Miniskirts, Truth, and The Right Way — thinking you are right gets you precious little. Learning to look for what works as opposed to what’s right, is a winning strategy.
In This Moment
It’s mid-October, cooler, nice to see more normal weather. Starting the cover design for the new book!
Because I’m now editing my next book (first time through — and still looking for other readers!) my mind is on relating. I suspect that in order to “fix” things, we first have to be aware of our role in the issue(s.)
A major issue, both in relating and with life in general, is the expectation that there is a “right” way of doing things.
Even more remarkable is the thought that “my way” is always and ever the “right way,” and that my partner needs to get on board.
If they don’t or won’t, it’s because they are stupid, or purposefully thwarting us.
As opposed to, “There is no “right way,” just “what works, this time.”
I think it’s a general rule that, when 2 (or more) people are fighting, the battle is over who is right. A discussion, on the other hand, presents the two viewpoints as viewpoints only. When our egos are not invested in being right, it is easy to step away from the 2 viewpoints, evaluate them cleanly, and even generate now, untried options.
Think about electric light bulbs.
Edison made over 1000 tries to get the filament material right (turned out to be carbonized tungsten, if memory serves.) His approach: clamp some fiber / wire between two connectors, cover with a glass housing, suck the air out, and add current.
Mostly, there was a flash, and the filament broke.
Now, imagine Edison was like warring couples. He decides that the filament must be “chicken feathers.” So, he does the experiment over and over. He blames his equipment, not his choice. Then, he starts blaming others for sabotaging his experiment. Finally he blames, “god,” his genetics, and the world.
And every time, the same result. Poof. Burned chicken feathers.
From this perspective, the problem with “right way” thinking seems obvious. If you argue for rightness, as opposed to experimenting with options that might actually work, you’re stuck.
Huge blow-ups always feature two people locked in a “rightness” battle that can have no winner. The issue, if we dig a bit, is never “rightness.” The battle is a test: the real game is, “If you love me you’ll as I say.”
The fight is a battle of Egos.
Your Ego has a lot invested in “winning,” and also has a bad habit of personalizing “stuff.”
By this, I mean that the thing being argued over stands in for the person. This is the basis behind fights over “incidentals” — coffee cups left unwashed are no longer dirty cups. They are “You, disrespecting me.” Pretty animated for a coffee cup, eh?
Personalizing the impersonal is quite common. A popular one: choosing to have a bad day because your favourite team lost a game. Sad face, endless discussion of plays, and, always, “We lost!!!” Well no, “we” didn’t lose, unless perhaps you are actually a player on the team.
The people who lost are the players who actually played the game. That people don’t get this, and say, “They lost!!!” speaks volumes.
Here’s my favourite therapy tale about the “right way.”
I suspect I was just into my first private practice office, making this around 1982. The guy was my client. He was in his late 30s, and worked at a local record store (remember them???) He mentioned often that he was dating a “hot girl in her early 20’s.” They had a pretty exciting time. Concerts, dancing, and lots of sex.
After some months, they moved in together.
If only this skirt was smaller…
He was almost immediately miserable. “Her dresses are too short. Guys look at her. She always wants to go out. She always wants sex.”
I won’t bore you with how I dug out what was happening for him. Short version, when she moved in, he decided she should now settle down, and, like his mother did , look after him. Act matronly. Dress “properly.”
When she didn’t, he went from trying to persuade her to demanding that she change. His tone shifted from “nice guy” to angry father.
After a week or so, I suggested that he invite her to some sessions.
OK. So. Yes, she was hot. Gorgeous, long blonde hair, and incredibly short skirts. Lots to look at, nothing left to the imagination.
A bit distracting, but that’s who she was.
He’d try to get me on his side, and I’d say, “She is an adult and adults pick their own clothes, and pick are how they are.”
He’d then turn on her, and switch to daddy voice, demanding she behave and, believe it or not!, be in by curfew. (She’d taken to going out when he refused to go with her.)
She immediately shifted to petulant teen. “That’s not fair! You can’t tell me what to do! I got in on time, you’re just trying to punish me! If you don’t stop, I’m going out with (another guy)!”
And from there, in their roles (Egoic states) they’d stake their ground and demand the other change.
Now, needless to say, this wasn’t the whole story. As time passed, I found that the guy absolutely refused, in all areas of his life, to let go of his upbringing. He’d had a demure, stay at home mom, who had looked after, and pampered him.
