5 Losing Strategies in Relationships

“All relationships are an endless dance of harmony, disharmony and repair. Closeness, disruption and return to closeness.”

– Terry Real

Harmony, disharmony and repair are the essential cycle of all relationship experiences. Closeness, disruption, and return to closeness, happen in many smaller and bigger ways in all our relationships every day. This can already be observed when you watch mothers or fathers and small babies.

I was fortunate enough to visit a beautiful young friend the other day who just had a baby daughter two months ago. I thoroughly enjoyed the slow pace and rhythm of the baby’s needs. I was also able to observe how, from the first day on, we learn this dance that Terry Real describes.

The baby is all relaxed and everything is in perfect harmony. The intimacy and peace is palpable. Caregiver and baby can just look at each other forever, connected through perfect closeness, and eventually the baby falls asleep peacefully. Then the harmony gets disrupted by a feeling of hunger, or the wet diaper, or a gassy tummy, or a sudden loud noise. The mother or father responds by soothing the baby, fixing the issue, and restoring harmony, whether that is with the breast, or the soother, or a dry diaper.

The parent does not argue with the baby if they are right to cry, or punishes the baby for being upset, and hopefully does not let them cry themselves to sleep. Yet, in our love relationships, we employ such useless and damaging strategies. Here are five strategies which are futile and harmful to your relationships.

1 Being Right

I often see couples having a discussion about who was right or what is true. That usually means they argue about who remembers something correctly, or who has the correct perspective on an issue. As Terry Real says so poignantly, “Objective reality has no place in personal relationships”. Or in other words, it does not matter who is right and who is wrong!

If you ever took a workshop with me, you will recall the story of the five blind men and the elephant, which I often share. In doubt, you both have only part of the truth in a given situation. If you asked a third person about the event, they might have a third perspective. There is no such thing as objective truth when it comes to our experiences. Our memory tends to be faulty and betray us because we will remember very selectively, depending on how something impacted us emotionally.

What wanting to be right leads us into is what Terry Real calls “perception battles” or “objectivity battles”. Trying to sort out our relationship issues by wanting to figure out who is right and who is wrong, is an endless losing strategy that has us running around in circles. In fact, if we argue about who is right, nobody wins! As Stan Tatkin likes to point out, if one partner wins and the other loses, you both lose. However, the relationship wins when you create a win-win situation for both of you. What matters is not who did what and who is right, but how you are going to solve a situation or issue in a way that your needs and your partner’s needs are met.

 

2. Control

Trying to control your partner and make them do something can show up in two ways: direct control or indirect control by manipulation. We all have those protective parts inside, that want to come up and control a situation either openly or more subversively. Traditional feminine expectations want women to be indirect instead of openly speaking up for their feelings, needs and wants. Therefore, women might often have a stronger manipulative part which helps them to get what they need.

My grandmother was a master of manipulating others around her, either subtly or less subtly, because she felt she had no other way to have her needs met. 70 years ago, or even 40 years ago, that might have been true. However, in order to be in an equal intimate relationship, we need to find the way out of stereotypical gender roles.

Even though the conventional male and female roles are slowly changing, women still tend to lose their voice. Or as Terry Real says, women “learn to close their voices and men still learn to close their hearts” and disconnect from more vulnerable feelings.

Manipulation is a way to play or manage your partner, which is detrimental in a relationship, because it fosters resentment. Nobody likes being controlled. Even when it looks like your partner is relenting and not objecting to giving in and doing what you want, the likelihood that he or she will grow resentful over time is great.

 

3. Unbridled Self-expression

The third strategy that Terry Real discusses is “unbridled self-expression”. This refers to venting and vomiting up not just the present issue, but all past situations when your partner did something similar.

Why does it not work to bring up past offenses that tie into the present issue? Functional moves in a relationship, whether that is with your partner or anybody else, are moves that empower and motivate the other person to come through for you.

If you are a parent, you know that if you “flatten” your son or daughter and make them feel not good enough and incapable, you are not inviting them to change. If you tell them what they aren’t doing right now in the present, they can do something about it. If you tell them all the things they didn’t do in the past, perhaps throwing in some general accusations starting like “You always…” and “You never…”, the only effect this has is that the other person feels helpless and insufficient. This trend talk then often leads to criticizing somebody’s character, rather than staying with the present issue that can be resolved. You end up with a partner who feels helpless and paralyzed.

