Step 1 is available in the blog archive to the right
Introduction To Step 2
Below is step 2 of the Rekindling Love And Partnership In Your Relationship program. If you haven’t yet completed step 1 of the program then I strongly advise that you to do so before going into action with step 2. The reason for this is that until you have both been honest with each other regarding your past behavior and interactions, any progress will be limited and almost certainly unsustainable. Remember the pool analogy from step 1? If step 1 has been completed and you are now ongoingly in communication about what hasn’t worked in your relationship then like the leaf dropping into a clean pool, what doesn’t work, either in the area of conversations or actions, will show up clearly and can then be dealt with. Remember though that step one or in fact any of the different steps that will be presented are not a ‘do it once only and tick the box’ exercises but are to be used and integrated into how you communicate for the rest of your time together. Step 2 is about creating real communication and ways of you really understanding what is being communicated by your partner.
I’m sure that we have all experienced times when what we have said has been misconstrued and we have been baffled as to why that is ‘surely they couldn’t have got that from what I said, they just can’t have been listening’. Those times when you have made it absolutely clear that you have ‘really appreciated’ a meal that they have cooked or the present that they have bought you or their new clothes etc or you have demonstrated that you love them over and over again and ‘they just don’t get it!’
Instead of us acknowledging that what we have communicated is at odds with how our partner has received our communication, what we generally jump to as human beings is that there is a problem over there with them and not here with me. Consider this ,what you communicate comes directly from how you perceive your ‘reality’ and your partner receives your communication from how they perceive their ‘reality’. There is no ‘reality’ as such but just how you both perceive the world around you. You 'hear the other' through one's own projected belief of what the other person is saying. This can then be a wildly inaccurate interpretation ( we could go into the science of this distortion here and delve deeply into parataxic distortion but that’s not going to help in your relationship!)
So now you have a problem! Your speaking is shaped by your interpretation of how the conversation will be perceived by your partner and formed by who your interpretation of your partner is which is created by your past relationships and experience and your partner is hearing you through their projected beliefs given by their past experience. This is how misunderstanding, mistrust and resentment is created in a relationship! It’s rather like your communications have been put through a random word generator and spat out.
The above can occur as a bit conceptual which will not assist you in moving forward, so what I request that you do is to really look at how this relates to you and your partner. Think of an incident where in your opinion what you had said didn’t land with your partner and there was then some confusion created. It doesn’t have to be a significant incident but just one that demonstrates this misunderstanding.
I can think of a fairly trivial example from my life that happened recently. My wife and I were traveling home in the car and talking about what to prepare for lunch. I suggested that because we had left over sweet tamarind sauce from last nights meal that we could have some soba noodles which I could prepare and she could prepare some miso soup. When we got home I noticed that she was putting noodles into a pan of water instead of what I thought we had agreed which was her preparing the miso soup and me preparing the noodles. What we then realised was that she had thought that what I had suggested was that we have noodles with a miso broth and sweet sauce and that we prepare that dish together. Ok so far this is all,as I said, rather trivial, however let’s look at it inside of the communication distortion I am talking about. My communication regarding lunch came from a) a desire to eat quickly because I was hungry b) to organise and get into action because I’m a natural leader and that’s just what I do and if I don’t communicate the actions clearly then they will be misunderstood.
When my wife seemingly started to do her own thing then I immediately jumped to ‘I’m not being listened to here’ mixed with ‘here she goes again just doing her own thing without any regard for my plans’ Both of these thoughts and the subsequent communications were a result of my past which was then projected onto my wife’s actions and communications . I can see clearly how my view of life and having to be the strong organiser was created and then how my not being understood was forged in early life. The way my wife heard the conversation was from a belief that she had to get it right because she thinks that she gets things wrong. This was then projected into the way she heard what I said which was forged from her past. The result was that we weren’t listening to each other at all but just interpreting the conversation from our own concerns. We could go deeper into this misunderstanding because there will be many more distorted strands but do you get the point? And this was just about lunch!
So where does this apply to your relationship? A radical suggestion here is that you could actually have some fun looking at these miscommunications. I’m not suggesting that you trivialise the big stuff that has really impacted your life together but looking at more trivial misunderstandings and getting to the source of why they happened can take the heat and significance out and you can then begin practicing being in each other’s 'reality'.
So how we are communicating is not from how the conversation will be received by our partner but how we think that it should be received ‘they really should know that I care for them and it’s totally crazy that they don’t because I’ve said it a thousand times!’ It’s going to take some shift in your position here as we humans love to be right and not take responsibility but the rewards are huge! The place to start is by you firstly both acknowledging that there has been a problem with your communication and then both of you taking on being fully responsible for how future conversations go and taking full responsibility for your relationship. Now maybe your partner isn’t prepared to take full responsibility at this point and that may leave you with feeling that it’s impossible to move forward but it will still be extremely effective if you alone declare yourself responsible. I know that with my marriage I have declared full responsibility for how it goes no matter what, even if I think that I’m right and that she is wrong then it’s my responsibility to get it sorted. It’s great that my wife has also declared this but even if she hadn’t been prepared to then it wouldn’t alter my commitment to the relationship. I just can't be the victim if I take this position.
