I guess in any profession, there are times when people don't follow through. You miss a deadline, you forget an appointment, you let someone down... I can tell you that here in my office I have spent many an hour (including this one) waiting for someone who made an appointment but didn't show up. I understand that emergencies happen and plans need to be change... I also understand that sometimes people make an appointment to see a therapist when they're in the midst of a particular crisis. Then, if the crisis is lifted before the appointment, they may think, "Oh, I don't need to go to that appointment anymore." I completely understand that, but would it kill them to call?
So, outside of my bellyaching about having to sit here for the next hour by myself, why should you care? How does this apply to you? Why does it matter? And why is it an important discussion for all of our lives?
The short answer is that being reliable matters. I believe that when we give our word to someone and keep our word, our lives tend to work better. By doing this, people know that our word means something -- that we are reliable. And being reliable can make economic sense as well. People who can be counted on and trusted are people who tend to get more responsibility and higher pay in the work force. There's something about trusting someone to follow through on what they say that makes that person stand out -- gets them noticed in a good way. At work, it sets them apart from the rest, and may lead to faster promotions and becoming a more valuable employee.
Everybody wants to be around people they can count on. People you can count on, become closer friends, don't they? Think about it... who are your closest friends? The ones who are flaky or the ones who follow through on their commitments? These are also people who tend to be more valued at work. And it all starts with following through on your commitments and having your word mean something. When you give your word to someone -- whether it's to drive them somewhere, or get a report done for work, you are being counted on to do what you say you're going to do. You matter. People are trusting that you will be there when they need you. And that type of trust and reliability can make a real difference in your life.
There is a theater in Austin, Texas called the Alamo Drafthouse. They have a policy (like most theaters) that people shouldn't talk or text during the movies they show. After all, it can disturb the movie for other people. While a lot of theaters ask their customers not to do these things, very few do anything about those that break the rules. Not so with the Alamo Drafthouse. They actually kick people out of the theater if they are texting or talking on their phones. In fact, they're so proud of this policy, they actually took an angry phone message from someone they had thrown out of their theater and used it in their advertising. Take a look. WARNING: The caller uses rough language, although it's been edited to remove the profanity.
While most retail places may have the policy, "The customer is always right," the Alamo Drafthouse apparently feels differently. Sometimes the customer is wrong when they disregard the theater's policy. The actions of the Alamo Drafthouse show that they feel creating a safe environment for the majority of their customers is more important than the individual desires of one person. In psychological terms, this is called creating a boundary. They created a boundary that states that people will not text or makes calls in their theater, and they have consequences for people that cross those boundaries.
We all create boundaries in our lives. Maybe not as dramatically as the Alamo Drafthouse, but boundaries just the same. There are things that we find acceptable for people to do around us and things we don't. For example, your best friend can maybe borrow some eggs from your refrigerator, but probably not your toothbrush.
Our connections with people sometimes push boundaries to the limit and our partners, our business associates or our families sometimes cross them. And we don't like to have our boundaries disrespected. Yet it happens all the time. Bosses keep us late, even though our families are counting on us to be home. Couples have different needs and one person may pressure the other into doing what they want. A family may set a rule for a child and the child may disobey.
How we establish and protect our boundaries can mean the difference between feeling empowered in our lives and feeling victimized. Establishing boundaries may cause conflict at first, but ultimately be more satisfying -- because doing things we feel forced into doing often leads to resentment.
Upholding our boundaries doesn't mean we can't be flexible. Sometimes people negotiate -- they look for common ground. Finding ways a situation can work for as many people as possible is a healthy part of any relationship. However, there's a difference between negotiation, where we feel we are making a choice. and feeling as we have no choice. It all comes down to good communication and finding solutions that fit with everyone's needs. Just don't do that communicating during the movie at the Alamo Drafthouse!
Relationship problems...? When you and your partner have a disagreement, who's at fault? Why, your partner of course! Everyone knows that. Whenever there's a relationship conflict our partners are the ones at fault. I mean, everything we do is perfect, right? Our partners just don't get it. If only they listened more and did what we wanted things would work out so much better.
Okay... so maybe it's not as simple as that. As satisfying as it is to think that we have it all figured out and our partners just need to get with the program -- while that may lead to a certain satisfaction within ourselves, it certainly doesn't lead to a successful relationship.
Our society tends to encourage us to win at things. Sporting events, getting the best grades in school, finding the best job... it's all about winning. Yet in relationships, winning can sometimes be losing. How? Well, think about it. Suppose you win an argument with your partner and prove to them you were "right." Well, guess what? That made your partner wrong. And if you do that consistently by always arguing to be right, where does that leave your partner? Always being wrong! Who wants to live with that? Would you want to live with someone that was always right?
It seems more likely that the key to a successful relationship would be one where both people got to be right -- Where both people felt cared for, listened to, and understood. But how do we do that? Our whole society, in large part, is about being right. Making the right choice, doing the right thing, picking the right person. How do we find a way to be right and have our partner be right at the same time?
That's the trick, isn't it? Finding a way that both people can feel good about the situation. Finding out how to do that just may be the key to a long-term, happy relationship. What is the secret? It's finding ways that both people can be "right." Instead of having a monopoly on being right and your partner having to be wrong, how about finding ways you both can be right. Ways that each of you can feel heard, cared for and understood. It may be challenging at times, but it's not impossible.
You may find that working at having your own needs met and at the same time caring that your partners are met, can truly lead to a happy, caring relationship. While it may not always be easy, it certainly is a challenge worth taking on -- and it's a challenge that can lead to a more fulfilling relationship.
David Schwartz, M.S., LMFT
David brings a wealth of life experience to his therapy practice. In addition to his therapy training, David has been a self-motivated entrepreneur for over 20 years, as well as working as a producer in the television industry.
David Schwartz, MS., Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist # 87261 -
30961 Agoura Rd., Suite 215, Westlake Village, CA 91361