Tara O’Sullivan was a rookie police officer with the Sacramento, California police department. She and her field training officer responded to a domestic call to assist a woman moving out of her abusive fiancé’s house.
Tragically, the fiancé was home and opened fire on the officers with a high-powered rifle. Officer O’Sullivan was gunned down, and fellow officers could not rescue her due to a barrage of gunfire from the suspect.
Only after an armored vehicle was brought in to serve as cover (nearly an hour later) were officers able to carry O’Sullivan from the scene. Sadly, Officer O’Sullivan died from her wounds. The suspect was eventually arrested and charged with murder.
Domination to subtle manipulation
In my 26-year law enforcement career, I responded to many domestic disturbance calls. I knew such calls were potentially dangerous. Some domestic disturbance calls involved in-progress, physical fights. We’d have to kick down the door, restrain the parties, and figure out who the primary aggressor was.
Some domestic incidents were due to mental health issues and substance abuse problems. Often, however, the fights were because of festering relationship issues that finally exploded.
Being a police officer exposed me to countless couples who were in unhealthy, dysfunctional relationships. Beyond physical conflict, I’d witness all manner of emotional abuse. Spiteful comments, power plays, immaturity, and tit for tat arguments. Worse, some couples used their children as pawns in their ongoing battles.
“Emotional abuse is any type of abuse that is not physical in nature. It can include everything from verbal abuse to the silent treatment, domination to subtle manipulation.” -Beverly Engel
You don’t want to end up like this. You don’t want police officers responding to your home because everything fell apart. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to promote a healthy and happy relationship.
Ask yourself if you make any of the following six mistakes. No relationship is perfect, and we all stumble. Learn to avoid these mistakes, and your relationship will benefit greatly.
They say that familiarity breeds contempt. Once the novelty of a new relationship wears off, we get comfortable. Maybe even a little lazy. We take our partner for granted. Before long, a sort of benevolent drift sets in, which can become the breeding ground for hurt feelings and resentment.
When your wife arrives home from work, do you set aside whatever you’re doing to greet her? Do you get up, embrace and kiss her as she walks through the door? Doing so shows that she is a priority in your life. You don’t take her for granted. After a long day at work, receiving a warm welcome at home is a wonderful thing. You feel special, and know that you’re loved.
When your husband arrives home with the groceries, do you jump up and help him carry everything in from the car? Doing so demonstrates support and collaboration. It shows that you’re a team. Setting aside whatever you’re doing to lend a hand shows where your priorities are.
When your spouse starts to tell you about her day, do you turn off the TV and set aside the iPad? Do you look at her, listen intently, and give your undivided attention? Whether you’re in a relationship or just talking with a friend, giving your undivided attention is a gift. It says “You matter,” to the other person.
“Togetherness has to do with focused attention. It is giving someone your undivided attention. As humans, we have a fundamental desire to connect with others. We may be in the presence of people all day long, but we do not always feel connected.” -Gary Chapman
The reality is that nobody likes to be ignored. No-one wants to be on the receiving end of inattention. It takes very little time and energy to pay closer attention to another person.
Speaking of inattention, let’s not forget “phubbing.” Phubbing is one of those words born from new technology. It means to ignore someone you’re with by talking, texting, or otherwise distracting yourself on your smartphone. Phubbing is a rude version of inattention. It makes your partner feel unimportant to you.
In the movie “As Good As It Gets,” a woman (played by Helen Hunt) is driving a car when her friend (played by Gregg Kinnear) begins to share a difficult story about his childhood. The guy in the back seat of the car (played by Jack Nicholson) is rude and disinterested, but the woman pulls over to the side of the road, stating, “Hold on, I want to give you my undivided attention.”
Watch in the following film clip as Helen Hunt’s character gives her full, undivided attention. Think about how good it feels when someone does that for you? Why not do the same for your spouse? Or children? Or friends? Your undivided attention is a gift that keeps on giving.
Ignore the small stuff
Small things matter. We tend to remember the big, momentous events in our lives. Weddings. Our first house. Yet, it’s the little daily things that make up the greater narrative of our lives.
A big, unexpected birthday gift may delight your spouse, but the greater investment in your relationship are the little acts of affection. Things like making a cup of coffee for your husband while he’s getting dressed in the morning. Or surprising your sweetheart by doing the laundry before she gets home.
“Kindness in words creates confidence. Kindness in thinking creates profoundness. Kindness in giving creates love.” -Lao Tzu
I read somewhere that little acts of affection are small investments in the emotional bank account. Your significant other will appreciate the thoughtful things you do because they communicate that you care. They tell her that she matters. They let him know that you’re thinking of him.
Flowers after an argument may be well-intentioned, but they’re predictable. Flowers on a Monday morning, for no particular reason, have more impact.
Don’t ignore the small stuff. Learning to share little acts of affection will strengthen your relationship. It will warm both your hearts.
Joined at the hip
Remember when the actors Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt were known as “Brangelina?” Because they were famous actors, their marriage turned them into a “super couple.” The media couldn’t get enough of them, and they appeared online and in magazines everywhere.
They were busy adopting kids together, making movies together, and traveling everywhere together. They were seemingly always together.
Think back to high school. I’ll bet there was a couple you knew that was inseparable. They did everything together. They liked the same food. Pursued the same passions. They were joined at the hip.
The problem with becoming joined at the hip is that you risk losing your individuality. You might give up parts of yourself to be more like your partner. Worse, some personalities are stronger than others and cast undue influence.
“Many of us live in denial of who we truly are because we fear losing someone or something — and there are times that if we don’t rock the boat, too often the one we lose is ourselves. It feels good to be accepted, loved, and approved of by others. But often the membership fee to belong to that club is far too high of a price to pay.” — Dennis Merritt Jones
Healthy couples need to have the freedom to be themselves. You can be in love and still like different music and food. Spending time with yourself and your own unique friends is healthy too. Having your own passions and pursuits means you can share new things with your significant other.
