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