9 Tools for Relating

Here are 9 ideas to improve any rela­tion­ship, tak­en from my book, The. Best. Rela­tion­ship. Ever.

The Structure

It is our belief that self-know­ing hap­pens best in your Pri­ma­ry Rela­tion­ship. This rela­tion­ship has as its keys: ele­gant com­mu­ni­ca­tion, vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty, (the will­ing­ness to open up) open­ness, (the will­ing­ness to take in) and inti­ma­cy (mak­ing full, hon­est contact.)

Through dia­logue, base­line para­me­ters are set in the fol­low­ing two areas:

Engaged Com­mu­ni­ca­tion – this is the min­i­mum require­ment – that there be open, hon­est, and inti­mate dia­logue. We pro­pose fol­low­ing the basic Com­mu­ni­ca­tion Mod­el described below – using it to dig deeply, and learn more of both “self” and “part­ner.

Engaged Con­tact – after the above is estab­lished, the cou­ple cre­ates lev­els of phys­i­cal con­tact. It’s essen­tial to cre­ate flex­i­ble bound­aries in this area, and to imme­di­ate­ly dis­cuss areas of con­fu­sion / discomfort.

With­in the “safe hands” of Engaged, Inti­mate Relat­ing any­thing is pos­si­ble. We have the oppor­tu­ni­ty to trust, to open, to be vul­ner­a­ble, and espe­cial­ly, to explore our own dark­ness, in the pres­ence of a part­ner who is a curi­ous, active participant.

The fol­low­ing 9 Tools form the basis for what is to fol­low – we believe that this is the only way to achieve per­son­al and rela­tion­al contentment!

As I not­ed ear­li­er, this book is seem­ing­ly about rela­tion­ships, but it’s actu­al­ly a self-devel­op­ment book. Self-work is the only way to engage with life, with oth­ers, and with our way of being. Our rela­tion­ships shift pre­cise­ly as much as we, as indi­vid­u­als, shift.

What follows are brief descriptions of the 9 Tools

I’ll flesh them out in lat­er chap­ters of this book. For now, let me sug­gest some under­stand­ings for each of these points, and how each applies to per­son­al liv­ing and Ele­gant, Inti­mate Relat­ing.

1. Total Honesty

It’s impos­si­ble to have a rich and mean­ing­ful rela­tion­ship while keep­ing secrets (“The flaw of omis­sion,”) or while lying (“The flaw of commission.”)

Many are the excus­es for dishonesty:

  • “I’m an adult and I have a right to privacy.”
  • “(S)he might get mad if I was hon­est about everything.”
  • “I just want to be me – no need to talk about it.”
  • “White lies aren’t harmful.”

Being dis­hon­est is a mini-betray­al. It’s an indi­ca­tor that you don’t trust your part­ner enough to share what’s up for you, and are embar­rassed about your actions.

We advo­cate Total Hon­esty. And yes, some­times being total­ly hon­est is scary, or might lead to a pro­tract­ed dis­cus­sion. But the truth is this: almost every­one who lies gets caught.

Per­son­al: “It is my inten­tion to tell the truth, all the time. I rec­og­nize that how “deeply I go” depends on who I’m inter­act­ing with, but I will answer truth­ful­ly, and be direct and clear with everyone.”

Rela­tion­al: “From this point on, my pol­i­cy with you is Total Hon­esty. I’ll let you know what I am think­ing, how I am decid­ing, and what I am doing. I am not doing this for per­mis­sion, but rather to fos­ter inti­ma­cy and deep­en our rela­tion­ship. I invite you to do the same.”

2. Being Present

Pres­ence is about 2 things:

  • being in the moment, the Now, and
  • being focussed on what you are doing.

Most of us live our lives either in our heads (sto­ry-telling), or detached from our selves (numb.) Sort of ghosts, walking.

Being in the Now helps us to stay focussed on the imme­di­ate sit­u­a­tion, while adding lit­tle or no dra­ma through sto­ry­telling or future pro­jec­tions. This kind of pres­ence allows us to deal with each sit­u­a­tion as it occurs.

Per­son­al: “I just tuned out and end­ed up imag­in­ing all kinds of sto­ries that have noth­ing to do with the sit­u­a­tion before me. I’ll just have a breath and come back to the present moment.”

Rela­tion­al: “As I lis­tened to you, I caught myself telling myself famil­iar sto­ries about how hard-done-by I am. I rec­og­nize that my sto­ries have noth­ing to do with you or the sit­u­a­tion, so I’m fill­ing you in as a way to come back to the Here and Now.”

3. Being self-responsible

Self-respon­si­bil­i­ty is not about self-blame. Rather, it’s about claim­ing own­er­ship of our lives.

