The #1 Key to Happy Relationships

I looked at the time. 6:13. My husband said he would be home by 6:00. The baby was crying, the toddler was pulling all the Tupperware out of the cupboard, the pork chops were cold, and I was ready to clock out.613 clock time

The front door opened. I stayed in the kitchen glaring at the pork chops. Brian came around the corner. “Hi honey.”

I was silent. I didn’t even look at him. Every minute feels like an hour when you have a baby and a toddler. So, he wasn’t 13 minutes late, he was 13 hours late.

“What’s wrong?” he asked.

“Nothing,” I said, still glaring at the pork chops.

He looked at the clock. “Sorry I’m late. I had to go back to the office for something I forgot.”

In my mind, I thought, “Whatever it was, it must have been more important than me.”

And then he answered, “You know that’s not true.”

Uh-oh. I said that out loud?

“Babe, can you please believe the best about me?”

I stopped short in my self-pity tracks. “What?”

“The best about me.”

We had only been married a few years then, and now we’ve been married 15. But it’s a lesson I’ve never forgotten. It applies to marriage, parenting, friendship, coworkers, even relatives.

The #1 key to happy relationships is:  Believe the Best.

It’s simple…and yet, terribly difficult. Difficult because we aren’t prone to believe the best. In fact, we’re prone to believe the worst.

Leadership coach Sabina Nawaz writes that we jump to conclusions because our powers of logic are “hijacked by our amygdala,” the part of our brain that triggers a fight or flight response when we feel threatened. (You can read her excellent article on Forbes here: https://onforb.es/1RIr9io)

So, when your spouse walks in late, or your teenager doesn’t call, or your boss asks your coworker to do the presentation instead of you, you tell yourself a worst-case-scenario story to protect your heart from what might happen next. And, as you communicate from this defensive position, you often end up sabotaging the connection you are desperately trying to preserve. Instead, Nawaz teaches, using your imagination to think of other possible stories helps you move “from feeling victimized to feeling empowered.”

The truth is, when you believe the best, you’re empowered to move towards connection.

Believing the best means that when your children act out, it’s not because they’re holy terrors destined for prison, it means they’re hungry or tired or hurt or scared.

Believing the best means when your friend doesn’t text you back right away, it’s not because the friend doesn’t care about you, it’s because she’s frantically treading water to keep from drowning in the craziness of her life.

Believing the best means when your coworker ignores you as he walks by your desk, it isn’t because he’s thinking of how to get you fired, it’s because he has a lot on his mind.

Believing the best gives you the freedom to ask curious questions to find out the truth, not ask loaded questions that assume the worst. It allows you to feel the kind of empathy that motivates compassionate statements, not judgmental statements.

And even when your curious questions reveal that someone truly doesn’t like you or is even outright hurtful, believing the best means it’s not because you’re defective, it’s because he or she is afraid of something. And sometimes that’s the best you can believe.

“Here’s what I went back for,” my husband said, as he set a small bag down on the counter.

I looked in the bag. My favorite salmon sushi roll sat waiting and delicious inside the bag.

Photo credit: Marius Fiskum

“You went back for this?”

“Yeah, I got it at lunch for you and put it in the fridge at work. But I forgot it when I left. You glad I went back now?”

I smiled sheepishly. “Yes. Thank you.”

Believe the best. Like me, you might be surprised at what you find. And, unlike me, you might be able to avoid eating my least favorite dessert: humble pie.

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