Byron Katie’s philosophy of “accepting what is” and her way of examining our thoughts for the truth are inspiring. On July 5th, Byron Katie’s posted this Facebook status:
“A relationship is two people who agree, two people who like each other’s stories. We call it love.”
This post contains some truth, yet it also feels somewhat incomplete to me.
For a relationship to thrive, the two partners need common ground. A strong foundation for a relationship is set when two people agree on some basic beliefs and values regarding life and relationships. Even though strictly speaking, these could be considered stories, those beliefs and interpretations of reality are supporting the bond between two people.
Beyond that common ground, we bring additional “stories” based on old belief systems into all our relationships. We might find ourselves creating experiences in our love relationship where the wounded child inside emerges and takes over. Many such interactions are based on myths about love and relationships.
Every story that surfaces is a gift. Either alone or together with our partner, we can examine our stories for the truth beneath. This requires one partner to hold the space, to be open and listen without judgement, and even to gently prompt us to examine a story for its truth and its value.
Examining a story with your partner might ideally and in an abbreviated form look like this:
Susan: I am struggling with the fact that you don’t ask me a lot of questions. The thought that comes up for me is, “Peter is not interested in me because he does not ask about my day.”
Peter: Thank you for letting me know. I am sorry you feel that way. Would you like to examine your feelings and your story with me?
Susan: Yes. It feels like this unpleasant emotion is going all the way back to my childhood. It makes me feel very small and sad. It makes me feel like my experiences or feelings don’t matter, and that I am not important. I experienced that with my parents many times.
Peter: I can see how that story makes you feel sad. Who would you be if you let that story go?
Susan: I would feel like I am important and that you care about me.
Peter: You are very important to me. I sometimes forget to ask questions, but I will make an effort to ask you about your day more often.
Susan: Thank you. I understand this is an old story from childhood and it is time to let go of it. I will remember that I am important to you.
Notice how Peter, being the partner who holds the space for Susan to do her work, does not get defensive and does not buy into her story. He gives her time to understand where this belief is coming from. He does not try to fix things for her but trusts her to clear the feeling and story out. Susan does her part by avoiding phrasings that blame or accuse. She takes responsibility for her feelings and knows it is up to her to work this out.
In a perfect world, all communications with our partner would unfold like the one above. Nonetheless, setting a clear intention for our conversations to unfold with such awareness is powerful. The effort is always worth it. Examining our stories together allows us to gain understanding of our partner, grow in loving acceptance, and strengthen our bond of love.
A successful relationship is two people who agree to work on their issues together, two people who recognize each other’s stories, two people who trust each other and love each other’s growth. That is what I call love.