You never know who you’re going to meet at airports. Today I was supposed to leave on a 5:20 flight from Chicago to Los Angeles. We left at roughly 8:30. Normally this would have bothered me, but I ended up having an amazing conversation with a priest who was also on the flight.
I’m not what you’d call a spiritual person. I’ve never been baptized, but I was once married in a Catholic Church. Crazy, I know. Anyways, Fr. Alex was a young guy and we hit it off from the beginning. How could I not, the guy was on Facebook and inquired about my iPad. We got to talking and covered a lot of ground. From why he became a priest to why I love interactive marketing and his love of the Red Sox to my interest in photography.
But, what we spent a lot of time discussing was the “modern relationship” – as he termed it – and why so many relationships fail. We got on this subject because I had asked what he spent the most amount of time dealing with in his parish…which was, you got it, the modern relationship. In short, he’s seen a lot for a guy who’s been doing this for only roughly 6 years. He offered me the following advice and insight:
1. As a society we throw in the towel too quickly because we are impatient and expect instant change.
2. If couples spent as much time talking about their issues with each other as did with their friends and family, the issues would be fixed quicker.
3. The first question he asks is “what would make you happy?” Then he works back from there to help build a path for getting to what makes them happy.
4. We have too many distractions that allow us to ignore the problems. For example, cell phones, the internet, TiVo, video games, etc. He preaches the idea of having 1 hour every day where you simply talk with each other.
5. Answers to problems don’t come in the form of pills, a bottle, the bed of someone else (I guess I shouldn’t be surprised with this one, but instead of running toward your current relationship partner, many will run to an old flame or a random one. I see this on facebook all the time. The first thing someone does is friend an old flame.). They also don’t come from your support network (see #2); in fact our traditional support network. often gives us poor advice in an effort to make us feel better. Answers come from an investment in time and effort.
6. Text messages are not a substitute for real conversation. He talked about how couples might text “I love you” instead of simply picking up the phone.
7. He explains to people that you must be prepared to make mistakes and fail. It’s through continued efforts that you start to make real progress.
8. Don’t assume. To which I said right because it makes an ass out of u and me. He laughed. Good sense of humor. Don’t assume they know you care. Don’t assume everything is fine. Don’t assume they intentionally tried to hurt you.
9. Little things matter. It is the every day things that provide continuity and remind us that we are loved.
10. Too often we talk around a problem, instead of getting to the core. He explained a situation where a husband felt slighted because his wife was never home (she worked 2 jobs). Now, she felt he didn’t appreciate her efforts to help support the family financially. The real issue wasn’t the hours being worked, the real issue is he never thanked her for the sacrifices she was making and she never told him she would much rather be home with him than at work. Simple, right?
11. Material things do not solve problems, they actually escalate them because we feel guilty discussing a problem if we have been offered a gift. Many people buy gifts thinking it’s a great way to apologize, but in reality it is a defense mechanism designed to avoid the real tough conversations.
12. Forgive and forget often/don’t hold grudges. When hurt, people will do and say things they don’t mean. We lash out because we are wounded. Unfortunately, the recipient of that behavior rarely is willing to forgive (when the person is genuinely contrite) and instead holds on to these situations, aggregates them, which amplifies future situations. If you will, we roll the hurt forward which makes the next time we are hurt 2x as bad. I saw this same approach on an episode of Man vs Food, where the hot sauce from previous batches was combined with future batches, making the future batches hotter.
13. Never go to bed angry. Your head should never hit the pillow without saying what should be said.
14. It’s never too late to change your mind, apologize or fix something. He said many people believe that if too much time has passed they shouldn’t, can’t, or won’t do the right thing. This was an interesting one because what he was getting at was that time doesn’t heal all wounds like we think it does. Time is fuel being poured on a fire for most people. The more time that lapses, the less likely we are to do what is right. We become more fearful and get caught up by our own momentum forward, that we don’t realize it’s actually very easy to reverse course.
15. Stubbornness will eventually lead to loneliness. Or as he put it, would you really want to see your former better half with someone else, knowing you could still be together had you just said, “sorry?”
Relationships, casual and formal, are complex. There aren’t shortcuts to making a relationship work and like Fr. Alex stated to me, relationships are a constant work in progress, because we are people who are constantly evolving.
So, I figured since we had hit it off so well I’d tell him about my relationship problems and see what he thought. He said a lot…too much for this novel of a post. But, there was one thing he shared with me that I wanted to pass on, because it think it’s applicable to the masses:
You can not judge the next relationship by the previous one, it’s not fair to you, the previous person or the new person. Instead, you must remember that each relationship is unique and should be treated as such. That said, there is one one constant – time is not finite, you never know when your time is up, treat each day as if tomorrow will not come.
While the focus of our conversation was on personal relationships, I think all of his wisdom is applicable to professional ones as well
Well, when I woke up this morning I certainly didn’t think I’d be having a marathon chat with a priest. But, life gives you little surprises like that.
I appreciate Fr. Alex letting me take notes. About 20 minutes into our conversation I asked him if it would be ok and there was no hesitancy in his response.
At the end of our conversation, just like any great marketer, he pulled the hard close and said I should swing by his church on Sunday. Not sure that’s going to happen, but you never know.