The Best Relationship Advice I've Ever Gotten

“Don’t let go of your partner’s hand until you find a new one.”

I was in a room full of complete strangers making generous eye contact and extensive handholding. “What on earth am I doing here?” I thought as I latched hands and swung from partner to partner, like we were square dancing or playing Tarzan or something.

We were taking an improv class and it was the most uncomfortable thing I’ve done in a long time.

The whole point of the class was to reduce cynicism. Which, for a millennial in the year 2015 my cynical soul is about as dark as the fair trade black Chemex coffee I drink. Cynicism runs through my veins. Our generation is pre-programmed to question everything, scoff at everyone, and trust no one. Unfortunately, we think we’ve seen it all so nothing seems to impress us anymore.

But I was tired of being a cynic so I signed up for the improv class. I had absolutely no idea what was going on. The room was alive and buzzing with energy. There were two options: continue my cynicism and stand in the corner shooting judgmental glares dripping with sarcasm OR jump in and fully participate. For once I decided to dive in headfirst and I’m so glad I did.

Because I heard the best relationship advice I’ve ever received.

“If you want to succeed, you must give your partner generous explanation.”

Of course our instructor was talking about the class. What he meant by that was we needed to assume our partner had the best intentions and was taking us in a positive direction. We couldn’t assume they were trying to steal the show or manipulate the plot. We simply had to trust them and their context.

I realized that the same thing applied to my relationships. If I want the relationships around me to succeed then I’m going to have to give the people in my life generous explanation.

What that means is trusting that, even on our worst days, we have the best intentions. It means extending the utmost amount of grace. Generous explanations require us to assume that the people in our lives aren’t out to get us.

It means that if I’m dating a guy and we fight that he probably had a perfectly good explanation for why he behaved the way he did. It means when he wants some time to process and I want to talk right away that he’s not trying to hurt me or manipulate me. It means that’s probably the way he’s always handled confrontation. He’s not some sick and twisted sadist who wants to make me uncomfortable.

We’re all doing the best we can with what we’ve got.

It means if someone forgets to text me back or doesn’t remember my birthday that they weren’t trying to screw me over. They were probably incredibly busy. Odds are they’re just as forgetful as I am. They might have had a terrible day at work or dealt with some unexpected urgencies.

People are broken. When you get close you cut each other.

It’s not intentional; it’s just the way it is. If I’m serious about my relationships I’m going to get hurt. But for the first time I’m learning that there’s no malice in their hearts. They’re just broken and if I’m living in true, deep relationships then I’m signing up to get wounded.

Brokenness is the ultimate generous explanation.

We’re messy. Life can’t be planned out. Improv taught me that we can’t predict who will say what or where the next scene will take us. But what we can offer each other is generous explanations for our reactions. We can learn to roll with the punches when we get bruised. If we approach each other from a state of understanding our brokenness and offering grace then we’ll be able to move forward.

If my relationships aren’t moving forward it’s probably because I’m not offering generous explanations. It means I’m unwilling to trust the other person and their past to imagine a healthier future. It means I’m so consumed with my own plan or the way things “should” be or what I think is “normal” that anything contrary is an injustice. Just because people are broken doesn’t mean they’re at their worst.

To be broken is actually an invitation to be better. 

So I’m trying to give generous explanations. I’m not always very good at it. But it’s helping me be way less defensive. Instead of trying to foresee each relationship ten steps ahead I’m actually becoming a lot more present. It’s helping me learn how to actually listen to whoever my partner is.

To be honest it’s saving my relationships. It’s actually tearing down the walls of my cynicism. I’m not standing on the outside of my relationships with arms crossed and judgmental eyes. I’ve actually got some skin in the game now and I’m invested because I have to be. I simply must see what’s next; I must participate in the dynamics around me.

If you want to succeed, you must give your partner generous explanation.

What if we lived our lives full of generous explanation? What if we approached people out of our own brokenness so they could be broken too? What if our cynicism started to melt away to make room for the genuine connection that lies right under the surface?

I wonder who in our lives needs generous explanation the most. If I’m honest, I need a lot of generous explanation. Everything within me longs for the people around me to assume the best about me. I want them to know that I’m now offering them the same.

Generous explanations for us to be broken. Generous explanations for us to be better.