One day while in my car, I started thinking about the similarities of driving a vehicle and the dynamics of our relationships. They may seem unrelated, but I think laying it out will make as much sense now as it did when it was floating around in my head. Work with me on this and take these analogies into consideration. It’s rather long, but I hope you take the time to read it all, and see where you might need to make some changes.
You probably know many of the quirks in your car: how it sounds when it’s running smoothly or rough; if it’s out of alignment; if it’s low on fuel or oil. There are definitely some clear signs when you’re not getting good gas mileage or if your tires are spinning and seem to have no traction.
I’m not always good at taking care of the needed maintenance of my car and find sometimes that I rely on others to remember what is needed or to do it for me. I’ve realized when that happens that I’ve become complacent about how my car runs, and if it stops running, that will be on me.
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, the rest of my obligations or needs might be delayed. I may 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 making this an important part of my regular routine. After all, how hard can it be?
How well is your vehicle running?
I’ll bet you know when your relationship is running smoothly or is jolting along through that rough section, so rough you wonder why you’re there at all and maybe why you didn’t take another route. Sometimes when we’re running smoothly, we forget that maintenance is vital for our vehicle (relationship) to keep going strong.
It’s also helpful when you know some of the detours that lay ahead. Many people today use their cells 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.
Too many rough sections and you feel like you’re out of alignment. It can be frightening to feel that shimmy or pulling to one side or the other and wonder if you’ll ever have that smooth and safe ride again. Do you get re-aligned or do you ignore it until you’ve just become used to it? Like anything else, avoidance or a lack of concern or effort eventually shows up in the deterioration of your “vehicle”. The longer it goes without at least acknowledgment that there’s an issue, the more difficult it becomes to repair.
Having the right fuel
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, right? Going the cheap or too easy route may work for a time, but at some point, it will clog your system and be a 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.
It would be helpful if you examine whether some of these contaminants may be coming from family or friends. We are so impacted by those around us, the media, and sometimes our own selfishness that we may not see that this slowly contributes to the building up of emotional sludge. Maybe it’s time for a super systems cleaner. This effort is often a slow process and you need to be careful about which additives you use.
Make sure your relationship is in good shape
How about those tires? I’d like to say that we are all on top of keeping this a part of our regular maintenance, but the reality is that some of us wait until the tire either blows up or flops around in pieces and makes a mess for others to pick up.
Ignoring when your relationship is running on bare treads or spinning uselessly, never gaining traction, can raise the frustration and danger level significantly. Who’s responsible for kicking the tires, checking that you have enough air in them and that the tread will aggressively hold you on the road? Yup, you, again.
Communication is key
If you’ve ever been the navigator in the car you know that it can be an exercise in futility and frustration when the communication breaks down between the sender and receiver. (Why can’t you just follow these simple directions? Why can’t you be more specific and tell me before I’ve taken a wrong turn? Why won’t you just ask for directions?)
It’s often interesting to change places and become the driver or navigator and get a real sense of how the other person has been perceiving the same event. You both, in theory, want to go in the same direction, but often get off track because you are not working together to communicate how to look at and consider the different ways 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.
If you feel that you could use help and guidance in working on your relationship, don’t hesitate to reach out to me.
Maintenance for your relationship
- Listen for a rough sounding engine, i.e. the heart of your relationship. If it sounds “off”, find the cause and begin fixing it. You may have to do a lot of troubleshooting. If it is the definition of smooth itself, enjoy the ride, but remember that 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 side-tracked by focusing only on the obvious symptom. Look for the cause of your misalignment and work on getting that straightened out and shored up.
- Make sure your fuel and all fluids are of the best quality, frequently checked, and always topped off. This includes compliments, encouragement, affirmations, sharing, and a dedication to sincere, honest, and helpful communication.
- Get good tires that can help you move forward, reverse if necessary, and brake on a dime if danger is ahead. Preparing yourself for possibilities can keep you safely moving forward and staying on the road.
- Take turns navigating so that you can better understand how the other person sees the road up ahead and be open to alternative routes to your destination. Work on accepting 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.