Why Couples Argue… Relationship Gears are Clashing!

By Susan Ford Collins

Happiness and satisfaction, as well as upset and disappointment, are sourced in something very few people understand… the Three Gears of Relationship!

Like cars, romances start in 1st Gear. Connecting with someone new is scary. You don’t know that person’s rules yet… his or her rights and wrongs, goods and bads, have tos and musts, preferences and dreams. You slowly get to know each other, spending hours together learning what each of you likes and dislikes, wants and doesn’t want so hopefully you will be liked or even loved. And your relationship will last.

Years later happy couples look back to 1st Gear nostalgically…“Honey, do you remember when we first met, when we talked half the night and spent all our free time together.” They keep pictures of their precious 1st Gear startup memories in scrapbooks or on their computer screens.

When the relationship shifts into 2nd Gear, things speed up. You’ve been obsessed with each other for months. Your friends have been asking whether you’ve fallen off the earth or moved out of town. But all that initial time and conversation was well worth it! You are happy together, compatible and in sync. Now it’s time to de-focus on each other and re-focus on the rest of your lives. Time to straighten up your homes, reconnect with friends, catch up on your workload, finish your now-dusty sales proposal or mid-year review. (Thank heavens relationships don’t stay in 1st Gear forever. We’d never get anything else done!) In 2nd Gear it's more-better-faster and more-better-faster still. Productive, efficient, competitive, you work longer and harder to afford your upcoming wedding or trip, to establish your home, to afford children, fund IRAs or 401Ks, buy stocks and put aside money for college or retirement. Wow, you’re accomplishing so much together!

Well, not really together. Now you're spending more and more time apart… living in different worlds, roommates passing in the night, picking up kids from school, babysitting so one or the other can attend a meeting or take a client to dinner. You continue moving farther and farther apart, spending less and less time in the same place at the same time.

Until Boom! You hit a shifting point. That 1st Gear feeling is gone! Do you love each other anymore? Do you even like each other? (Ironic, isn’t it, since all relationships shift up and down through these three gears? So, even if you start over with someone new, sooner and later you’ll be accelerating ahead in 2nd Gear in that relationship, too.)

What do you do now? Do you stay in the relationship the way it is and sink into anger or depression? Do you separate and start again with someone else? Or do you shift into 3rd Gear and get creative together? Honey, I do love you. What can we do to re-new our relationship? To make time to talk again, to get to know each other again, to plan and dream again? Maybe we need counseling?

Oversimplified but nevertheless true. Let’s look at an overview:

1st Gear is for starting anything new.

2nd Gear is for doing more-better-faster, for accelerating into efficiency and productivity.

3rd Gear is for dreaming, innovating and renewing, for becoming creative.

In every relationship, understanding the gears matters! Sometimes you’ll be in the same gear at the same time… learning together, producing together. or creating together. But sometimes you won't, and there'll be Mis-Gear-Matches... or upsets. Like when you’ve slowed your energy down to a quiet purr and finally gotten your baby off to sleep and your husband or wife rushes in (still in high 2nd Gear from his or her work or workout) and wakes up your sleeping child. Arggg!

Special note... upsets between you and your spouse frequently occur when you’re in 2nd Gear and your kids are in 1st Gear. When six-year-old Sally needs you to slow down and listen to the upset she had with a friend who didn't speak to her on the playground. Or three-year-old Tom’s frustration over not being able to fit his puzzle together. Or thirteen-year-old Harry who has just come up with a new way to run your business. Keep in mind, his creativity might even work!

Here's an important heads up... don’t expect your kids to shift gears. The responsibility for gearing up, or down, is always on you! That's what makes parenting even more gear-challenging than romance and work.

Slowing down and gearing down is challenging in today's more-better-faster 2nd Gear world. It takes high intention and tremendous caring to manage the 2nd Gear pressures Corporate America exerts on us, to constantly push longer and harder, to produce more quantity and quality and profits, to stay revved up day after day, quarter after quarter... not just 9 to 5 but 24/7!

Remember, to avoid arguments and disappointments, it’s important to truthfully and sensitively acknowledge what you can’t do, or haven't done, and arrange a time when you can do it. “Honey, I know you want me to slow down and talk right now. I know you asked me yesterday and I was busy then too. But I promise I’ll make time this weekend." Yes, that's a great start! But be sure you keep your word… or the upset will get worse. Much worse! And you won't be believed next time you promise anything else!

(c) Susan Ford Collins. For permission to use this article, email susanfordcollins@msn.com

* For more on Success Skill 2, Shifting Gears, read The Joy of Success, Our Children Are Watching or Success Has Gears.

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