It is ‘nor­mal’ to push respon­si­bil­i­ty away. Most are will­ing to take cred­it for suc­cess, and want to point a fin­ger else­where when con­front­ed with things judged ‘wrong’ or ‘bad.’

Self-respon­si­bil­i­ty is sim­ple – “I am the author of all of my life, as I view it right now.” This is not a denial that ‘bad’ things hap­pen,” and that oth­ers may even intend us harm. It’s to say that noth­ing com­pels us to act in ways that are non-helpful.

Per­son­al: “This is going on right now, and I am mak­ing myself uncom­fort­able. Nev­er­the­less, I am in this sit­u­a­tion because of my choic­es. I can, at any time, choose differently.”

Rela­tion­al: “I am choos­ing to upset myself over the way I per­ceive our rela­tion­ship. There­fore, I will own my respon­si­bil­i­ty for hav­ing got­ten myself into the state I am in, and I will decide what I will do next.”

4. Speaking clearly — Use dialogue to know yourself

We teach a spe­cif­ic Com­mu­ni­ca­tion Mod­el, and do so because most peo­ple are lousy com­mu­ni­ca­tors. Rather than use com­mu­ni­ca­tion to deep­en their self-under­stand­ing, they use it to jus­ti­fy their “hard­ened” behav­iour and think­ing, while prov­ing oth­ers wrong. Or, they use com­mu­ni­ca­tion to blame.

As soon as you hard­en a thought into a belief, you become less flex­i­ble and there­fore less teach­able, as you shift to, “I know, and I am right.”

Dia­logue, on the oth­er hand, is about explor­ing our per­son­al beliefs as we lis­ten to feed­back. It is essen­tial to bear in mind that this explo­ration is only pos­si­ble if you choose to hold your beliefs and “demands” loosely.

Per­son­al: “Here is what I see, here is what I feel in my body, and here are the sto­ries I am telling myself.”

Rela­tion­al: “I want to share with you my pro­vi­sion­al guess­es about what I see hap­pen­ing right now. I’m won­der­ing about your per­spec­tives on my sto­ries – as I lis­ten to you stat­ing your per­spec­tives on my sto­ry, I will not be defen­sive. I will lis­ten with open­ness, and then clar­i­fy my intentions.”

5. Being Curious – and NODing

When we live our lives up in our heads, dwelling on the past and fear­ing the future, we think that our ver­sion of mis­ery is real­i­ty. We get locked into thought-loops. We exit the moment, shut down by tight­en­ing our bod­ies, and dwell in “Nev­er-Nev­er Land.” The “Nev­er” part is actu­al­ly, “My life will nev­er be dif­fer­ent, and I’ll nev­er be able to change.”

Curios­i­ty is the oppo­site of self-right­eous­ness and blame. If you pay atten­tion, you’ll notice that you are often con­fused about your own moti­va­tions and actions. How then, could you ever think you had a clue about what’s up for others?

Per­son­al: “I am drift­ing into past and future again. What is actu­al­ly hap­pen­ing right now? Is any­thing required of me, right now? What does my body want to do? What would hap­pen if I stopped telling myself stores, sat down, and had a breath?”

Rela­tion­al: “When I con­front sit­u­a­tions like this one, I get caught in a mind loop… I’m won­der­ing if you would have time to lis­ten to my descrip­tion, and then I’d like to hear about how you get your­self out of your mind-loops.”

6. Letting go of Drama and Storytelling

Obvi­ous­ly, we have a sto­ry about our­selves – one we are anx­ious to tell oth­ers, and one we believe is ‘true.’ The sto­ry con­tains frag­ments of our biog­ra­phy, and most­ly con­sists of exam­ples that sup­port our vic­tim-sto­ry. One of the great leaps of self-respon­si­bil­i­ty is the under­stand­ing that our sto­ries are “just stories.”

We have much invest­ed in our life-sto­ry, and also give much ener­gy to defend­ing every­thing that props it up. We move past this by allow­ing our­selves to ques­tion both the accu­ra­cy and valid­i­ty of the sto­ries we are telling.

Let­ting go of dra­ma is sim­i­lar. Because we spend so much time talk­ing to our­selves, about our­selves, we have a ten­den­cy to see our­selves as the cen­tre of every­thing. Now, cer­tain­ly, we are the cen­tre of our own uni­verse and expe­ri­ence – we’re just not the cen­tre of any­thing else. Despite our desire, no one is going to make us the cen­tre of their uni­verse. And the stuff that hap­pens is the stuff that hap­pens. It’s not hap­pen­ing to you personally.

Per­son­al: “Here is what is actu­al­ly hap­pen­ing right now. I notice the sto­ry I’m strug­gling to tell, where I’m a poor, help­less vic­tim, and I choose, this time, in this moment, to let that sto­ry go. In this moment, I’ll be present and aware, and see what, if any­thing, is required of me.”

