5 Winning Strategies in Relationships

In one of my last articles, I outlined five interactions which are useless and damaging to your relationships, especially in our close loving partnerships. Here are five winning strategies, as Terry Real describes in his recording, “Fierce Intimacy”.

  1. Go After What You Want – Express Your Needs 

Express what you want and need and be assertive about getting it. Terry Real calls it “daring to rock the boat”, which is scary at times, especially when we seem to be cruising along smoothly. If we are overidentified with our Pleaser Part or our Peaceful Part, because we received the message during childhood that we will only be loved if we go along with everything, it can be terrifying to rock the boat. There are two things to consider. Firstly, it is your birthright to be in an equal cherishing relationship in which both partner’s needs are met. The second thing to realize is that if you do not find your voice and speak up for your needs and wants, resentment begins to grow, and resentment is a poison that slowly erodes the love between you and your partner. To stay with our metaphor, resentment drills little holes into your relationship boat.

Sometimes we have this idea that we should not have to ask for what we want and need and that our partner should just know what our needs are if he/she really loved us. Our partner is not a mind reader. We set them and ourselves up for failure with this attitude!

Furthermore, help your partner to succeed by telling him or her up front what you need or want instead of waiting for them to fail. Be encouraging and affirm your partner’s efforts by giving positive feedback. Terry Real calls this “celebrating the glass being 15% full”. If the glass was 5% full beforehand, this is a reason to celebrate and thus encourage your partner to keep going. With our children, we naturally do that. If your son or daughter made an improvement in school from a D to a C, you give them reinforcement to keep going and to eventually get to a B.

 

  1. Speak to Make Things Better 

Speak to your partner with love. Before you speak, drop down into your heart and speak from there. If you are too triggered to do that, take a time out until you are able to interact from a more centred place. Remind yourself that you want to speak to make repairs not to make things worse. Learn how to be assertive and loving at the same time. Make sure your partner knows that you love them but that you also need to respect yourself and your needs and feelings.

Make very clear requests using I-statements. There is nothing you need to say that cannot be phrased as a subjective I statement. This helps us to stay away from judgments or accusing the other person. One method for good communication is the five steps of the non-violent communication by Marshall Rosenberg as described in my article “Having Our Needs met in Relationships“.

Speak respectfully and be prepared that not all your requests will be met. You could say “I would like to talk to you about… Is this a good time?” We need to be able to also tolerate small disappointments. Your partner might reply, “I am tired right now. Can we talk about this tomorrow?” Terry Real even takes it so far as to say we need to “celebrate the no”. Celebrating the no means to be proud of your partner when they say “no” to take care of themselves and meet their own needs, and be proud of yourself for being adaptable and grow-up when you don’t get everything you want in the moment when you want it.

 

  1. Listen to understand 

Before we can respond, we need to really listen. Getting defensive, whether that is out loud or in our heads, is not true listening. We need to put our own feelings aside while we are listening. Listening is also not about arguing about the facts and wanting to be right. Wanting to be right is one of the 5 losing strategies. Listening means entering into your partner’s subjective experience. What do they feel and how do they see things? Be a friendly interviewer who really wants to understand the perspective of the other person.

Remember that as a couple, you are in each other’s care. Or keep Terry Real’s analogy in mind that you are at a customer service or support desk. When a customer complains that their new electric kettle does not work, they don’t want to hear from you that your toaster does not work. Your only concern is to listen to them and tend to their issue in that moment in time, until it is your turn at the customer service window. When your partner comes to you in a state of upset, you are in their service.

Remember that nobody thinks they are irrational. Their feelings and interpretations of reality make sense to them. It is your job to be curious about what makes sense to them. It is your job to help your distraught partner to get back into harmony and closeness with you because that is good for your relationship and therefore is also good for you. Terry Real calls this stance “Enlightened Self-Interest”.

