Human beings live in closer psychological proximity than any other species. I can’t emphasize this point enough, because it explains a ton! It is one reason we can so easily enjoy our relationships as well as being so easily disrupted by them.
When we are disrupted by our relationships and they become conflictual, enter stage right the predictable process of attempting to control one another. We try to control the other in some way so that we don’t end up with the feelings that we don’t like. It can be so quick to do this that we may even call it an automatic reaction (unless we can observe it). However, the strategy is doomed to fail from the beginning. Consider what the great family therapist Dr. Edwin Friedman observed and see if he’s got it right, “How little control we have over the way we control others.” Are we humans not slow to learn this?
The only control that has a chance of succeeding is self-control (not the words we like hearing very often I know). It is what we truly have in our jurisdiction to control. Despite our inherent difficulty in controlling ourselves (especially with the fact that we live in extremely close psychological proximity to one another), anyone who has ever gained greater experience in doing it will tell us it is well worth the effort!
Ironically, when we begin to master self-control to a greater degree, significant others begin thanking us for our self-control in various ways rather than attempting to control us in return (or distance). We will most likely end up with not only a content self, but harmonious relationships as well!
As I ran a Tough Mudder in Vermont this past weekend, I learned that self-control in consistently training pays off. I had a blast running through 10 miles of mud, trudging up steep hills, and traversing crazy obstacles. I never imagined in a million years that I would enjoy the madness. It was a tremendous feeling of accomplishment. The same goes for relationships. In the mix of living in crazily close psychological proximity to one another, self-control is what buffers the raw emotionality (madness) that can occur between us in our close quarter living. Despite it being incredibly difficult to do, the tremendous feeling of accomplishment of mastering self-control is a fantastic payoff. It is an incredibly rewarding feeling. But maybe more importantly than everything else, we may have found the true pathway to relationship satisfaction once and for all!