There’s a guy who used to be my former supervisor in the Army that I had a love/hate relationship with. We’re best friends now and the “hate” just came because he kept pushing me out of my comfort zone for my personal growth, for my professional growth, and because it was his responsibility both as my boss and as a friend and mentor.
I was a non-commissioned officer (NCO) in the Army, which meant that I was both a tactical and technical leader of young soldiers and young men and women. These people didn’t just need to be trained in soldier skills, they needed to be trained in basic life skills; balancing a check-book, shaving, marital/relationship skills, parenting, etc. It was a daunting task.
As an NCO, one of my primary obligations was to enforce standards. The guy I started this post off talking about used to have this saying: “If you see a violation of the standards and do nothing to correct it, you’ve just set a new standard.” To this day, even though I’m not longer in the military, I still hear his voice in my head saying that damned thing. And it’s always when I least want to make a correction. I can’t tell you how many times in the Army I just wanted to walk along, conflict free. I didn’t want to make an on-the-spot correction. Especially to a peer or superior. Or someone else’s troop. I just wanted to walk along, lost in my thoughts or enjoying the sun on my face, or hurrying out of the rain, or anything but noticing and correcting an infraction. But that was the job, and as long as I was taking the paycheck…
Consistency is what it was all about. And the more I did it, the more my soldiers actually appreciated me. When I made a correction, I was always sure I was 100% right according the regulations. And so my soldiers knew if they followed the regs, they were always good. And if they didn’t, there weren’t as many arguments as I would’ve expected. They knew when they were wrong. The NCOs that had problems were the ones who were lax one day, then hard-asses the next. The ones who wanted to be “one-of-the-guys” but then yelled when they were having a bad day, or when they got yelled at because one of their soldiers was in the wrong.
I’ve carried that over into parenting and into my civilian leadership roles. And kids and employees both like knowing that they can count on me. That they know where the boundaries are, and know that my support for them will always be there as long as they weren’t being stupid.
Relationships are kind of like that, both friendships and romantic. And it’s tough and a lot of pressure to maintain that consistency. Obviously it’s not about enforcing rules or standards. But there definitely are expectations of behavior. When I started therapy, my counselor recommended that I get ready to lose some friends. I was going to change, my behavior was going to change and my friends had come to expect something from me. And when I changed that, it was going to change their worlds and they weren’t going to be getting what they wanted or needed and come to expect from me. Fortunately, things worked out a lot better than that for me. I already knew who was hanging out with me just because they were using me for something and who was sincere. So there were no big surprises.
J and I are coming up on 5 months now. She’s had an incredibly rough go so far. And those terrible experiences have left scars. She’s done a lot of therapy and a lot of work and it shows, but… it’s a lot to overcome. We’ve had a lot of issues in such a short time, which hasn’t been all bad. It’s caused us to really define how we’re going to be in this relationship, how we’re going to communicate and work through things. It’s also put me into a little bit of a box, behavior wise.
She’s pushed me a lot. She admits it. Fear of happiness has caused her to over-react to certain things, to throw up walls. And I’ve just been patient and taken a lot without getting defensive or over-reacting in order to break through those walls. And that’s been good. In a lot of ways. I’ve learned a lot from it. There’s been some much needed growing-up happening. But… it’s kind of expected now. I’m supposed to be the calm, level-headed one. She over-reacts and I talk her off the ledge. And I don’t want to paint her out to be too evil or crazy here. There’ve been some posts where I haven’t followed up with the happy ending and details on the extenuating circumstances that came out later. Her reactions are settling down a lot. As she’s getting comfortable with me and tackling her fears head on, she’s gaining control over each of them, and they’re influencing her behavior less and less.
When I started writing this, I thought it was going to end up taking the form of a complaint. I thought subconsciously I might’ve wanted to gripe about not being being able to get defensive when attacked, having to swallow my pride sometimes, resist my urge to be the one that gets to fly off the handle from time to time and be a little irrational myself. I’m not saying I sat down with a rant in mind, but when I thought about writing about having to have consistent behavior, I think my initial reaction was that it was going to end up with me complaining. But I sat down and just let it flow over the course of a couple of days. And I’ve got to say, I was a little surprised that isn’t the direction it took. Instead, I find myself really comfortable in how our relationship is forming.
I like that I’m finding healthier ways to react to someone that I care about expressing their concerns. That I’m able to hear them talk without immediately feeling the need to get defensive because I’m hurt and scared that they’re going to take their love away from me, that I’m going to feel un-lovable again. Or that I CAN be scared, but still face it instead of trying to misdirect it or hide from it. For several years I hid from carrying the weight and responsibility of a relationship, and now I find myself happy to take that on as well.