Synopsis: Of all the ways to Deepen Relationships, here are 6 of my favourites
And when we grow up, I’ll spend all my time making you a better person!
Hey! Stop playing with that stick and listen to me!
So, you might argue that, because I’m a therapist, of course I see a lot of dysfunctional relationships. But I’m not swayed. I also live in and see the “normal world,” and it seems to me that things are not much better, relationship-wise, anywhere. Thus, the 50% divorce rate, and the general dissatisfaction we endless hear about.
I suspect that most folk do not examine their relationship—except when things are off the rails.
As I said last week, regarding magical thinking—there’s a tendency to think that relationships are
1) supposed to “just work,” and
2) that the purpose of finding a partner is to have someone there to magically meet your needs.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
To quote David Schnarch, in “Passionate Marriage,” a primary relationship is a crucible. In other words, the heat of the relationship is the “thing” that makes the crucible’s contents pure. Thus, in the heat of dialog and passion, the couple enters into a proving and refining ground that makes each person more “him or herself.”
This is decidedly different from the norm. The norm is all about a battle for superiority and “rightness.” People in stuck relationships tend to believe that there is only one way to see things, only one view of the world, one view of how to relate, etc.
And coincidentally, that correct view is held by the person espousing it.
In other words, almost no one in a dysfunctional relationship is saying, “Your way is the right way.” No, emphatically they are saying, “My way is the right way.”
We do not believe in “right” ways. We believe in personal growth, and this is best fostered in the crucible, the heated container, of intimate relationship.
The thing I love best about my relationship is that Darbella sees right through me and my games, and chooses to hang around with me anyway. And vice versa. I can’t remember the last time something I said or did surprised her, and vice versa. She knows me. And she calls me on my stuff. And vice versa. This is the basis of our relationship.
1. In good relationships, there is redirection to what’s really going on—we describe this as “calling each other out.”
Calling out is not criticizing or “making wrong.”
“Calling each other on our stuff” is helping each other to snap out of dreamland, so that each of us pays attention to the story we are spinning.
A client, the other day, said, “My husband’s parents really make me angry.” I replied (calling her out), “Why do you choose to anger yourself over your husband’s parents?” Now, this shifts everything. It brings the hearer, if she chooses, into a place of becoming responsible for her feelings.
The initial statement, on the other hand, can only open a discussion about the flaws of the parents, as perceived by the daughter-in-law. This can have only a couple of purposes:
1) to get agreement that the parents are jerks, or
2) to get sympathy.
Neither are particularly helpful.
Deciding that another person is “making you angry” is silly, and changes nothing either about the other person or the situation. Most stuff we anger ourselves over is the same stuff we always anger ourselves over. The parents do “x” and this disagrees with my fantasy about what they ought to be doing. So, I blame them for not cooperating with my fantasy, and make myself angry.
Calling one out of non-responsible language, (for example) involves not biting on provocative statements, not joining in on blaming, but simply inviting one’s partner to correct the langunage. Once I remember I am angering myself over something that is out of my control (the behaviour of another,) I might be moved to let it go, or to select a behaviour that I can take, as opposed to simply blaming.
2. In good relationships, there are no secrets.
Mask? What mask?
Who I am, how I am, and what I am feeling and thinking must be made available to my partner. And I mean the direct experience.
Another client described getting angry with her husband. She then said, “So I spent the next several hours telling him how angry I was.” I asked her if she actually got angry, as in yelling, stomping about. She crossed her arms over her chest, and crossed her legs tightly, and said, “I’m not interested in going there.” Needless to say, she has a mass of body pain and stress issues.
Now, expressing anger directly follows the pattern of # 1, above.
“I am angering myself,” not “you make me angry.” So, the anger is enacted in a clear statement of, “This is what I saw (heard) from you, and I am angering myself, and I want to yell a bit before I process it.”
Another client talks about how, when he gets angry (or experiences other strong feelings,) “I leave the room, and think about it. When I have an explanation for what I was feeling, I tell my partner about it.”
We express our emotions appropriately, directly, and safely. We are then able to move on. Repressed emotions always come back to haunt you.
After all, talking about anger without learning to safely express anger (or any other emotion, of course) is like the difference between describing an orgasm and having one.
In good relationships, the filters and the evasions are set to “off.” At the same time, and this is essential, I am completely self-responsible. I admit to creating my experience, my interpretations and my feelings, and I don’t attempt to hide any of it. The crucible is a place to be fully alive, and part of being alive is enacting all of our feelings—not just the “fun” ones—safely and directly .
