"The differentiator—the thing that determines whether you can make it with someone—is, plain and simple, self-awareness.
Here are five things you can do to achieve and maintain a higher level of self-awareness.
1. The mood check. When you get up in the morning, go out for lunch, and just before you come home, do a quick mood check. Pissy is 1; happy is 10. Rate yourself on the scale. If you’re under 5, ask yourself why and then ask yourself, “What mood do I want to bring home to my partner?” It’s one thing if you’re legitimately sad or upset about something and you turn to your partner for support. It’s another if you regularly subject your partner to the frustrations of your day or your underlying anxiety. Just letting your partner know you’re in a pissy mood—and acknowledging that it’s not his or her fault—can help your partner understand where you are and what to expect. Self-awareness creates a context for open communication and supportive behavior.
2. The grain of truth theory.When your partner points out a problem, even if your first reaction is to deny it, stop and allow for the grain of truth. Even if 90-95% of what your partner is saying is wrong, there’s a grain of truth, some core nugget, in what you’re being told. You may not be an insensitive person, but you may have behaved insensitively in the instance being discussed. You may not be forgetful—you may even be extremely attentive—but the thing you forgot triggered feelings of hurt and abandonment. Look for the grain of the truth, and work with it to effect change.
3. Remember that you have blind spots. We all have blind spots. We try to compensate but even rear-view mirrors miss the cars a few feet behind us. My new Volvo has a fancy blind-spot system—cameras under each rear-view mirror that see what the mirror can’t and trigger a warning light. It’s saved my ass more than a few times. Your partner is like the cameras. He or she sees things that you can’t. And when your partner points these things out, it’s often to protect him or herself or the relationship. You may feel blindsided or backstabbed, but when your partner shows you something you can’t see, more often than not, your partner has your back.
4. Get a reality check. Continuing with car metaphor for a moment, a warning from your partner about your behavior is a lot like the check engine light. You can decide to ignore it and hope it will go away—and it might—but you could also end up stalled out on the highway waiting for AAA and looking at costly repairs. Run your partner’s feelings by a trusted friend. See what he or she says. You may get validation of your rightness, or your friend may tell you something like, “Um, yeah, you do that to me, too.” If your reality check consistently differs from your own perception, you need to examine yourself more closely.
5. Acknowledge that trees have roots. Feelings overtake—and overwhelm—us for reasons we frequently don’t understand. We suddenly feel agitated or elated, and we run with it. But all our feelings have root causes, and the root causes of our moods and emotional states are primarily internal. The trunk, branches, and leaves of trees all depend on the roots for nourishment, and our own emotional health depends on what our psychological roots are eating and drinking. Acknowledging the source of your feelings enables you to stop blaming them on your partner and start the journey of self-discovery.
If I missed something here, please let me know. I’m self-aware enough to know I don’t have all the answers.