life.
Control what you can control. This advice has been instrumental in my own transformation and if you can subconsciously insert that mantra into your own life, it will bring clarity and success to the goals that you pursue. In the case of relationships, you can influence your partner, help your partner, and guide your partner but you cannot control them. You can only control yourself. You can only control the things that are, theoretically speaking, within the realm of your control.
Now, identifying these things is not always simple and there are boundaries that overlap and intertwine, but for the most part, anything involving your ability to take action and/or react is definitively within your control. As you work through this book there will be things that challenge you and cause you to be defensive; they may even anger you. Don’t worry, this is normal. How you respond to these things will be an indicator of how you respond to certain challenges in your relationship and challenges in your personal life. Ultimately, it is a mindset thing.
Mindset is everything. It makes or breaks successful people, and successful relationships. If you are weak in your ability to be resolute towards a task, you are less likely to get it done. You are certainly less likely to stick with it if it takes a considerable amount of time. Think about the people you know that have set New Year’s resolutions. Maybe they are looking to wake up earlier, go to the gym, or change the way they eat. Maybe they have a financial goal they have set for the year, like saving a certain amount of dollars or perhaps investing a certain amount of money every month. Whatever the goal may be, consider the main differences between those that accomplish their goals and those that do not.
The ones that are successful are the ones with a dedicated mindset to accomplish their goals. They are resolute, steadfast, and know that success depends on their approach and their commitment to the task at hand. There are times where they slip up, maybe they miss a gym session or fail to invest one month, but they don’t give up. They accept that they had a slip and continue pressing on.
On the other hand, those that fail to meet their goals always talk themselves out of what they are trying to accomplish. They convince themselves that there is no point of continuance. They can’t change the way they eat forever, so why try? They think they could put their money towards something better than monthly investments. It is too hard for them to get up and work out in the morning. They’re not seeing the results they want. It seems like one excuse after another for them. Many, many people have failed because of mindsets like this. I know I have.
If you are going to be successful in your life, in your personal growth, and in your relationship, you are going to have to become a master over your negative thoughts and negative situations. All of this is why you are the problem, but it is also why you are the solution. You are the master of your own destiny, as they say, and this is certainly true to an extent. You have the ability to control many things in your life, but you have to take charge and be assertive. You have to be dedicated, resolute, and maintain that strong mindset.
Now, relationships are a bit trickier. As we have already discussed, you cannot control your partner. You can only control yourself and how you respond or react to events in your relationship. I believe that every relationship can be successful and, in theory, this is possible. But it is not probable. I am not naïve enough to think that every combination of every two people has a chance to be successful, let alone permanently united. Relationships end, divorces happen, life goes on. Sometimes painfully and traumatically.
There are a multitude of causes behind failed relationships. First and foremost, it is very difficult to get two people to share like-minded goals and maintain a dedicated commitment to each other. As we will discuss momentarily, we are first and foremost, as individuals, selfish. A significant key to a successful relationship is the ability to put our partner first and ourselves second. Not an easy task for selfish people. But there are other major problems as well. One of the most difficult problems to overcome is two different ideological ways of thinking in a relationship.
I like to think that most people get into relationships with other like-minded people. That is to say, people with similar convictions and beliefs end up together. A Democrat gets with a Democrat, a Republican with a Republican. Likewise, in religion, a Christian will often (but not always) date another Christian, or a Muslim will look to marry another Muslim. The list can go on and on.
You see, each one of us carries a worldview, whether we recognize it or not. I want to avoid going deep into the philosophical distinctions that are found within the concept, but suffice it to say that a worldview is exactly what it sounds like — the way we as individuals inherently view concepts of the world and how it works. Essentially our worldview shapes our ideology. It forms our beliefs about God, reality, knowledge, ethics, and human nature.
When two people hold conflicting worldviews, or conflicting aspects in their worldview, friction and conflict eventually arise. In the beginning of a relationship, these things are easily overlooked because you are excited about your new relationship and the chance to know one another. You initially don’t care what kind of worldview the other person holds. What ultimately happens, unfortunately, is that these opposing or conflicting ideas will eventually reach the surface — and ideological disagreements are not easily overcome. This is largely because it takes a life-altering event or moment of realization (an epiphany) to change a worldview.
Imagine, if you will, an atheist and a Christian in a relationship. One believes there is no god and creation is the result of biological evolution over the course of billions of years. The other believes in a God that created everything, and one who decides the ultimate destiny of all people and every other created thing. These conflicting worldviews will inevitably clash.
Conflicting worldviews such as these carry deeper beliefs, such as the concept of morality, the purpose of life, and our responsibility as human agents. These beliefs strongly influence the way we act, view people, and ultimately steward earth’s resources.
The same applies to republicans and democrats. The very nature of why each one holds to a certain political party, and thus ideology, is a part of that person’s core. Where should taxes go? What are our gun rights? Is abortion a right? Is universal healthcare and welfare an appropriate ethic? These are not just minor issues to the people that hold them, and when these issues are not agreed upon, reconciliation is incredibly difficult to achieve. Each person believes that their position is right and the other is wrong. It does not take a rocket scientist to figure out that such strong conflicting ideologies will destabilize and often destroy a relationship.
I am not saying that two people with conflicting worldviews cannot maintain a successful relationship. In fact, I’m sure it has happened many times. However, it is a significant, and I do mean significant, challenge to overcome. It is far easier to abandon the relationship in order to preserve and secure our ideological beliefs.