Rela­tion­al: “So, I notice that I’m hear­ing you speak, and I’m see­ing what you’re doing, and I’m telling myself all kinds of sto­ries about how you are pun­ish­ing me, or try­ing to manip­u­late me. I notice that I am cre­at­ing these sto­ries out of my thought-loops, and I want to acknowl­edge that I’m doing this. I will now let go, and return to being open and curious.”

7. Being Flexible

The lynch-pin for Ele­gant, Inti­mate Relat­ing is flexibility.

I may have spent years devel­op­ing my relat­ing style, but I also have the pow­er, each time, to change what I am doing. In oth­er words, I have a choice, each time, to do things dif­fer­ent­ly, or to go back to habit­u­al behaviour.

Integri­ty plays a big part here.

While I know that I have com­plete free­dom of expres­sion, I also begin to look at the con­se­quences (results) of my actions. I eval­u­ate the result I am get­ting against what I have com­mit­ted to – Ele­gant, Inti­mate Relat­ing – and only do what deep­ens my relating.

This is flexibility.

Per­son­al: “Here I go again, doing the very things that end­less­ly land me in the soup. This is who I am, but right now, I can trans­form this pat­tern by stop­ping, hav­ing a breath, and mak­ing anoth­er choice.”

Rela­tion­al: “Wow, there I go again, blam­ing you for how I am feel­ing. I accept that I do this, and am pleas­ing myself that I caught myself this time. Give me a sec­ond to have a breath, and then I’ll shift back to dialogue.”

8. Feeling Your Feelings

Feel­ings have a bad rep­u­ta­tion. Peo­ple resist their ‘neg­a­tive’ feel­ings – are caught in judge­ment – end­less­ly assign­ing “good / bad, right / wrong” cat­e­gories to everything.

Essen­tial to Ele­gant, Inti­mate Relat­ing is total accep­tance of each and every feeling.

As we med­i­tate, for exam­ple, what becomes clear is that thoughts and feel­ings flow through us like clouds cross­ing the sky. If we latch on to the feel­ing / thought, we cre­ate suf­fer­ing for our­selves. If we express the thought or feel­ing, we can let it go.

There are no ‘bad’ feel­ings – there are, how­ev­er, non-use­ful ways to express them. So, we accept and trans­form each feel­ing by express­ing it with awareness.

Per­son­al: “I am aware of my anger, my bore­dom, my sex­u­al­i­ty and sen­su­al­i­ty, my tight­ness, my shut­ting down – all of my feel­ings. I accept that these feel­ings pass through me – they are not me, but rather expres­sions of my moment-by-moment expe­ri­ence. I there­fore choose to express them safe­ly and thoroughly.”

Rela­tion­al: “I’m notic­ing that [the cur­rent feel­ings] are com­ing up for me, and I’m won­der­ing if you’d be inter­est­ed in help­ing me to ful­ly expe­ri­ence and express them, so that I can learn their les­son and then move on to what­ev­er is next.” (see below, Express­ing your Feelings)

9. Exploring Sensuality and Sexuality

Most adults have “issues” around open, hon­est, and deep rev­e­la­tion and expres­sion of mat­ters sex­u­al. The dis­com­fort is deep-seat­ed – stretch­ing back to childhood.

Because of our dis­com­fort, we talk in euphemisms and hints. We tend to only get part of what we are look­ing for, and might be unclear about what we want.

We also have desires and attrac­tions for oth­ers, and are uncom­fort­able both with the feel­ings them­selves, and with shar­ing them. We avoid con­ver­sa­tions about our “turn-ons,” out of con­fu­sion, fear, and to avoid jeal­ousy. We end up more con­fused, blocked, and wary.

Per­son­al: “I am doing some seri­ous work explor­ing my sen­su­al and sex­u­al nature. I am going to use clear lan­guage to describe who I am and what I want sex­u­al­ly, and I am going to cre­ate “Vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty Projects” to explore areas I am curi­ous about / scare myself over.”

Rela­tion­al: “I am notic­ing that I have some issues as regards my sen­su­al­i­ty / sex­u­al­i­ty. I am explor­ing these issues, and I will keep you informed about what I am dis­cov­er­ing, as well as invite you to work on some of this with me. I also com­mit to keep­ing you updat­ed on peo­ple I am relat­ing with, and let­ting you know who I find attrac­tive, char­gy, etc.”

About the Author: Wayne C. Allen is known on the web as the Sim­ple Zen Guy. Wayne was a Pri­vate Prac­tice Coun­sel­lor in Ontario until June of 2013. Wayne is the author of five books, the lat­est being The. Best. Rela­tion­ship. Ever.

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