My Sanity-Checklist for Relationships

Anthony Repetto
10 min readDec 7, 2022

~ easy points to ensure relationships as good as the best so far ~

Starting simply:

Mending

The most important commitment of the relationship is NOT “staying together” — instead, it’s “IF we break apart, we mend the hurt with each other before we go.” We don’t leave each other with a ghost of vengeance or silenced feelings. Without that commitment, we breed enemies in every love, our temporary attractions becoming enduring pain and hate. Mending does NOT mean allowing bad behavior to continue, or letting one side grandstand and accuse, or becoming a slave to the other’s approval, or even forgiveness for harms.

Mending hurt means relating to what they feel, both in turn, and showing that you’ve heard them by expressing it back, which gives them a chance to correct any misunderstandings. It’s about both sides being heard. What’s left after that is the lesson, the resolve, the understanding, without so much of the venom or remorse in time.

The insistence to avoid mending, so popular, is from a fear of the pain and anger that come to the *surface* during that mending process. In particular, we have few guarantees that the other person will do the right thing, so it seems easier and safer to walk away without resolution. That pattern creates an ease of giving-up; “I’m justified to break commitments, if I don’t like them any more.” That’s probably the best next topic:

Commitment

If your alarm goes off at 4am, and you don’t *feel* like getting out of bed to do what you said you would, that bad feeling does not justify *breaking* the commitment. The entire purpose of a promise is to say “I WILL do this, especially if I DON’T feel like it.” Yet, the common culture claims that it can break any commitment which fails to suit them, because “it’s just not working for me.”

The excuses used to break commitments come in two flavors: Reasons & Feelings. People argue over which of these two flavors of excuse are the ‘real’ ones, or the ‘right’ ones, but they usually just choose the one that is ‘opposite’ the arguments they face. Let’s look at some examples:

Alarm, 4am: “My boss said that the company’s bottom line… blah blah, numbers, reasons! I should be listening to my feelings, instead, because those are the opposite of reasons. I win!”

vs.

Alarm, 4am: “My wife told me how much this matters to her, and how she would feel about it if I don’t… but at this time, no stores are even open, so I’d be driving extra far, and it’s stupidly cold, so the car needs to warm up, and that means I have to get gas… see! I have all these REASONS against those FEELINGS, and reasons are right, so I win!”

In each case, the person looks for an excuse out of their commitment. Yet, when the argument for *keeping* the commitment was a Reason, then the excuse was a Feeling! And, when the argument for *keeping* the commitment was a Feeling, then the excuse was a Reason! THAT is why we can never agree on whether to listen to Reasons or Feelings — we need BOTH for our excuses!

What’s the alternative to this? Not Reasons, Not Feelings — instead, one’s own Will, a Commitment. How does that play-out though? It relies upon two ideas that got *hidden* by Reasons & Feelings, and so we forgot that they were even options: Reasoning and Compassion.

We are NOT going to pick “Reasoning OR Compassion,” or swap between them, or give “half-and-half.” Instead, we use 100% Reasoning AND 100% Compassion. And, neither Reasoning nor Compassion is ever to be used as an excuse to get out of a commitment! Instead, here is how it unfolds, combining ALL of it 100%:

I think of people, however far, who are suffering. I imagine ‘being in their shoes’ — literally closing my eyes, imagining that my body is there, in theirs, and what happens to them is in my skin and my chest. That is called ‘affective empathy’ — where you recall the sorts of emotions (never exactly what they feel, but kinda close) that others experience, to relate to them. That’s the first step, with Compassion.

With that Compassion, we are motivated to DO SOMETHING! That fire to act is our Will, and it drives our Commitment: we promise to help those people.

Finally, if we are serious about making sure help happens, then we want to be practical and realistic in our operations, to ensure the best chance of success. That’s Reasoning! So: 100% Reasoning, 100% Compassion, 100% Commitment, no excuses in sight.

“But how do I get out of my promises?”