 

  1. Respond with Generosity 

Our first impulse might be to deny that we have done something or to explain why we have done something. That way of responding was termed “leading with an argument” by Terry Real, because it usually is the beginning of an argument. Instead, acknowledge your partner’s experience or feelings and take responsibility for your part in the issue. You might need to lead with a sincere apology, or at least an honest acknowledgement of what you have done or not done.

Image by JenDigitalArt from Pixabay

That disarms your partner, deescalates the conflict, and allows you to make repairs. Terry Real calls this skill “relational jujitsu”. You don’t oppose the force. You yield to the energy coming at you and turn it into a more harmonic energy. Admittedly, that is not an easy feast to accomplish, because we have been taught to respond to power with equal or greater aggression. When we meet aggression and respond with generosity and gentleness, the aggression runs into emptiness.

On the side of the partner who receives an apology or an attempt to improve, “responding with generosity” means to gracefully accept the repair. This is not the moment to be picky. You might not get all you wanted, but if you get 70% of what you have been asking for, that is a sign that your partner wants to cooperate and make peace. Accept the peace offering! Respond with a “thank you” for listening to you and meeting your requests.

The next step is to ask what you can give your partner. Find out what they need from you to make the changes you have asked for. You are on the same team, so you want to help them come through for you. This is relational empowerment rather than personal empowerment. Our society tends to encourage personal empowerment at the expense of our relationships. I am of course not saying that our personal growth and empowerment is not important, but we need a balance in order to live well functioning relationships.

 

  1. Cherish what you have 

Cherishing is a powerful change agent. Terry Real believes “this one winning strategy is equal in potential to all of the other strategies combined”. The best way to get more of what you want in a relationship is by appreciating what you are already getting. Whatever we give energy to, or pay attention to, grows and becomes more. We have the choice to focus on the steps forward, on the progress.

Why is that sometimes so hard?

Real intimacy, closeness and vulnerability can be scary for many of us. Fights can serve as a distance regulator. Complaining about what we are not getting helps to keep the distance between us and our partner, instead of truly opening up our heart and acknowledging everything we are getting. Fights keep us tied into each other but at a certain distance. The opposite of love is not hate, but indifference. Fights are an opportunity to experience that the other one cares enough to be triggered by us and to feel close but not so close and enmeshed that it creates fear or panic. So what if, instead of starting a fight each time our inner child feels too vulnerable, we would express that we feel scared or that we need a bit of distance?

Terry Real calls the lack of gratitude towards our partner “having ADD, Appreciation Deficiency Disorder”. The ratio of negative feedback to positive appreciation is often out of balance in relationships. We need to engage in active appreciation several times each day.

Once our partner starts to give us more of what we have asked for, the challenge is to receive it gracefully and to cherish what we are getting. So if you hear yourself disqualifying what they are giving, e.g. “you are not doing it right”, or “you are only doing it because I asked for it”, or “you are doing it now but you didn’t do it then or you won’t do it in the future”, be curious about what is actually going on.

Sometimes we also have an attachment or belief system that keeps us from having happy and healthy relationships. We do something that Terry Real calls “keeping a parent spiritual company” by living in the same world they live in, e.g. being mistrustful like your father, or being passive aggressive like your mother, or overidentified with independence like your father, or overemotional like your mother, or too easygoing and disconnected from our own needs like your father and so on. When we try to move beyond that it might feel disloyal to the respective parent.

At other times, we might be invested in not wanting to be like one (or both) of our parents at all costs. For example, not wanting to take advantage of your spouse like you experienced your mother doing, or not wanting to abuse power like your father did and so on. When we identify with the opposite of an energy we are equally not whole and not able to create a balanced relationship. Moving into happiness in all those cases is synonymous with separating from our family. That’s were belief change techniques like PSYCH-K® and Shadow Energetics come in to change our subconscious programs.

If you dare to move beyond your parents and you dare to be happier, more vulnerable and more intimate than they were able to be, you are forging into new territory for your whole ancestral line. You are changing the future for your children and grandchildren, who will receive a different legacy because they now have new role models.