I’m not necessarily telling you to avoid relationships with people that hold opposing ideologies. I am saying, however, that those relationships will have more obstacles to overcome, some that may not be reconcilable. I would encourage you, if possible, to find likeminded people to be in a relationship with. It will make sustaining a relationship far easier, with less conflict and more opportunities for agreement. While I believe that the principles found in this book will help any relationship, it is not a magical solution to solve every relational problem. No matter how dedicated you are to applying them in your relationship, even if both of you commit to implementing them, ideological differences still hold a power that even the most dedicated partners may not overcome.
Putting aside ideological differences, let us now address a few of the baseline problems that seem to plague men more than women. These are preliminary — dare I say rudimentary — issues that hinder success in a relationship, and to be honest, they are not entirely your fault. Most people, and it seems us guys in particular, are selfish beings. It is somehow engrained within us. I do not know if it is in our genetic makeup, or a general human condition (probably both), but we are selfish people. We want to do what we want, when we want, and do it how we want to do it. We are the center of our own universe. Now, some of you may have already got defensive. You are telling yourself women are selfish too. It is not fair to target just the men. You are right. But remember, the goal here is to adjust your mindset.
Work on the defensive triggers and adapt in a positive way. Control what you can control. I can confidently say, as a whole, men act in selfishness more than women. All one needs to do is look at the role of a woman in a relationship, especially in a relationship with children. Which parent is typically more serving? Which parent is more likely to get up with a child in the night, prepare a meal or clean the toilet? Which one is more likely to take a personal day to stay home with a sick child or sacrifice plans for the benefit of the family? These are not self-serving tasks. In fact, they are quite the opposite; they are acts of selflessness.
We men, on the other hand, will avoid these things like the plague because they inconvenience us to a level of interrupting our ego. We are prideful creatures. No way are we cleaning a toilet and we are especially not going to clean up somebody’s puke. We are certainly not doing this without receiving something in return, which typically turns into a card we hold to our chest that we can play the next time something like that happens. I did such and such last time, so I do not need to do it this time. We have certain relational ideologies, often crafted by society and perhaps our own upbringing (it is important to remember that we are the result of the environment we grew up in), that sustain a level of pride about what we should and should not do in a relationship. But this pride, this ego, has to be abandoned if you want to see the utmost success in a relationship. I should be clear, pride does have advantages when it comes to certain avenues of your life, and it is not always inherently bad. Such things as pride in what you do or pride in your family are tremendously powerful things. But that pride can also be shattered and a man with shattered pride can be a dangerous animal.
Humility, on the other hand, is one of the most powerful human abilities in existence. Of course, society tends to look down its nose at humble people. Sure, they are good people, a pleasure to be around, but they are also perceived with weakness. Humility is not seen as an attribute that will get you very far. You cannot be a ruthless business owner and be humble. You cannot be an influencer if you are humble. You cannot lead, let alone protect, your family if you are humble. These are unfair associations with the term, and they are also false correlations.
Humility is not weakness, rather I would argue that humility is strength in disguise. Pride is something that takes little to no work, it is an inherent attribute within us. Humility, on the other hand, is a conscious personal acknowledgement of submission. It is not inherent. It must be forced and practiced until it becomes a true quality of one’s being. Contrary to belief, humility does not sacrifice power or pedigree. Those are things that are just as attainable with humility as they are with pride. It is how the person chooses to approach such things that distinguishes the strength and weakness within them.
You may be wondering why I am putting so much emphasis on the dichotomy between humility and pride. It is this dichotomy that causes you to be the problem. Most of us cannot promote humility over pride. Your failure to eliminate this pride, this ego, is arguably your number-one hindrance to a successful relationship.
What do these characteristics have to do with relationships? My answer is: everything. As we will see, the most powerful relationships are the ones in which each partner serves the other. Each partner is willing to sacrifice their own ego for the sake of one another. Humility and selflessness have consistently produced incredible results in relationships, whereas pride and selfishness are almost exclusively destabilizers and destroyers of them. These concepts must be understood in order to build a healthy, stable relationship. It is essentially the crux of the matter. It is the foundation on which all the other advice found in this book is built.
When you read about the “Five As” of positive language, you must remember to keep a humble mindset. When you read about communication and honesty, you must keep a humble mindset. When you are challenged again and again on the actions you should or should not take throughout the course of this book, remember to approach them with humility and selflessness.
Perhaps the other major baseline problem for men in their relationship is simply ignorance. When I use that term I am intending it not as an insult, but rather I am using it for its literal meaning. Ignorance is simply a lack of knowledge. We do not know what we need to do to improve a relationship. What do women want? What do we need to do to improve our relationship? What do we need to do to improve ourselves in a relationship? Fortunately, all of these questions do have answers.
As a full disclaimer, I wish I had ALL the answers, but unfortunately I do not. I have some good suggestions, some practical advice, and maybe even a correct answer here or there. But I do not have all the answers. What I do have is plenty of experience, conclusions from experience, and reason — and of course advice that you may or may not choose to incorporate at your own convenience.
The answers to relationships, if I may be so bold, comes in the form of two particular ideas. These ideas are simply language and communication. I know, I know, not quite the relational epiphany you were looking for. These rather uncreative, simplistic ideas are instrumental in facilitating positive changes in a relationship. They are also not suggestive, but encapsulate a certain necessity.
In relationships there is a need for language and a need for action. To be fair, that could be said about any and every facet of life. Relationships, however, harbor a certain need for these things in a way that is often unique from their ordinary applications. As we work through the following chapters I will discuss five specific languages that can and should be utilized in a relationship. I will also suggest necessary actions that you can implement in your relationship and your personal life that will foster growth. The ultimate challenge will not be in understanding them — they are fairly straightforward — but in implementing them into your daily life.