How To Kill Relationships

By Rick Houcek

Did you know the divorce rate in America has exceeded 50% for decades?  Even worse, it exceeds 50% in second marriages too.  This suggests that we’re not learning our lessons and we’re repeating the same mistakes.

Look around you.  It’s not hard to find once-strong businesses or teams that used to dominate, and happy couples that you just knew would be together for life, who now struggle to win, can’t get along, don’t communicate, and are in jeopardy of break-up.

Why is it so difficult to keep relationships on sound footing and thriving?  Let’s discuss this.

The answers, frankly, are many and varied, and plentiful enough to keep therapists, clergy, life coaches, and business consultants gainfully employed to help those who seek counsel.

And it begs the question:  Is there one cause that stands above all of the rest? 

I think there is… and I’ve witnessed it firsthand too many times.

I’ve led almost 300 strategic planning retreats for aggressive leaders and teams… I’ve participated in more than 600, day-long CEO peer group meetings… I’ve coached dozens of CEO business colleagues through partnership troubles… and I’ve knocked back beers with too many friends who are trudging through rocky marriages, many teetering on divorce.

It’s clear to me that one reason – one behavior – does rise to the top in causing tragic breakups.

And it’s simply this… it’s the fear and unwillingness to talk about tough, uncomfortable, gnarly subjects that matter most – but might threaten the relationship – both in the early days and on an everyday basis as the relationship matures.

And examples of this abound.  Many business leaders, CEOs, vice presidents, managers, and group heads are apprehensive of establishing ground rules for acceptable group and employee behavior.  Or they do, but they don’t enforce them, and then they turn their backs on violators.  Or, they give them a free pass without discussion, or warning, or penalty.

Teams are actually no better.  Many are frightened to talk about the elephant in the room… uneasy that discussions will get ugly… fearful of confrontation… fearful of offending others or losing their job… so they fake it and remain nice.

And the unspoken problem gets worse.

Often, dating couples avoid critically important subjects before going to the altar.  Things like addictive behaviors, spending habits, ambition level, mistreatment of the other, fidelity, kids, parenting philosophies, what are your ‘must haves’, what are your ‘won’t tolerates’.

And then once legally married, they find out, “Well, gee we’re not in agreement.”  And now they are terrified to discuss differences, they’re ill-equipped to negotiate, and frankly, they are miserable living with the consequences.

So, what can you do?  Well, to put it in the current day vernacular, it’s time to grow a pair!  Put on your big girl pants!  Belly up to the bar!”

You’ve got to get over your uneasiness, stare down your fear of confrontation, and engage the difficult conversation.

If you’re lacking skills, seek them out and learn them (they exist), and master them.  No, they are not easy, but problems don’t solve themselves and it takes courageous adults to talk it through eyeball to eyeball.

For help, you can find a mentor or a support group.  You can attend seminars, or you can read books.  Two of my favorites are, How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie.  It’s been a worldwide best seller for decades.  And Fierce Conversations by Susan Scott.  Those are two brilliant books that come to mind, and frankly, if you just Google the subject matter, many books on this subject will come up, and if you buy any one and heed the advice, you will probably get great value.

Many years ago, my wife and I established what we call ‘The 24-Hour Rule’ to avoid the buildup of anger.  We’ve both been through divorces and we vowed we wouldn’t let it happen to us.  So we installed a preventive measure.

We agreed that if either one of us is upset with the other, we have 24 hours to get our act together and bring it up for discussion – with dignity, not anger – or we forfeit the right to be mad and throw it in the other’s face ever again.  We agreed that it’s not fair holding it in, storing it up, and then dumping 6 months of grievances in your lap all at once.

And when we first did this, yes, it was scary.  But frankly, not long after, we got so comfortable with it that we effortlessly began doing it in 24 seconds, not 24 hours.  We didn’t need the full time – we discussed it in the moment when it happened – and we always had the discussion respectfully.

The result:  no silent stewing, no escalating tempers, no negative baggage, and no fights.  And I wouldn’t change it for the world… and neither would my wife.

And here’s the best news – we’re not special, we’re not talented, we’re not anymore gifted than anyone else.  If we can do it, so can you.

Life is a team sport. In business, in partnerships, in marriages, in friendships, in everything.  And as such, the strength of your relationships can make or break you.

So, my suggestion is… you need to take action so this one devastating behavior – the unwillingness to openly discuss uncomfortable subjects – which is responsible for so much grief and agony – does not derail your relationships.


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