The next thing to do is to start practicing with your communication, noticing how it is landing with them and noticing the triggers for you getting annoyed or frustrated and what triggers their adverse reaction from your communication. Try taking the should out of your opinion.There is no magic that will have this automatically happen. What is required is practice. We wouldn’t expect to go and run a marathon without training for it and likewise it would be totally unrealistic to expect to suddenly change the way we communicate after a lifetime of it being another way. I’m asking you to be sensitive to how you communicate and how you listen to your partner. You don’t have to suddenly make everything you are saying wrong (see that it works to be that there is no right or wrong here just what works and what doesn’t) and you don’t need to step over saying anything that needs to be said but just be more aware of the impact of your words and the impact in the way you hear what is being said.
I may be in danger of over egging the pudding here so I apologies but I am really committed that you not just understand this but get it in your bones. Let me give you a fictional example to demonstrate how people often communicate that doesn’t work for either of them. Let’s call our couple Peter and Liz. Peter works in banking and describes his job as ‘high powered, high pressure work in the city’ He also loves playing tennis which helps him relax and he does this twice a week. Liz and Peter have three children who are aged between 2 and 10 years old. Liz is a full time mother and left her job in the financial sector when their first child was born. Peter leaves their home for work early at 7am and returns home at 7pm but this can often be much later. He is in time to put the eldest child to bed when he arrives home but the other two children are already asleep. Liz’s constant complaint is that she is exhausted from looking after the kids, cooking cleaning and generally running the home, she feels unappreciated and unsupported. She also feels that Peter doesn't really value her contribution and that he relates to the money he earns as his and puts no value on the work she does in looking after the children etc. Peter’s complaint is that he works hard, brings in the money, is exhausted and comes home to a chaotic house and a disgruntled wife. They very rarely go out socially together and in fact they rarely ever talk much about anything together.
The way they generally communicate is with disgruntled jibes about the state of the house, the exhaustion that they both experience and how unfair it all is. They love each other but can’t seem to make any difference to a relationship that clearly isn’t working. Peter thinks that his wife should see how hard he works to provide for the family and can’t understand when Liz says that he takes advantage of her and under appreciates her when 'she has it so good not having to do the long commute and relentless hours and I come home and i'm as attentive and loving as I can be considering what I have to deal with'. Liz can’t understand why he doesn’t see how difficult it is for her and why he reacts every time she brings up the fact that she is exhausted. All her friends can see how 'unfair he is being with his not helping out and he has an escape in his tennis and it’s just not fair!' He really should be more attentive and appreciative.
And who is right here? You can see that they are both stuck with their opinions of each other and their lives together. If Peter could see how it must be for Liz and Liz see how it must be for Peter then they could have open and meaningful conversations and in the process get some practical solutions for what they are dealing with. Instead they are stuck with a big should blocking the way in all of their interactions rather than with the question ‘why’ or’ how must it be’ for each other. What stops them is that they aren’t looking into each other’s possible experience but just centered on what they are personally dealing with. If they can take out the should and blame then we have a fighting chance!
It’s all pretty obvious and simple isn’t it but we make it all very complicated so that we don’t actually have to do much about it!
Actions to take:
a) Complete Step 1 if you haven’t already.
b) Revisit Step 1 to see if there are any more undelivered/unresolved communications. There will be!
c) Acknowledge to each other if you haven’t already, that the way you have been communicating hasn’t worked for your partner. Remember to take a gift which is you taking responsibility and not pointing a finger at them!
d) Have a conversation where you remove the should and really get into their world no matter how crazy and illogical you think that world is! Remember that it’s not the way it shows up for you that’s important here but the way it shows up for them. Be generous! Really speak from how it will land for them and get how it must have been in the past when they were misunderstood.
e) Now look to see if there has been any progress. You will know because you will have the experience of it all being lighter and less significant and see that it will be the same for your partner. It may all be a little turbulent to begin with so don’t be concerned as its usually this way when approaching something new especially when you have had a lifetime of generally not being in another persons world.
f) Do the above over and over. It will then become just the way you communicate.
g) Get it all wrong and don’t worry just try again!
h) If new complaints about past communication or incidents are uncovered then go and get them sorted by using step 1 again.
h) If new complaints about past communication or incidents are uncovered then go and get them sorted by using step 1 again.
In Step 3 we will be looking at a structure for keeping all communication and interactions present in your relationship.