You probably know many of your car’s quirks: how it sounds when it’s running smoothly or rough, if it’s not aligned right, low on fuel or oil, if the plugs are clogged, or if your tires are just spinning and seem to have no traction. I’m not always good at keeping up to date with the maintenance of my car, and sometimes find that I rely on others to remember what is needed or to have them just do it for me. When that happens, I realize that I’ve become complacent about how my car runs. No matter how much I’d like to blame someone else, it’s my fault for not maintaining something that is critically important to my daily life. If my car is unable to move forward, it affects my ability to meet obligations and take care of myself. I now have to rely on others to interrupt their lives to take care of me and it’s likely they will become resentful at some point because of my negligence. If it happens with any frequency, they would be correct in assuming that I am not prioritizing this issue enough. After all, how hard can it be?
The warning signs in your relationship
In the same vein, I’ll bet you know when your relationship is running smoothly or is jolting along. Sometimes, when we’re running smoothly, we forget that maintenance is vital for our vehicle to keep going strong. It’s also helpful when you know some of the detours that lay ahead. Many people today use their cell phones to find out where the accidents, delays and construction areas are. Why wouldn’t you look for these signs in your relationship? Becoming aware means you are prepared and not always caught off-guard.
In our relationships, as with our vehicles, the longer we go without acknowledging there’s an issue, the more difficult it becomes to repair.
Without fuel and oil, your car is useless. The same is true in your relationship. Fuel, or (emotional energy) can be costly, but if you want to get from one place to another, you’ll find a way to get it. Going the cheap route may work for a time, but at some point, it will clog your system and be an even harder task to clean it out and start over. As is often the case, these breakdowns occur at the most inopportune times, never when you’re ready for them. Take the time and make the investment to use fresh, uncontaminated fuel.
If you’ve ever been the navigator in the car, you know that it can be an exercise in futility when the communication breaks down between the sender and receiver. It’s often interesting to change places and become the driver or the navigator and get a real sense of how the other person has been perceiving the same event. In theory, you both want to go in the same direction, but often get off track because you are not working together to get to your desired destination. The same is true in our relationships. We each think we know how best to give directions and get frustrated when the other person is not clear with theirs or doesn’t go in the direction we expect.
Maintenance for your relationship
As indispensable as cars are to modern life, fulfilling relationships are infinitely more important. Here are my take-home messages for relationship maintenance.
- Listen for a rough sounding engine, a.k.a. the heart of your relationship. If it sounds off, find out the cause and begin fixing it. You may have to do a lot of trouble-shooting. If it’s purring nicely, enjoy the ride, but remember you got that smooth ride from doing maintenance.
- Check your alignment. If you are pulling in opposition, or one of you feels like you’re doing all the work, you can get sidetracked by focusing only on the obvious symptom. Look for the cause of your misalignment, and work on getting that straightened out and shored up.
- Be prepared, and make sure you have the ability to brake, turn sharply, or go into reverse when unexpected obstacles present themselves.
- Take turns navigating so that you can understand how the other person sees the “road” up ahead and be open to alternative routes to your destination. Understand that your styles of communication often differ.
- Don’t be a back-seat driver. If you want to be a part of the planning, or have ideas about how your relationship vehicle can run more efficiently, sit in the front. Back-seat driving, interrogating or complaining usually gets you the opposite of what you want.
- Finally, drive your own car. This doesn’t mean always being the one in charge of the direction or destination in your relationship. It means being responsible for how reliable, safe, smooth and emotionally inviting your personal vehicle is.