Reality Check: Relationship Mistakes

Charles Schulz, of Peanuts fame, said something along the lines of, “I thought I made a mistake once, but I was wrong.” Until a few minutes ago, I believed that joke had originated with my family. Then I checked. Sure enough, I was mistaken.
Some mistakes lead to unexpectedly good things. A wrong turn could take us to a beautiful spot. Misreading a recipe could result in a great meal. Dialling a wrong number could accidentally lead us to a helpful connection.
It’s prudent, though, to prevent mistakes when we can.
That wrong turn could lead us down a dangerous road from which we might not return. The misread recipe could result in something inedible, meaning wasted food and lost time. That wrong number could result in an angry confrontation or worse.
Mistakes often result in some kind of loss: lost money, wasted time, or a damaged relationship.
While we can’t always control whether we make a mistake, we often have control over how we respond. Our response can make a big difference as to whether the mistake ultimately has a positive or negative impact.
Our choices are clear enough for some types of mistakes. When we make that wrong turn, we can choose to get frustrated and lash out (because it was someone else’s fault, obviously) or we can choose to look at it as an adventure to laugh about and explore.
With other mistakes, however, it’s hard to see whether there’s any positive choice available. Yet there’s almost certainly at least one potential benefit hidden there somewhere. That benefit is the lesson that we learn. It could be valuable. It could also be painful.
Let’s consider a relationship which started out with high hopes, but is now at the point of, “I wish I had never let that person into my life.” This could be a romantic relationship or another kind: workplace, friendship, family, and so on.
If we choose to look for the beneficial lessons from this mistake, what would we find? Here are a few possibilities:
One benefit is the gift of discernment. If we learn this lesson well, we become better able to distinguish between a healthy, satisfying relationship and a “mistake.”
A second benefit is that the experience can help us recognize our own naiveté. Everyone is not trustworthy. Other people have needs that they wish to satisfy, just as we do. Some will attempt to satisfy their needs by mistreating others.
A third benefit is that after we’ve made a relationship mistake, we may more fully appreciate when we do have a good relationship. We develop a better sense of what really matters and what doesn’t. Shared values, trustworthiness and goodwill create a strong foundation for a relationship, even when we disagree about theoretical issues, personal opinions, or current events.
It’s easy enough to figure out ways to prevent some types of mistakes. If you are often getting lost, for example, then the lesson could be to plan your routes ahead of time.
But if your mistakes are of the relationship kind, then prevention can be harder to figure out. Try examining what you want in a friend or a lover. Bolster your courage and have a real conversation—one where you talk about character and values. What you learn could make the difference between a satisfying relationship and a hateful, hurtful mistake.
How do you prevent relationship mistakes?

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