 

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greendoorrelaxation@yahoo.ca

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Why Won’t You Apologize?

Listen to this blog as a podcast here, or read it below!

Sue is at the stove making dinner. As she turns to tell her children to get ready, she sees six-year-old Adam ripping a Barbie doll’s head off while his four-year-old sister stares at him with fear in her eyes. Adam is watching his sister and seems to take pleasure in her response. Sue is shocked and disgusted. Before she is aware of how she feels and why she was triggered into those feelings, she says to Adam. “You are horrible! That was just mean and malicious! How can you do such an awful thing? Don’t you care about your sister’s feelings at all? You need to apologize to your sister right now!” Adam feels deeply ashamed. He hears that there is something inherently wrong with him.

Twenty years later, Adam and his girlfriend Sarah are having a fight. Her choir had their first performance and he forgot. He stayed late at the office to work overtime and went out for a drink with his colleagues afterwards. His seat in the theatre stayed empty. Sarah is upset. “How could you forget? Don’t you care about my life and my feelings at all? You are horrible!” Adam’s shame is triggered again. He doesn’t say anything. When his girlfriend says, “you should apologize, but clearly you don’t care!” Adam gets defensive. What he doesn’t do is take responsibility for his mistake and apologize.

Apologies are almost impossible when we are stuck in a place of shame. Being able to say, “I am sorry” requires a solid foundation of self-worth. We need to feel that we are fundamentally lovable even if our behaviour in a situation has caused somebody else pain. Adam has learned that he is fundamentally flawed. Criticism and the anger of a loved one trigger self-loathing in him. He feels like he is six years again, being told that he is horrible. Only when we have a solid basis of self-esteem can we take responsibility for a mistake and for the effects our words or actions had on another person.

Sarah is hurt and continues to be upset. Adam feels not good enough and, in an attempt to stop the uncomfortable confrontation, he says, “I am sorry” in an irritated voice. His apology comes with the meta message that Sarah’s feelings are silly and annoying. He adds, “You could have reminded me again yesterday that the performance was tonight” and essentially blames her. A little later in the conversation he says, “I am sorry but you are overreacting. It’s not as if you had a solo performance!” Because of the deep shame he feels, he is unable to validate her feelings and take responsibility for his absence with an authentic and heart-felt apology.

What constitutes an effective and honest apology?

  1. It is never too late to apologize. If we apologize within the first minutes after an event, the repair is easier. As Stan Tatkin points out, when we can repair very quickly, the experience does not pass from short term memory into long term memory. On the other hand, if the repair does not occur quickly, the behaviour is regarded by the injured party as a “trait” and will be encoded in their memory as such.

However, Adam can still apologize when he has calmed down and has taken a moment to put himself in Sarah’s shoes. Going back to the conversation at a later point means a double apology is required; a heart-felt “I am really sorry, I wasn’t at your choir performance as I had promised” followed by, “I am sorry I felt too ashamed to apologize properly right away.”

  1. Apologizing requires listening and understanding. The willingness to sit with Sarah’s disappointment and validate her feelings is required from Adam. “You must have been so disappointed”, “I understand why you felt like I didn’t care”, “I am sorry you felt abandoned” and so on.

  1. Apologizing means taking responsibility for one’s part in a situation. Adam needs to look into Sarah’s eyes and show her through his body language, his tone and his words, that he is sorry for forgetting. An authentic “I know I really screwed up!” or something similar shows that he is not trying to pass the blame.
  2. The word “but” negates an apology. A true apology only focuses on our behaviour, without making excuses. Harriet Lerner in her book “Why Won’t You Apologize” reminds us to keep “but” and “if” out of our apologies. “I am sorry if I offended you” is for example also a non-apology, as it questions the validity of the other person’s feelings.

Just as there is an art to apologizing, there is also an art to receiving an apology. In accepting the apology, there is also no place for a “but” or a lecture. Sarah needs to receive Adam’s heart-felt apology with grace and openness. She needs to simply thank him for apologizing and save any further discussion, for example about Adam having been forgetful lately, for another time.