“Healthy couples should complement each other, not become each other.” -John P. Weiss
Yes, some happy couples seem to enjoy the same things. That’s fine, as long as both are being their authentic selves. But the minute you start abandoning the things you like to be more like your spouse, you’re denying a bit of who you are.
In time, abdicating parts of yourself for your relationship can lead to anger and resentment. Love with all your heart, but don’t sacrifice who you are along the way.
Avoid hard things
It’s much easier to sit on the couch and down a bag of chips than go to the gym for a rigorous workout. Human beings are wired for the path of least resistance. We avoid hard things and try to find the shortcut, hack, or easiest way.
There’s nothing wrong with finding effective ways to complete tasks with less work, but some things require honest effort. Namely, your relationship. If something is bothering you in your relationship, yet you say nothing, then you’re avoiding hard things. You might avoid an argument but never resolve the problem.
Some of our greatest achievements happen because we do hard things. College and graduate school were not easy for me. There was a lot of effort, study, and work involved. Sometimes I didn’t feel like going to class or staying up late to study. But I did it anyway. I chose to do hard things, and every time I see those degrees hanging on my office wall, I feel a bit of pride.
Hard things are going to come up in your relationship. Maybe he wants kids and you don’t. Perhaps you want to move to the country but your partner prefers the city. Your libido may not match hers. Whatever the problem or challenge, you have to address it.
“Avoid hard things, and they’ll only get harder.” -John P. Weiss
The key is to do it in an honest, collaborative way. No hurtful accusations. No ultimatums. Pick the right time, and then bring it up. Truly listen to what your spouse has to say. Search for common ground and avenues for compromise. Healthy relationships involve compromise.
Most of us like to do things our way. We have our peculiarities, predilections, tastes, and approaches. Gather five artists in a field and ask them to paint the landscape. The result will be five very different paintings. The subject matter may be similar, but the interpretations will vary.
Thank goodness for this. We are not meant to be cookie-cutter people, nor are we supposed to be cheap imitations of someone else. Our authenticity is tied to our individuality. Yet, sadly, some people become victims of projection in their relationships.
Consider the hen-pecked husband, who meanders through life saying, “Yes Dear,” to everything his wife says. Or the wife who won’t dare redecorate the house for fear it will upset her husband’s preferred decor and style.
Stong personalities sometimes project their will on their significant others. They project their preferences and way of doing things, expecting their partner to follow suit. And then, if the partner doesn’t go with the plan, it’s viewed as an affront.
Sometimes the problem is a strong-willed spouse, and sometimes the problem is a weak-willed spouse. Over time, the strong-willed spouse will disrespect the weak-willed spouse. And the weak-willed spouse will start to loathe the strong-willed one.
There’s nothing wrong with suggesting our way of doing things. After all, we all have our opinions. But it’s wrong to project our will, expecting a spouse to follow along, or else.
A close relative of projection is blame. It’s easy to assign fault in others. It might even feel good, but it’s corrosive to a relationship. Even when the blame is just, it can be wielded like a weapon. The goal should be to correct the problem, not demean another.
“One of the ways that people avoid taking responsibility for their role in their own pain is what I call the BPs — blame, and projection.” –Iyanla Vanzant
Mutual respect is the key, along with compromise, and good communication. Otherwise, projection can start to erode a marriage or relationship.
A dark heart
Sooner or later you’re going to mess up. Maybe you’ll forget an anniversary or accidentally back into your spouse’s car. Whatever it is, how your spouse reacts will say a lot about him/her, and possibly the status of your relationship.
We’re all human. We get angry, and can even lose our tempers. What’s important is that we’re able to forgive. A significant other who is stingy with forgiveness means that there is a problem. Or worse, they have a dark heart. If this is the case, you’ll have to do the hard thing. Talk, and find out what’s going on.
“Anger is a killing thing: it kills the man who angers, for each rage leaves him less than he had been before — it takes something from him.” — Louis L’Amour
Forgiveness is a gift you give your spouse, and yourself. Because holding onto anger is like holding onto hot coal. You can throw it at the person you’re mad at, but you’ll still burn your hand. Carrying prolonged anger is corrosive. It will eat away at you, and possibly hurt the ones you love.
Don’t let yourself have a dark heart. Accept that people we love the most will make mistakes. Sometimes our feelings will get hurt. Hopefully, most of the time, the hurt your spouse has caused was not done with ill will. Usually, such things are oversights, mistakes, and accidents. Before you climb on your high horse, remember that you make mistakes, too.
If you suspect your spouse is intentionally trying to hurt you, emotionally or physically, then you need to protect yourself and get help. No one, not even a husband or wife, has the right to hurt you.
Sometimes we discover that our significant other has demons to wrestle with. Often, they predate the relationship. When someone you love has a dark heart, you need to help yourself before you can help them. And sometimes, you’re unable to help them. If that’s the case, then don’t make the ultimate mistake and stay in an unhealthy or dangerous relationship.
Kindness in giving creates love
Love and companionship are among the most important things in life. Relationships should bring joy. Yet, because we are human, we are bound to stumble here and there.
“Kindness in words creates confidence. Kindness in thinking creates profoundness. Kindness in giving creates love.” –Lao Tzu
Avoid the mistakes outlined above, and if your significant other does the same, your relationship should deepen and reward you with a lifetime of love and happiness.
Before you go
I’m John P. Weiss. I draw cartoons, paint, and write about life. Get on my free email list here for the latest cartoons and writing.
This post was previously published on Medium.
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Cartoon artwork by John P. Weiss