Practice Curiosity and “I” language.
I suppose I could find another word than “practice,” but it seems to me that no matter how good I get at interacting and relating with Darbella, I am always practicing! The real issue is what happens when I lose focus and “slip,” falling out of integrity and balance.
Which still happens somewhat often. Or I judge that it does. And I also have a real sense of how silly it all is.
My judgement face
Let me give you an illustration, from earlier this week.
If you’ve been reading this blog (or our e‑zine) for long, you’ll know that I’ve mentioned my “old” approach to life–I trace my shift of focus to April 1986. Prior to that, I couldn’t trust myself not to get all judgemental and arrogant with pretty much everyone.
My relationship with Dar dates to 1983. We established communication and relationship guidelines right from the start–it’s the stuff I’ve been writing about in this series. Early on, we decided that we could handle each other’s peculiarities, and committed to “not biting” when one or the other of us went off in a weird direction.
In dialog with Dar and a few other close friends, I’ve learned a fair bit about my “dark/shadow side.” This is the side most of us wish to repress or delete. Last week, I described this as the closet monster stuff. Mostly, I’d describe this side as above–arrogant and judgemental.
I relate to Linus in Peanuts:
“I love humanity. It’s people I can’t stand.”
Anyway, here’s the story, and how it applies:
(I’ll hide the details, to protect the innocent–wink, wink–)
Dar and I belong to a certain class that meets several times a week. I don’t particularly like some of the participants on the night we attend, so this week we shifted to another night. I had a good time, as opposed to my norm of enjoying the class and annoying myself over my judgements about the other participants.
After class, I started into a bit of a rant about how I liked the class we’d just attended, and how much I disliked the regular one.
Dar, when she could get a word in edgewise, indicated the new class was OK, and that she had no trouble with our regular class, and that I should decide which class I wanted to attend.
I wanted Dar to join me in my drama, so I worked at getting her to agree that the old class was bad, weird, etc. and to agree that the new class was much better.
Dar repeated that either class was fine, and that this was my issue, and that I needed to make up my mind.
I wanted her to agree with me. I wanted her to join me in judging the people in the old class. I tried everything. I pulled out what I declared were comparable experiences in Dar’s life.
She refused to bite–she agreed it was a good illustration, and that I’d have to decide about the class, as it was my issue.
I pouted and groused all the way home.
Dar listened to my grousing and complaining, and did not try to extract me from my own mess. (Hint: she can’t, as it’s my issue. If she was silly enough to try, then I could judge that she’d not done that right.)
I created feelings of abandonment, annoyance, went to “No one loves me” (a personal favourite,) and just barely avoided “I always support you, and you never support me.” (I thought it, but didn’t say it.)
Dar just sat there, repeating the mantra, “Your issue, you decide.”
I got over myself, and calmed myself down.
Let me unpack this, as a way of describing elegant relating.
The superficial issue is which class to attend. I mean, really, I could just get over myself and pick one or the other. It’s a superficial issue that Dar was wise not to bite on.
The real issue is that I can be judgemental and arrogant, and in this case I wanted Dar to agree that my arrogant judgements were right. Dar also did not bite on this one, but did keep reminding me to get over myself.
Now, what’s the downside of her joining me in a “right/wrong” event?
- If she agreed with my judgements, the likelihood is that all that would happen is a bitch-fest of monumental proportions. I trust you have noticed that griping about how awful others are changes nothing, right? We could have agreed to do this, and had fun being sanctimonious, but it, again, accomplishes nothing.
- If she disagreed, we could have ended up fighting about who was right–and the fight would have been about something out of our control–the behaviour of others.
Dar chose the path of curiosity and “I” language. She separated my stuff from her stuff, and refused to shift focus to the drama I was creating.
“I” Language: She clearly stated that she had no issues with the old class, was OK with the new class, and that she had no judgements about the participants.
Curiosity: She indicated that the drama and energy was all mine, and encouraged me to deal with the crap I was creating (my words, not hers… she just asked me to decide.)
I decided to take around 45 minutes to get over myself. During that time, I tried all kinds of clever strategies to draw Dar into my game. She simply did not go there. Part of me was proud of her, and the other part was annoyed that she was so good at avoiding my games.
Rather than beat this one to death,
let me make some suggestions.
1. Your job is to notice how, when and what you are creating emotions over. The only way to learn elegant relating is to take responsibility for yourself.
2. Your other job is to be open and curious about your partner. This is simple when there is no drama.
3. If your partner has an emotion arise, biting on their drama is never helpful. Your job is to be curious and neutral. Keep reminding your partner to notice what is up for them, to own their drama, and to decide.
Now, clearly, all of this needs to be agreed upon in advance.
Sure, this is difficult. If it wasn’t, everyone would do it. Our tendency, when confronted with drama, is to get defensive, fight back, argue, do the “silent treatment,’ whatever. Or, to change the subject, so as to get away from the discomfort.
Nonetheless, what is required is to listen, and to meta-comment:
- “I notice you are upsetting yourself, and and I wonder if you might want to work through what you are setting up.”
- In Wayne and Dar’s world, it’s, “You might want to get over yourself.”
Now, occasionally, you’re going to slip, and both you and your partner are going to bite on an issue.
You’ll notice, only if you pay attention to your own reactions. Tightness, anger, wanting distance, all are clues you’re winding yourself up. As is noticing the argument you’re in. When this happens, take ownership, and stop the fight.
Don’t wait for your partner to do something.
Although, since this is an agreement, your partner has agreed to all of this. Own your side of the fight, just as soon as you recognize you are caught in your drama.
And remember, what goes on inside of you is never caused by something outside of you.
Dar and I are looking at the same group of classmates. I am creating judgements and drama, she is not. Same people, different reaction. The drama is mine. I am creating it, feeding the flames, and making myself miserable. I will stop as soon as I choose to own this, and stop.
He says with a grin!
Next week, we’ll shift themes a bit, and continue our exploration of self-responsibility.