You have to re-negotiate. And, the proper format is explicitly ‘Direct, Multi-Lateral Communication’ as opposed to ‘Indirect, Unilateral’. That means you don’t ‘make my own choice, in secret, and just act upon it;’ instead, you voice your thoughts, concerns and intentions, listen to theirs, and then work together to find an option that meets both of your concerns as best as possible. That’s the re-negotiated commitment, the commitment that works better, considering changes; it’s NOT the ‘end’ of commitment.

The times where commitments CAN be broken — straight away!— are a result of abuse or serious breach by the other party. If they refuse to make right, they can’t hold you to your own side of the commitment. You DO have to give them the chance to make right, however — if you keep an issue secret, you can’t use that to break your side at your own convenience; that’s clearly a tactic. That’s a good segue into an aspect of communication…

Tactics

The use of tactics is a demonstration of ‘bad-faith argument’ and a bully. No polite tone absolves a person of bully-tactics; and the ones who insist that their ‘polite tone prevents me from being a bully’ are exactly the most seasoned bullies. The most common tactic in use, and the excuse-follow-up, are about interruptions. “Well, people interrupt in fun, chatty conversations, too, so you have to let me interrupt you repeatedly, to silence you.”

When slow-mo video was assessed, filming people in fun, engaging conversations as opposed to painful arguments in close relationships, they spotted a clear difference between the *way* interruptions happened:

The Chatty Interruption: They said something that gave you an idea, and you want to mention this idea, to *add-to* the conversation. You look toward that person, and in a fraction of a second you will nod, lean, motion with a hand, or make an ‘O’ with your mouth and eyes — SOME signal happens, to tell the speaker “Oh, hey, I have something to *add* to the conversation!” Once they see your micro-expression or gesture, they make their own signal back! It’s a ‘Consensual’ interruption, and the goal is to *add-to* the conversation. That’s when you interrupt, chatty and fun.

The Angry Interruption: They said something that you *disagree* with! You don’t want them to say it, because you think they’re wrong. So, while they’re in the MIDDLE of what they are saying, and without warning or permission, you start to talk *OVER* them. If they keep talking, you keep talking even LOUDER. You are trying to SILENCE them. That is abuse. That abuser tries to get away with this abuse by claiming “it’s just like fun, chatty interruptions, so you have to let me silence you.” Only a potato falls for that excuse.

In reality: you need to flip a coin, and take turns. Both sides get a whole turn. You have a part to play as active listener and acknowledger, as well as sharing fully and emoting. That’s a good next topic:

Emoting

In many tribal cultures, they do something radically different than here: *everyone* shows *all* their feelings! So, that wise woman or shaman, revered and respected, might spend twenty minutes shouting at the Gods and spitting because they bumped their toe and spilled their favorite drink. That doesn’t make them “an angry person” — because they were also laughing, crying, relating to everyone elses’ feelings, in full spectrum of emotions.

Here in polite consumer civilization, instead, we bottle everything up to keep a respectable, calm façade. So, the ONLY emotions that end-up bursting-out are the ones that have bubbled and festered and spewed forth uncontrollably! We look at that outburst, or the overwhelming sadness, and we label that person “the angry one” or “the sad one” because THAT was the only emotion of theirs we saw!

And, because that emotion was locked away or disregarded, when it finally does erupt, it’s often destructive or painful, or even just awkward — and so we shun the emotions themselves! “ONLY Happy is a ‘positive’ emotion, all others are ‘negative’ and should be avoided or gotten-rid-of.”

Wait! What? If I’m using ‘Happy’ as my measuring-stick, and I measure Joy, that measuring-stick says “Wow, Joy is a LOT of Happy, so it’s really *positive* — get more Joy!” And, when we go to measure Sadness using ‘Happy’ as our measuring-stick — no surprise, Sad is NOT Happy, so the Happy-stick measures Sadness as ‘negative’ and says “Oh, avoid Sad, and stop it whenever you can! Never, never, never sad…” Similarly, Anger and Regret and Confusion and… heck! ALL the other emotions measure as ‘negative’ when you use the Happy-Stick to measure them, because ALL of the emotions are *different* from each other!

