Relating–It’s Not What you Think

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Syn­op­sis: Relat­ing is a task that moves in one direc­tion — from you to your part­ner. It is meant to be an exer­cise in self-awareness.

Relat­ing Differently

First of all, most of what I’m going to suggest has a “language component” to it. 

IMHO, one of the few things that Freud was right about was what are called Freudi­an Slips. That’s when words pop out of your mouth that say what you real­ly are think­ing. We all do this, some­times out of habit.

But speak­ing of habits, if you refuse to cor­rect your­self when you mis­s­peak your­self, you actu­al­ly make it almost impos­si­ble to shift the habit. 

And relat­ing poor­ly, believe me, is noth­ing more than a bad habit. And lan­guage is that powerful.

Can I get an amen for my bad relationship?

Let’s, then, start with your relationship.

You don’t have one. None of you do. Me either.

What I mean is this: no mat­ter how hard you try, you can’t take a rela­tion­ship into a coun­selling office (or any­where else for that matter.) 

What you can take in the room is you and your partner.

But then, what we have is a ther­a­pist, you, and your part­ner. Still no rela­tion­ship.

The ther­a­pist says, “I’d like each of you to tell me what brings you here.”

As you and your part­ner speak (or cut each oth­er off, or fin­ger-point, or sigh and roll your eyes dra­mat­i­cal­ly…), you begin to relate. 

The ther­a­pist can­not see a rela­tion­ship, but (s)he can see how you relate with each other.

Talking about “the relationship” is a way to avoid talking about what is important

On the oth­er hand, if you say, “Here is my per­spec­tive on how I relate with my part­ner, and my take on what isn’t work­ing for me,” there’s hope.

The prob­lem with nouns like rela­tion­ship, hus­band, wife, fam­i­ly, etc. is that we toss them out there as if they mean something. 

Every­one knows that a good [fill in the blank] is [fill in the blank], and that’s not what we have, so…” Except that there are as many def­i­n­i­tions of, say, rela­tion­ship, as there are people. 

And “every­one knows” means, “every­one would agree with me that my part­ner is wrong.”

Second, the only thing you can ever talk about is yourself

The key word, when com­mu­ni­cat­ing, is “I.” And yet, it tends to be the least used word. As we said last week, the norm is to use “you,” and to blame.

You can read about the Com­mu­ni­ca­tion Mod­el in a cou­ple of my books, but key to it is the use of “I.” The only authen­tic use of “you” is when I describe what I sense, as in, “Your eyes are squin­ty, and you are look­ing down.” Or, “Your voice seems loud.” That sen­so­ry data is pret­ty hard to dis­pute, assum­ing you are stat­ing what you see/hear.

From that point on in the dia­logue, all you can talk about is what you are doing with the data. “Your eyes are squin­ty, and you are look­ing down, and I inter­pret that to mean that you are mad at me.”

That is worlds away from, “You are mad at me,” or “You always get mad at me.” The bot­tom line of great relat­ing is giv­ing up think­ing you know any­thing for sure about your partner–all you know is the sto­ry you are telling yourself. 

So, again and again, you state your guess, and ask your part­ner what’s up.

Third, if you think your job is to fix or change your partner, please go get a divorce

Your job is to work on your­self, and to share your per­spec­tives with your part­ner, and vice ver­sa. I mean, real­ly, who appoint­ed you the “fix­er” of another? 

Let me try pout­ing with a megaphone

She: I just want him to go with me to see my par­ents.
He: I’ve made plans for the week­end, so not this time.
She: Stop being unrea­son­able… and besides, you nev­er want to do what I want to do…
He: I went to your par­ents’ place 2 weeks back, and I’ve made plans for this week­end, so not this time.
She: (snif­fle, sob — to me) See! He’s nev­er going to change!

I encouraged them to talk a bit more, and he did a good job of sticking to a simple statement, as she pulled out all the stops.

I final­ly stopped things, and said to her, “So, first, are you say­ing that you want him to do what you want him to, every time?”

She: Yes! That’s what mar­riage is all about! Doing what your part­ner wants!
Me: And just for my infor­ma­tion, do you go to vis­it his par­ents reg­u­lar­ly?
She: (Aghast) Of course not! His par­ents are idiots, and they don’t like me, so I nev­er go.
Me: Do you see a con­tra­dic­tion?
She: )(puz­zled… then) No! My request is rea­son­able, and besides I have the right not to see his parents.

And on… and on…

And no, she nev­er saw what was hap­pen­ing, because she had firm­ly con­vinced her­self that he was the prob­lem, and she was the solution.

Fourth, you need to be committed

Actu­al­ly, I wish she could have been, but I digress.

We sug­gest 30 min­utes a day for com­mu­ni­cat­ing, using the Mod­el. Min­i­mum. And then, out come the excus­es. No time, (s)he won’t, it won’t work. 

And can­did­ly, I agree. It won’t work if you don’t do it, and it won’t work if you refuse to give up blam­ing and fixing.

So, what’s left? Well, some­one to share with, cry with, work things through with. But only pos­si­ble if I get over myself and use the 30 min­utes as an oppor­tu­ni­ty to work on myself.

Because that’s what relat­ing is for.

I’m priv­i­leged to have Dar as a wit­ness to my life and my learn­ings, and I’m priv­i­leged to wit­ness her. Not once in 33 years have we tried to fix the oth­er, ’cause, hey! We’re not bro­ken! We lis­ten, we offer per­spec­tives and sug­ges­tions if asked (that part is still hard for me, as I want to jump right in there with my insights. Dar is good at telling me to back off.)

Read The. Best. Rela­tion­ship. Ever., or go find a ther­a­pist who can teach you a Com­mu­ni­ca­tion Mod­el. Learn to work on your­self, and to share what you are learn­ing, and who you are, with your near­est and dearest.

You don’t have to do this alone, but you do have to com­mit to doing it. 

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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