R.U.T.S. The grooves that wear into relationships. The kind of grooves that lock us into destructive patterns of behavior with those around us.
R.U.T.S. are related to the stories we tell ourselves about other people. They are S.I.F.T. stories, not S.W.I.F.T. stories, and they are powerful. R.U.T.S. are why you always end up in a fight with your teenager, why certain topics are off-limits with your spouse, why you get irritated when your that certain person calls, why you avoid your neighbor (or your parent, or your boss, or your relatives…), and why you will never be able to trust your sister again. R.U.T.S. stands for:
R.U.T.S. are stories written in the past. They may have been true stories, or they may have been stories where we filled in most of the information gaps ourselves. But whether or not they are true is less important than the fact that they are old. They were created to help us understand a particular situation or pattern or behaviors that happened once upon a time. Unfortunately, once we wrote the story, we never took the time to update it. It’s trapped in time.
It’s possible that the other person has changed or that we have changed or that the situation has changed, but we never go digging for new information. In fact, we practice a thing called “selective perception,” where we only allow in new data that agrees with our old data. New data that disagrees with the old data is quickly discounted and discarded.
R.U.T.S. are unproductive stories. They don’t move the realtionship forward; they hold it back or even force it back. They create self-fulfilling prophesies, where the other person inevitably lives down to our expectations because we can’t see them with new eyes no matter what efforts they make to change. Eventually they give up trying to be different with us and either end the relationship or settle into “role-playing” when we’re around. R.U.T.S. on our end about them beget R.U.T.S. on their end about us, and a crazy cycle of stressful, frustrating, relationship-killing exchanges begin.
Eliza Doolittle understood R.U.T.S. In George Bernard Shaw’s play, Pygmalion, (also the musical and movie, My Fair Lady), Professor Henry Higgins takes Eliza off the street to show that he can turn a flowergirl into a duchess. He succeeds, but he takes too much credit for the metamorphisis and can never see Eliza as anything more than what she was. Eliza can see and understand the R.U.T.S. Higgins tells himself about her. She says to his friend,
You see, really and truly, apart from the things anyone can pick up (the dressing and the proper way of speaking and so on), the difference between a lady and a flower girl is not how she behaves, but how she’s treated. I shall always be a flower girl to Professor Higgins, because he always treats me as a flower girl, and always will, but I know I can be a lady to you because you always treat me as a lady, and always will.
If your relationships are stuck in the R.U.T.S., you’ve got to start telling a new story. You’ve got to look for evidence of change in the other person and acknowledge it. You’ve got to forgive the past and move on. And you’ve got to forgive the present, too, because even after you change your R.U.T.S. about them, it will take some time for them to change theirs about you. They may be stuck in the dance that the two of you have been dancing for years, and old rhythms die hard.
It’s hard to get out of the R.U.T.S. They are destructive, but they are comfortable. As soon as you think you’ve reached the top of one, you might slip back down to the bottom, but keep trying. Eventually your efforts will pay off, your relationships will improve, and you’ll have new, productive stories to tell about each other.
The only person who behaves sensibly is my tailor. He takes new measurements every time he sees me. All the rest go on with their old measurement.
~ George Bernard Shaw