As parents, grandparents, and educators, who want to raise children who are ready to say sorry, we have to keep in mind that saying less is more. If a child apologizes, we need to accept the apology with a simple thank you instead of following with a whole lecture. We need to give them credit for being mature and responsible enough to offer a true apology. Making statements about the child’s character instead of their behaviour and lecturing them only causes further shame instead of a positive experience. A true heartfelt apology is not just a gift to the person we are apologizing to but it is also a gift to ourselves as it raises our self-worth when we are able to take responsibility and act in integrity. Let’s remember to make apologizing an experience of personal growth and increased self-esteem for the next generation.

The book “Why Won’t You Apologize” by Harriet Lerner is available from amazon.

If you are enjoying my articles, you can subscribe to receive an e-mail notification whenever I post a new blog. All you need to do is to enter your email address in the field on the left side of the bar. Thank you for your support!

Angelika

Relationship Coaching

905-286-9466

greendoorrelaxation@yahoo.ca

Constructive Disagreements in Relationships – PART TWO Perpetual Problems

Whether we just had a new baby as I described in part one of this article, whether we have no children or older ones, an important aspect of constructive disagreements is processing our fights, acknowledging perpetual problems, and understanding the stories underneath our differences.

  1. Processing and Understanding Fights

We have to get outside of a fight in order to process it. Once you have calmed down, begin by describing the feelings you had during the fight. Just name them, don’t explain or elaborate. Let your partner do the same. For example, “I felt defensive / excluded / angry / misunderstood / criticized / treated unfairly / unappreciated / overwhelmed / afraid” and so on.

Then summarize your viewpoint. Then listen to your partner’s viewpoint. Don’t interrupt each other. Avoid blaming, disagreeing or getting back into the fight. Instead step into your partners shoes and try to see his or her perspective. Communicate your understanding of his or her view out loud to your partner.

taking-responsibility

Take responsibility for your part in the fight. For example, “I am sorry, I have been taking you for granted lately”, or “I have not been a very good listener lately”, or “I have not asked for what I need; I expected you to just know.”

Decide how you can make this better in the future by gently asking your partner to do one thing differently next time and vice versa.

  1. Deepening Your Understanding of Each Other

Every fight contains hidden conversations that lie dormant underground. Instead of the fight, what conversation do we actually need to have? The answer lies in our childhood experiences and current circumstances. We call out to each other from within our own vulnerabilities. Analyze what the triggers of your last fight were. For example, did you feel excluded / ignored / unimportant / rejected / unloved / powerless / helpless? Then, see if you can understand these feelings in connection with your past. Where and when in your past did you feel this way? Share with your partner.

behind-every-complaint

  1. Hear the Longing Behind a Complaint

Often our partner complains because he or she is longing for something that is hidden behind the complaint. Here are some examples put together by John and Julie Gottman in “10 Lessons to Transform Your Marriage”:

Complaint: Why do you always let the garbage pile up like this?

Longing: I wish that we could feel more like teammates taking care of our house.

Complaint: You never call me during the day.

Longing: I wish we could feel close to each other, even when we’re apart.

Complaint: I’m tired of making dinner every night.

Longing: I’d like to go out for dinner with you, as we did when we were dating.

69-of-the-time

  1. Perpetual Problems and the Story Underneath

In each partnership, there are perpetual problems. In fact, according to John Gottman, 69% of problems couples have are repeats because they are based on fundamental differences in personality, lifestyle, or needs. “Choosing a partner is choosing a set of problems” (Dan Wile). If you were with another partner, you would also have unsolvable problems, just different ones.

