Wednesday, January 11, 2012

This Relationship Corner: Debug Yourself

Microsoft launched Windows Vista with great fanfare. Based on the general reviews, it was too much fanfare. Users complained that the new operating system had issues, from taking too much memory to general compatibility issues with all their old programs. What was supposed to be revolutionary turned into a big mess.

Microsoft responded by releasing patch after patch for Vista. They didn't change Vista into another operating system all together, but rather they worked to make Vista the best version of itself possible. It wasn't Windows XP. It wasn't Windows 7. It was still Vista, but a version of Vista that people actually wanted.

What if Microsoft hadn't responded so well. What if their response was "Vista isn't going to change and you all need to accept it for what it is." What if they decided to stick with Vista forever and never update or improve again? That would be a terrible example of customer service. You'd see a lot of people defect from using any Microsoft product, opting for a company open to improving their product for the best experience possible.

Yet when it comes to problems in our relationships, we often have the "I'm not going to change and you have to live with it" attitude, and just as it wouldn't work for a major company, it doesn't work for us. Like Vista, we've all got our share of glitches and bugs, and if we want our relationships to have the best user experience, we need to learn how to debug ourselves.

I've heard countless people talk about wanting to meet someone who "likes me for me" and then wonder why no one is interested in dating them long term. These folks haven't figured out the difference between becoming someone you aren't and being the best version of yourself you can be. I'm not saying you should change into a completely new program, but I am saying that if you want to be successful in relationships, you need to debug yourself.

Before I go any further, I need to address the difference between correcting a fault (debugging) and changing into someone you're not. This is a tricky process, because the temptation is to act like every complaint is an unreasonable request to change. Part of negotiating the difference is understanding who you are and what you stand for. It's also about knowing what it will take to be a better person and be the best partner in a relationship you can be.

When it comes to an unrealistic expectations or requests, you have to ask whether the request will fundamentally change who you are, or if it's about refining yourself. For example, if you are a vegetarian and your partner demands you start eating meat, that would be a request to change your fundamental being. However, if you are asked to not pitch a hissy fit at Thanksgiving because other people want to eat Turkey, that's a bug report. You aren't asked to change your values, just not to behave terribly. I'll look at more unrealistic expectations in a future column, but for now, let's look at the bugs that can, and should, be fixed.

No one is perfect, and just as we'd want our partner to iron out any of their problems, we too need to work on ourselves and fix our issues. That's how we grow and become better people, people worthy of these relationships we want. Consider all your relationships, past and present, as software testers. They recognized what worked and what didn't, and you would be wise to listen to their reports, because it will make you a better person and better in relationships.

For example, what bugs keep you from being the best person you can be. These are your own personal issues that could include problems with managing finances, anger, or being irresponsible. They might also be larger problems in your life, such as addictions. These problems affect you with or without a relationship, and being in a relationship won't fix them. This is your personal baggage you bring with you.

You might also have problems with the interface, or connection, to your significant other. Are you belittling? Do you get into big arguments over small matters? Do you forget important dates such as birthdays or anniversaries? Do you not consider your partner's feelings when making decisions? These problems are how you interact with others and aren't apparent when you're single, only in a relationship. Whatever these problems, once you know about them, you'll need to address them if you want the relationship to succeed. The good news is that every couple has these issues, and with some work, introspection, and honesty, you can move past them.

Compatibility issues refer to how well you get along with everything in their life. Do you get along with their family and friends? Do you mesh well with their life, or are you clearly the odd person out? Do you find it impossible to share any interests with this other person? Do you have totally different expectations for long-term relationships, physical intimacy, children, money, religion, or any of the other big issues that define us? If you find yourself having these huge compatibility issues, you have a choice. Either figure out how to become compatible, and that might mean some major changes on how you operate, or accept that this relationship is not going to be successful long term and cut your losses.

Incompatibility is not necessarily due to a bug or a flaw. Not all systems are designed to connect, and you might have met a person who interested you in the short term but proved incompatible long term. If you aren't willing to change or compromise on your core beliefs, then the issue isn't you. However, choosing to remain in such an incompatible relationship is an issue.

Sometimes a big enough bug can cause a crash, and in a relationship that's what happens when it comes to a screeching halt. Perhaps things are going well until someone mentions anything involving long-term  commitment, and the next thing you know you've bailed. In fact, you may notice a crash pattern each time someone brings up the subject. There are plenty of triggers for relationship crashes, and these can lead to a string of messy breakups if you don't figure out why you keep ending relationships for no apparent reason. Again, you need to look at why your relationships keep ending if you don't want to keep watching your relationships end.

Fixing these problems, these bugs, isn't about changing into a completely different person, it's about being the best version of you possible. However, to be the best version of ourselves, we first have to admit that we have problems. A programmer can't fix a bug if he/she doesn't acknowledge it, and the same goes for you. I've listed a few bugs, but there are plenty more. Each of us has our own problems, so no one is immune from the need to self-examine and self-correct.

Now, it's possible you're reading this and all you're thinking about is how everyone else you know should read it. You think this article is for them, not you. And if that's what you're thinking, then that's the biggest software flaw I can point out, the idea that you don't need to improve one bit.

Sometimes, however, we might have a hard time finding or fixing these bugs. This might call for a software specialist, someone with an objective, outside perspective who can look deep into your code and find the problems you can't see. There's no shame in seeing a therapist or psychologist if it will help you find and fix these bugs. They will help you be the best version of yourself possible, and that will help your relationships.

If you are single and looking for a relationship, now is the time to work on yourself and be the best version of yourself possible. Why? Because I'm pretty sure when you meet your significant other, you want this person to be the best version possible as well. However, if this person is into self-improvement, he/she will not want to waste time with someone who isn't. And why should they?

Look to your past bug reports, and seek out more feedback if you need it. Refuse to acknowledge and fix your bugs, however, and not a lot of people will be interested in your program. That's why it's in your best interest to be the best version of you possible. Do the work now and you'll reap the rewards later when you are in a long-term healthy relationship.

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