When expressing our feelings and needs, “short and sweet” is the winning strategy, while keeping in mind what actually encourages and empowers our partner to meet our requests.

 

4. Retaliation

Revenge and getting even are another losing strategy. This strategy can show up overtly or covertly. The latter occurs when we get stuck in a victim story of “He/she hurt me, so I will hurt them back”. Terry Real calls this offending from the victim position. This makes your partner the perpetrator while featuring yourself as the victim. Every perpetrator thinks they are the victim and have no choice but to fight back with self-righteous indignation. The faulty idea behind revenge is to want to make the other person experience the pain we have experienced. Punishing somebody will never bring them into increased understanding or accountability for their own actions. That’s how legal battles or wars between countries are started. Whenever has the losing party in a court case or in a war said, “Now I understand that I shouldn’t have done this and how my enemy felt. In fact, I am going to love my enemy now that they have won”?

There are two forms of retaliation. Direct open retaliation, or the even more destructive indirect retaliation which is passive-aggressiveness by withholding something, most often love and affection. Both does enormous damage in the relationship.

 

5. Withdrawal

Passive aggressive retaliation can look like withdrawal but is really about revenge. Actual withdrawal is were one person leaves the field. That can be the refusal to engage about an issue, for example trouble with other family members, financial challenges, or the addiction issues which are going on, or opting out of a particular aspect of the relationship, for example the sexual part of the relationship. This can even mean checking out of the relationship entirely. When the latter happens, the end of the relationship is often near.

When withdrawal happens, you might mistakenly think that the withdrawing partner is moving into acceptance. They might say, for example, “I just accept that I cannot talk to my partner about this topic”. However, is the withdrawing partner somewhat resentful in this situation? Resentment is not acceptance.

girl-sea-white-shirt

Withdrawal is also different from having a healthy detachment from what is going on. Withdrawal is unilateral and a rapture. Sweeping things under the carpet and not dealing with them might work as a temporary strategy when we are very overwhelmed, but ultimately backfires.

Withdrawal often looks like provocative or stubborn distance taking. When you can see that a protective part comes up and says “Let’s get out of here. The only way to handle this pain is by distancing yourself.” This is totally different from taking a needed and conscious time out when there is an escalating conflict, or what Terry Real calls “responsible distance taking”. Conscious distance taking means letting your partner know that you need some distance and why. You are also letting them know when you will be back to continue this conversation. If you do this responsibly, you help your partner not to feel abandoned or spin into anxiety. Then they do not need to react from their own protectors like anger or control, or their own inner child, which might respond with fear.

None of these five strategies—or any combination thereof—are in any way helpful or beneficial for a relationship. We need to remember that our partner is not our enemy, but our ally. Instead of controlling, venting, retaliating, withdrawing or wanting to be right, realize that all these strategies are us operating from a protective part and not really connecting from heart to heart. Instead, it is our job to take care of our inner child parts so that we can refrain from using any of these detrimental strategies in our relationships.

Take a moment to honestly assess what your top one or two default strategies might be when the going gets tough. Be compassionate with yourself as you make that self assessment. These are protective parts that step up to protect your vulnerability. Meanwhile, they are keeping you from what you most long for, but might be afraid of: true intimacy and closeness with your partner.

Stay tuned for the next two blog articles “Five Winning Strategies in Relationships” and “How to Do a Time Out Right”. If you have subscribed to my blog, you will be notified by email when the next article is posted.

 

For individual sessions or couples sessions please contact

Angelika

905-286-9466

greendoorrelaxation@yahoo.ca

Check out my discount packages for couples.

If you enjoy my articles, please subscribe to receive an e-mail notification when I post a new blog. Just enter your email address in the field in the left sidebar. Thank you for your support!

Non-Attachment Sets You Free

Sally is married to a man who has put on 60 lbs since they got married but doesn’t listen to her advice on healthy eating. She has a 17-year-old daughter and a 14-year-old son. The daughter has a boyfriend Sally hates, and her son does not apply himself in school. Sally’s in-laws are judgmental and Sally tried extra hard to please her mother-in-law by competing with the other daughter-in-law. Sally sometimes feels anger and sadness rise in her and it takes all her energy to keep those emotions bottled up. She has almost daily headaches and has become dependent on pain killers and anxiety medication.