Some examples are:

– Differences in neatness and organization

– Differences in emotionality

– Differences in wanting time together versus time apart

– Differences in independence

– Differences in optimal sexual frequency

– Differences in preferred lovemaking style

– Differences in approaching finances

– Differences with respect to how much closeness to family partners want

– Differences in how to approach household chores

– Differences in how to raise and discipline children

– Differences in punctuality

– Differences in preferred activity level

– Differences in being people-oriented

– Differences in decision making

– Differences in ambition and opinions about the importance of work

– Differences with respect to religion or spirituality

– Differences with respect to drug and alcohol consumption

– Differences in excitement levels

– Differences in preferred lifestyle

– Differences in values

– Differences in marital fidelity

It is normal for a couple to trip up over those substantial differences. When we are stressed, overworked or exhausted, we gravitate towards our perpetual issues even more. The key to a happy relationship is not expecting to change the partner, but to learn to dialogue about those problems so we can make the best of it. If we can’t dialogue, we end up in gridlock conflict. This conflict takes over and robs us of all our happiness in the relationship.

We need to realize that with many of these perpetual problems, shadows come up for us. Our partner is mirroring to us what we have learned to disown. For example, I might be the planner and my partner is better at living in the moment. Or I am more concerned about neatness than my partner. Or my partner wants to save up most of our money and I like to have the freedom of spending it.

Underneath our conflicts is a hidden story tucked away safely: a dream, a fear, values or personal philosophies. For example, the wife doesn’t just want to save money in her second marriage, but she wants to avoid ever having to experience being poor again and having to go to the food bank with her children like in her first marriage. And the husband doesn’t just want to spend foolishly. He wants to travel and have a new car now rather than dropping dead at 50 like his own father, who never allowed himself any fun.

We don’t find out the dream or the fear underneath our difference if we never ask the questions, “What makes this so important to you?” and “Is there a story behind this for you, maybe in your childhood history?” Being curious about the story is beyond understanding just the thoughts and feelings. “It’s about also grasping what our partner holds sacred—our partner’s values, beliefs, experiences, symbols, and legacies.” (Gottman, And Baby Makes Three)

gottman-john-and-julie

Dr John & Dr Julie Gottman

We have to feel safe enough with our partner to pull our dreams out of the closet. The essential ingredients for a successful dialogue about a gridlock conflict are mutual acceptance of the differences and acknowledging the problem that results from those differences. With patient listening, laughter, and affection, the dialogue unfolds much better.

For example:

Dan: It upsets me that you spend money when you have so much debt. We should be lowering your debt and saving up for our own house. At this rate, it will take forever.

Abby: Why is it so important to you that we reach our goal soon?

Dan: Having a house together with you means for me that we are really committed to each other. It also makes me very nervous that you have debt.

Abby: Does this have to do with your family history?

Dan: Yes, in my family, financial safety has always been a high value. Being able to plan allows me to feel more in control. There is so much unpredictability in everyday life already. – But what about you? What does it mean to you to be able to spend money the way you do?

Abby: Money to me means the freedom to do what I want. You are looking for more predictability; I am looking for the opposite, for adventures and I suppose, unpredictability, when I can just take off on a trip and discover a new place. I also like to spend my money on workshops and trainings because this means stimulation for my mind and an interesting break from the everyday routine.

what-is-one-secret

Now Dan and Abby can either honour their partner’s position and the dream behind it, or not. It doesn’t mean surrendering their own. It means accepting the difference between them and establishing an initial compromise. They might decide to put a plan or budget in place that allows them to bring down the debt while still enjoying life. They also need to talk about what fears each of them might have about honouring their partner’s dream. What disaster scenarios are popping up in their minds?

Dan’s worst case scenario is to end up like his uncle, who lost all his money and his house when he and his wife split up. Abby’s worst case scenario is not to have the freedom anymore to make her own financial choices.

Compromising won’t eliminate the problem. It’s in the nature of a perpetual problem to come up again. However, it does not need to mean the death sentence for a relationship to have unsolvable problems when we can move from judgment into understanding, accepting and dialogue.

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Angelika

Relationship Coaching and Belief Changes

905-286-9466, greendoorrelaxation@yahoo.ca