People use a lot of different words to describe relationships: a journey, an adventure, a one way ticket to Smug Town… And whilst they’re all true (and the weather here in Smug Town really is wonderful at this time of year), they’re not the first words I would use. I would say that relationships are a test.
But, unlike school or university or learning to operate a car, this test doesn’t have an end point. There’s no exam or results day or dude willing to give you a licence if you just promise to start using your rear-view mirror. This test goes on indefinitely. As long as you’re together, you’ll be tested every minute of every day for the rest of your life. Sounds good, huh?
And though I realise that could sound like a bad thing – who wants to take A-level French every day? Non merci! In my experience, relationship tests are a lot more fun. Though now I think about it, they do involve a lot of the same modules…
1. Listening and interpretation
The most valuable lesson you will learn is the difference between hearing what somebody has said and listening to what they meant. It’s a tough one to nail though, believe me. Let’s have a go now.
If I say “The bin needs changing” do I mean:
a) I love how full our bin is! Let’s keep it exactly as it is.
b) Let’s build Rubbish Mountain! Pass me those broken egg shells, will you?
c) It’s your turn to take the bin out. Please do it immediately.
Did you get it right? I hope so because if you went for anything other than c) then life is going to involve a lot more arguments than you might want.
Let’s try another one. If your husband says: “I’m at the pub. I’m just going to have one more drink and I’ll be home in an hour,” does he mean:
a) I’m actually already one my way home – I’m going to get back early and surprise you!
b) I’m being held here against my will. Please send help.
c) You might as well go to bed, I could be some time.
Unfortunately, the correct answer is c.
There is a very close link between this module and the one above. If you want somebody to understand what it is that you’re really trying to say then you need to learn how to say it. Let me give you an example.
I used to think that if my other half asked me what was wrong and I just sighed and said “Nothing” then he would be able to use telepathy to figure out what was really going on. To me it was perfectly obvious that ‘nothing’ meant I was irritated that he’d left the bathroom light on AGAIN, that he finished all the milk before establishing my calcium levels, and that he kept picking holes in Coronation Street story lines. Or at least I did until I realised that he thought ‘nothing’ meant just that. I was sat there brimming with anger and he was just carrying on with his life like nothing was wrong. If I was ever going to get my point across, I was going to have to start using actual words.
I recommend that you do the same.
In this modern world, relationships are lived out on email, text message, social media… which presents a constant test of your ability to write the right thing down. It’s crucial you establish ground rules to help avoid a word-based catastrophe.
What is your approach to texting each other? Do you include one kiss, three or 12? What is your standpoint on acronyms and trendy word shortenings? And greeting cards – what occasions warrant such a note? Are ready-printed poems acceptable or do you expect your own personalised verse?
If you don’t work this stuff out early doors then somewhere down the line one of you is going to get in big trouble. You’ll be sat innocently reading the paper on the fourth anniversary of the first time you went food shopping together and all of a sudden you’ll be presented with a card with a photograph of the two of you selecting bananas on the front and you’ll have nothing to offer in return. Don’t be that guy.
But don’t worry, the longer you’re together, the easier the tests will become.
You’ll learn how to ensure that an empty bin doesn’t mark the start of a rubbish fuelled quarrel, and that the sound of you exhaling isn’t enough to make your other half run for the door. Before you know it you’ll be texting sweet nothings and writing them limericks just to celebrate the fact that it’s Monday.
Just make sure you always check your spelling and grammar. Mistakes like that will lose you precious marks.