What if you used a different measuring-stick? If your stick was ‘Sad’, then Anger would look negative, because it’s not Sad, and so would Confusion, because it’s not Sad… *Whichever* emotion you pick to use as your measuring-stick, then ALL the other emotions suddenly look ‘negative’! They’re just *all* different. It’s like measuring all the colors in a rainbow, by using ONE of the colors as your measuring-stick: “Oh, I’m using green to measure, so yellow is negative, and red is negative, and blue is negative…. they’re ALL negative, except green!” “Oh, I use purple to measure, so orange is negative, blue is negative, brown is negative…”

In reality, all the emotions exist because they have a ROLE to serve in our lives, like the weather. We have sunny days, to help us flower, and stormy days, to feed our roots! We can’t EXIST if we cut-out ANY of the emotions!

So, when you’re feeling an emotion that’s ‘not Happy, so it’s negative’ — wait. What ROLE does it serve, when it is properly heard? Regret helps me to see when I stepped away from my Higher Self; it helps motivate me to do right, the next time, and to mend the harm I caused. Anger protects me — rightly! — from tyranny and abuse! Grief is when I touch the place you used to be, to be close to your memory. Emotions are organs of our body; some fart, some pinch sore, and you can’t get rid of any of them!

But, people still do horrible stuff, when they’re feeling all that tumult and letting it out… There is a stark difference here, between *emoting* in your tone and gesture, compared to punching a wall. No emotion forces a body to act in a specific way; reflexes aren’t so complex. We *train* for them. And, if someone is abusive or destructive during their moments of emotion, that is on them, NOT their feelings. Self-control isn’t just a virtue; it’s a restraint. If I become a werewolf, I should be chained. If I claim that ‘an emotion overwhelms my willpower, to act in harm,’ then society must overwhelm me.

Finally, the most important part of emoting: it gives the other person a chance to *relate* to you! If you hide emotions, then the other person only hears flat words, and only vague stirrings-of-feeling can reciprocate.

Relatedness…

This is the reason to have a relationship. I wake up, I think of you, and I feel a tug: “I want to understand what their life has felt like…” That’s who I seek to be in a relationship with, to relate to their life-feeling and view.

That’s not fun, because most of our lives aren’t so blissful and #blessed. It’s a struggle, too, trying to understand — it requires mental and emotional effort, and we aren’t constantly able to do that. Yet that role for each other: listening and imagining standing there in the other’s shoes, is the Communion of every religion and sports team and tribal dance. We lost so much of it, separated and divisive today, that we seek to have ALL of it filled in one package — when we hope that our relationships will also be a source of fun.

“I/Thou” and “I/It” were the two ways of relating to people identified by Martin Buber in the 50s, when he was trying to understand what allowed the atrocities of the Nazis. When we treat the other person as an “It”, that means we treat them as ‘a means to our own ends, as a function, a source of what we want for our own self, without regarding their feelings.’ The Nazis were ready to discard the people they deemed “worthless”. A similar tone echoes when one lover says to the other “I’m leaving, because I’m not getting what I wanted OUT of this relationship.” That’s the “It” way of treating a relationship — “I should get what I want OUT of you, or I throw you away.”

Buber’s work was the foundation for our modern jargon, ‘objectification’. The most commonly discussed objectification is *sexual* objectification, which is still immensely oppressive. The other, more common objectification is when people seek a relationship as a ‘source of fun for me’, to ‘get what I want OUT of it’. Relationships are to relate to the other person, both of us, and that isn’t fun.

“Oh, if you’re not having a good time, then let’s just hang-out when you’re ready to have FUN!” Decades ago, that attitude was called a ‘fair-weather friend’, who only wanted your company if it gave them pleasure. That makes you a ‘function’ that serves them; if you fail to serve them, you are discarded or avoided. I’m sure you can think of a few times like that. Relationships require the commitment to listen, emote, and relate, even when it’s hard and no one wants to do it, because it’s hard and so few do it.

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