What advice would you give Sally? She could work on one situation at a time but they all have one thing in common: attachment. Sally’s energy is going towards wanting others to change while she is suppressing her own emotions and needs. She is attached to her husband taking her advice, to her daughter realizing that her boyfriend is not good for her, to her son working harder in school and to her mother-in-law liking her. She is also attached to those powerful emotions which she keeps pushing down by using painkillers to numb them out.

What would make the greatest difference for Sally and her family is for her to start directing her energy towards herself and her needs, and to develop a healthy detachment or non-attachment to the other situations.

Non-attachment or detachment does not mean “not to care” anymore. That is a common misunderstanding. Sometimes we get so frustrated with somebody not changing that we decide that we will “just not care anymore”. When we are shifting from being attached to a certain outcome to non-attachment this is not happening to punish the other people. If frustration is my trigger and punishment is my motivation, I have not developed true detachment. Non-attachment is to keep our own sanity and to allow a situation to unfold in whichever way it needs to unfold. We are still staying compassionate, but we surrender the need to control things.

Non-attachment comes from a true heart-space, a compassionate loving stance, but it means taking our energy back that we have bound up with expectations. Having a healthy detachment is to care but to not be attached to if, when or how the other person is going to take our advice, or if, when or how they do what we would like. If we are attached to them doing something or not doing something, we have allowed our expectations to rule us and to create disappointment and frustration. Our energy is bound up in a certain outcome.

Having healthy detachment from a situation means having a standpoint of non-judgment. We are not attached to how a situation should unfold. We can let it be what it is and have discernment. Discernment means to not tolerate a situation which is harmful to us. Sally’s mother-in-law is manipulative and disrespectful. Directing her energy back towards herself might also mean for Sally not to tolerate that anymore. With some separation from the pleaser voice inside her, Sally can decide to please herself and just let go of the competition between the daughters-in-law which neither one can win anyways.

Non-attachment to uncomfortable emotions means that we can allow our emotions to rise up, to feel them and to let them move through us. Sally has an opportunity to feel the anger and sadness and to realize that underneath it all she is carrying a lot of grief. She deserves to take time to experience and release these emotions.

Non-attachment to pleasurable emotions like happiness means not chasing after them in the outside world. Happiness can be found inside and enjoyed in each moment as it presents itself. Instead of putting her energy towards what she does not like, Sally can give herself permission to focus on the daily little moments of joy.

Non-attachment to food, substances, habits or activities means that we don’t depend on them for our emotional or physical well-being. Instead of eating, smoking, drinking, taking drugs, or engaging in addictive behaviours to feel better, we experience a healthy detachment. We are able to feel our emotions and pain and explore what message there is and which of our needs have to be addressed.

Non-attachment means surrendering and thus letting go of a tug-of-war we have gotten ourselves into. When Sally stops nagging her husband, or pushing her daughter to see certain bad qualities in her boyfriend, or lecturing her son about school, or letting go of the competition with the other daughter-in-law, these situations can pass. The husband can now feel it is his choice to eat healthier. The daughter does not need to rebel anymore and has a chance to see the boyfriend for who he is. Sally’s son gets to experience the natural consequences of not getting good grades; he has to stay at home to study instead of playing video games at his friend’s house. And the mother-in-law is unable to manipulate Sally anymore into doing something she does not want to do. Sally is free.

Last but not least, non-attachment helps us to go though difficult moments with a certain sense of humor, knowing that “This too shall pass”. When she takes a moment to see everything with humour, Sally remembers that her sister also had an “undesirable” boyfriend and eventually broke up with him, and that her husband used to be “lazy” himself when he was 14 and today is a successful engineer.

Where in your life are you attached to people and their choices, to situations unfolding a certain way, to emotions or to food/substances? I invite you to join me on a meditation to release these attachments, reclaim your energy and to surrender to everything unfolding perfectly.

I know your time is valuable and appreciate you reading my blog. 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

905-286-9466

greendoorrelaxation@yahoo.ca