3. In good relationships, both people are respectful of the personhood, beliefs, and essence of their partner.
The key here is respect. I’m using the word to mean high regard, or admiration. That this is not the norm in most relationships is obvious.
No matter how it is described, most relationships are about control.
By control, I mean that one or both of the partners attempts to force or manipulate their partner into doing life their way. Force is, “Unless you… I’ll punish you by…” Manipulation is, “If you do this… THEN I’ll do that…”
Respect is, “Hmm. You see it this way and I see it that way. Interesting.”
The piece I’ve never understood is the arrogance of thinking that, just because I’m married to, or in relationship with someone, that somehow this gives me the right to change that person. And at the same time, that the other person has absolutely no right to expect me to change. Because I, of course, am right, and (s)he is wrong.
Respect for personhood — this is my way of saying that my partner is whole and complete as she is, and also remains whole and complete as she changes with time. In other words, she is as she is, and how she is is something I find delightful.
Respect for beliefs — I still laugh at “discussions” Dar and I have had over buzzy topics like family members, education, therapy, etc. There are wide differences in our perspectives, and neither of us will budge. I know that I want her to think like me, because I argue so hard. However, at the end of the day, what Dar believes is what she believes, and it’s the same for me.
As it’s put in the Haven Communication Model -
“No one is right, no one is wrong.
We can only agree or disagree.”
Respectful of essence — each of is here, I believe, to fulfill a personal destiny or purpose. Our skill set, our way of being, is intrinsic, and lies just under the surface, gently tugging us to get on with it. This essence is the truth of us, and again, I’m amazed at how many people think it is their right to demand that their partner change their essence.
Respect is only possible if I am willing to accept my partner as (s)he is. To do this, I have to drop my desire to teach, lecture or control.
4. In good relationships, there is no right and wrong. There is acceptance and cucuriosity.
Well, it certainly seems that there is right and wrong. I typically add that physical violence is never OK, but otherwise, beliefs and behaviours are just that.
Now, you may bump your nose against an, “I don’t enjoy doing that” scenario, and that’s OK. There’s nothing wrong about the thing you do not enjoy, and it is your right to not do it. Getting into the judgment game proves nothing, as your belief about right and wrong is only and always about you.
Acceptance and curiosity, on the other hand, open doors. You get the opportunity to explore and attempt, and even if you decide to only do something once, you’ve grown with the experience.
Most people I know actually aren’t very adventuresome, and really don’t push their boundaries and limits very much at all, and it seems odd to me that, given how little experimentation they do, they have so many opinions about stuff they’ve never tried. I tend to say, “If you are afraid of something, do that next.”
Being open to new possibilities, while dropping the judgement is the best way to deepen the basis of a relationship.
5. Good relationships are engaged, passionate relationships.
Passionate engagement is the willingness to stick your neck out so that your partner sees the real you. Mostly, I see people hiding. They might tell me, in therapy, what they are thinking and feeling, but seem to think that their partner, the person they are supposed to be the most intimate with, should never see them “emoting.” They stuff their anger, hide their passions and turn ons, and walk around carefully, lest they ruffle any feathers.
We propose active engagement. By this I mean letting Dar know exactly and completely where I stand, what’s up for me, and what I am feeling. All the time. We do this by practicing total honesty.
Sure, sometimes I make myself uncomfortable telling her what’s up for me, but I know the danger of keeping that stuff to myself. Now remember, this revelation is being done in the context of the above points. I am not being passionately honest in order to change Dar, or manipulate her into doing something. I am being revealing to let her know more about me, and in this way, to deepen our intimacy.
6. In good relationships, there is no compromise.
Lastly, for this article, let me say this. Compromise never works. If I compromise, I tend to only think about what I gave up. So, when we disagree, we sit down, and we talk, and we stay with it until both of us can agree with our decision, 100%.
In other words, we are not 3‑year-olds; we do not stomp our feet and demand that we get our way. We are adults, and we come to consensus.
Not always easy, but I only remember 2 times in 26 years that it’s taken us longer than an hour.
Because we are not playing games.
The chief game is, “If you do not do what I want, you do not love me.” Otherwise known as manipulation. I know that I love Dar, and I believe she loves me, so where we go on holiday, which car we buy, or other things we might disagree about are never about “love.”
We have never played that game, and when we disagree, we argue passionately for our desire or viewpoint, and then we have a breath and look for consensus.