Are you a grievance collector?

- Archie Modequillo () - September 28, 2006 - 12:00am
"Two people look out through the prison bars. One sees mud while the other sees stars." If you are seeing the thorns and not the roses, you may be in a habit of collecting negative impressions or holding up negative emotions, to the point of distorting your view of the world. And you may not be aware of it. But the habit can undermine the very quality of your life experience, especially your relationships.

To most people it is enough to have a relationship that's going "just okay". Many would reason that they do not actually expect their romance or marriage to be perfect, because they themselves fall short of that mark. There also seems to be a general tendency to depend heavily on one's partner to make the relationship work. "If only he shapes up," some would say, "we'll be much better." Others hope "that she will stop being such a fault-finder."

But even perfect individuals may not make perfect partners. A solid relationship depends on how the partners handle their problems together or, more basically, on what they consider to be problems. Both parties are liable of fouling up now and then. And often, even the one who complains is not totally innocent of his or her own gripe.

In most marriages-from the troubled to the terrific-the smallest grievances are the most common irritants. Even minor hassles and frustrations can break a beautiful union. But if only partners can go past the distractions of trivial things in the relationship, they can make their love grow even stronger. The best place to start is in the complaining party himself or herself.

Harboring a grudge can backfire on you. Keeping a list, even if only mentally, of the times you've let yourself be humbled in a marital argument or owned up your partner's blunder before other people is a growing burden that will only break your own back in the long run.

You may be feeling that your contributions to the relationship are not acknowledged or appreciated. Or, you may be actually feeling resentful of the role you find yourself in. In either case, if you constantly remind yourself of your hurt, you'll begin to feel angry with your partner. You'll feel exploited or abused. Then the loving feeling fades.

When your partner senses your resentment, he or she becomes defensive. And a nasty accounting of who brings what into the relationship follows. The partners then become adversaries. Soon the original complaint gets buried in new hurts, making it too hard to recognize what it was originally all about. It is now hard, as well, to tell whether the exchange of blames is to save the relationship or to end it.

A positive discussion is much better than a condemning charge. If there's something about your partner that disturbs you, bring it up with him in a cooperative way. Avoid blaming; instead, simply describe how you feel about the matter. For all you know, he may not even be aware of his mistake and never intended to upset you. It's not fair to quickly think that your partner is taking advantage or being cruel to you every time he leaves his razor at the sink. He may not have meant it, maybe he just forgot. Don't think of yourself as being his servant by cleaning after him. Think instead that you're assisting him. Then discuss the matter with him in a composed, loving way.

Get off the habit of mumbling, "This isn't fair!" whenever you spot something not quite right of your partner. Whenever you catch yourself getting peeved by his minor slip-ups, try to bring yourself back to a loving mood. Or, try to consider that it may be just your personal quirk or you may just be having a bad day, and that he or she has little or nothing to do with it. Even if he is actually at fault, accept his apologies. Forgive and forget. Do not allow a few minor slips tarnish a precious relationship with the person you love.

Bitterness often results from unmet expectations. Be responsible for your own happiness. Accept your partner's shortcomings as part of the package. Do not rely on him or her to make you happy. He or she may not know how. Besides, happiness is too personal and precious a thing to leave to another person.

Of course, other people - be they mere friends or lovers or spouses - play a great role in our happiness. But ultimately, we alone are responsible for making ourselves happy. When our life isn't working, we need to make changes or see things in a different way. We have a choice whether to keep ill feelings or throw them away. We can sulk in the dark and agonize. Or we can stand up and face the sun, and let the shadow fall behind us. People, no matter how close to us, will not always live up to our expectations. Neither does it always work to try to change them. Sometimes it is much easier, and wiser, to change our attitude towards others and learn to accept them as they are.

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