The woman’s dad had been demanding and intolerant, so she got her back up easily. She’d been on her own since she was 16, and was used to her guy treating her as an equal. She liked having fun, she loved short skirts, and she hated “staid” sex. She couldn’t comprehend the change.
Both wanted me to declare the winner.
I simply went to, “There are better options than fighting.”
- They could go their separate ways, and find a partner more to their liking. Or,
- They could drop the stories, and work with the person they are with.
What I mean is, she’s isn’t suddenly a staid housewife, and he’s not her dad. Those roles are the issue. If they can let go, then she can be how she is, he can let go of his fantasies, and continue to hang out with the woman who, prior to moving in with him, was his best friend.
Not easy, as the guy saw “broken girlfriend” everywhere.
It’s all her fault…
He was totally bogged down with “educating, demanding, and rescuing.” If only his poor, pitiful, indecisive and now ungrateful and angry girlfriend could see that he was only doing this for her own good.
She had dared to grow up, expect to be treated as an adult, and began acting out in ways he didn’t approve of! Especially those short skirts!
I spent a lot of time encouraging her to stop reverting to her teen years, and to state, “I’m glad for your opinion, but I’m an adult, and I get to choose for me.”
Now, it may sound like I’m “blaming” him for the problem, and in a sense I am. I’m not blaming him personally, though. I’m blaming his approach. The woman was actually pretty flexible. (she had to be, just to sit in one of those skirts. (ROTFL)
She tried different approaches. She reasoned. She made requests for change. She got really good at the Communication Model.
I urged him to grow up and leave his childish vision of adulthood behind. He was adamant and entrenched. This was how “all” men were, this was how men “deserved” to be treated. To him, her skirts were disrespectful of him. They were never simply short skirts.
They ended therapy, and a few months later she came back in for some follow-up sessions. They’d split up, and she wanted to learn to figure out what she wanted in her next relationship.
As a general rule, right / wrong discussions are irresolvable.
As soon as either party thinks that there is only one way of seeing or doing things, dialog and creativity are over.
And yet, it is human nature to both normalize our thinking and universalize it into “truth.” So, in a sense, in order to move beyond thinking there is only one “right way,” (and isn’t it funny that the right way is never the other person’s way”¦ how interesting”¦) we have to be willing to let go of internal consistency and certainty.
Now, needless to say, that’s scary. The stuff we believe in most firmly is “old, old” stuff.
Nowadays, I’m more interested in who delivers the cookie
As soon as we mutter or shout, “That’s just the way it is,” we know we are stuck in the mouldy past, reliving and re-stating what we were taught as a child. I know that, when I am overtired, I revert back to a whiny 6‑year-old, who simply wants mommy to show up and make it all better. I think I also expect that the “make it better” part is either: a hug, a cookie or a present. This just might explain the 15 pounds I “ought to lose,” but I digress…
So, you might look at what I just wrote, and wonder what’s wrong with my expectation.
Well, what’s wrong with it is several-fold.
- First, I’m expecting someone else to race in and rescue me. Thus, I’m letting myself off the hook for resolving my own issues.
- Second, I expect whoever rescues me to act like my mother did.
- Third, I’m looking for a bribe, not a resolution of the issue at hand. “Cookies” don’t resolve — they distract.
If I think that what my 6‑year-old wants is “the right way,” I am doomed.
If I see it as old information, and therefore one possibility among many, then I allow myself choice. And notice: I’m not judging the 6‑year-old in me to be bad or wrong. I am judging that acting like a 6‑year old is “dumb and immature,” in that it doesn’t get me what I really want.
I can’t tell you how many people I know who are smart enough to understand this, yet refuse to change a behaviour that doesn’t work.
The thing to remember is that there really is no “right way.” There is just what works, this time. There is no “one, true thing.”
Truth is relative, expanding and changing, all the time. Truth is “this way, today.” Truth is, “Let’s try this a different way and see what happens.” Truth is, “I don’t have a clue. Let’s look for another way.”
This week, look at the stories you tell yourself, about your “truths.” About how the world “should” be. About how others “ought to be” acting or treating you. Then, have a breath, give yourself a shake and do what you can. Let go of your rules, and look instead for another way.
“This way, right now.”