“What Can I Do to Help?”

Anyone who has been in a relationship for a few years or more has run into the EWWBIYWJDTMW (Everything Would Work Better if You Would Just Do Things My Way) barrier. In our minds, the way we do things is the “right” way to do it. Just take for example the unending battle over whether the toilet paper should hang over or under. (My opinion: always under. Here’s why—if you have cats that like to play with toilet paper and you’ve hung it so that it goes over the top, you will come home to an enormous (and useless) pile of toilet paper on the floor with a cat sitting on top of it.)

Years ago when my best friend and I were roommates in our first apartment, we were putting all our combined kitchen ware away. We got into an argument about which cabinet the dishes should go into; left or right of the sink? I argued for the left, she for the right. After barking at each other for a few minutes, we realized that we were only trying to duplicate where dishes were in the houses in which we were raised! My mom put hers on the left side; her mom put hers on the right side.

Realizing this, we both burst into laughter over the absurdity of it all. “We can put our dishes on the stove if we want to!” “We can put our dishes IN the stove if we want to!” And you know what? Today we are still best friends (and now sisters-in-law; we married brothers), and neither of us remember where we put the dang dishes!

So, how do we make peace with each other’s different ways of doing things? Well, talking about the issue is a good start. Trust me, I have had many moments of mass stupidity where I acted like a perfect ass about trivial things. I felt so strongly that I was right and he (the Crankee Yankee) was wrong that I made things worse than better. It took me much too long to realize that it doesn’t matter whose way is right as long as the decision is the best one for everyone.

This is how my parents ran their marriage and their two businesses. If an issue came up that needed addressing, they put their heads together to find a solution. It didn’t really matter who came up with it; what mattered was it was the best solution. These days this harmony what I strive for; a meeting of the minds. Not only does it calm the waters, but it is a gift to each other and the relationship—you have come to this decision in agreement and you can now go forward.

Another thing I’ve learned over time is this phrase: “How can I help?” This is a good way for both parties to feel free to offer ideas and opinions. Here’s one we recently worked through concerning our garden this year. We have eight raised beds, and about half our seedlings are in the ground. We have a rectangular bed on the other side of our driveway that is right beside our neighbor’s fence. We previously grew garlic in it, but we wanted to try corn this year, and that plot seemed perfect.

However, in speaking with the neighbor who owns the fence, she said that she was concerned that the corn, when full-grown, might block her view backing out of her driveway. Good point! So we conceded and will plant the corn in one of the raised beds, and plant sweet potatoes in the rectangular plot. Easy-peasy, done and done.

The art of compromise is only as good as the ears that listen to it! So these days, before I grit my teeth, I say, “How can I help?”

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