We create reality with words.
We hear or say things like, “I can’t take much more of this,” or ,”I can’t believe we’re still married,” or, “I’ve had it with you.”
These are words that you can’t take back — words that start creating the reality that your relationship could end, that you could pack up your marbles and go home. Game over.
If you mean them — if there is abuse in your relationship, or your children are being harmed, then by all means act on them. Plan carefully, and leave safely.
If you don’t, and you say them a lot, they will only add to the emotional chaos of your world.
The threat is real. And what do we all usually do when we’re threatened?
We either get strongly defensive, or we up the ante, and go on offense. We stop looking at ourselves, and point the finger at our partner.
When a couple comes in for a first session, the hour can be loaded with “he saids” and “she saids.” Neither one is taking responsibility for their part of the problem, secretly (or not so secretly) wanting me to fix the other. The room is filled with disdain and blaming. At the end, maybe not having a lot of time during that first hour for “treatment”, the couple will look at me, and say, “So what do we do until we see you again?” I give a couple of ideas, but then, out of my mouth pops these words. “Try to be kind to each other.” They usually look a bit perplexed, but say okay.
Kindness is essential. Kindness is the building block of empathy and understanding — of not taking everything so personally. How do we think that we can voice contempt for our partner, and have a good relationship?
Let’s take Nan and John. They had two children under the age of 3, both had busy careers, and had had trust problems even before children. Nan felt as if she did the lion’s share of work around the home — John, not appreciated for what he did. (This is an extremely common theme in marital work.) Add two toddlers to that, and they were at each other’s throats, criticizing every diaper changed, every choice scrutinized to see how the other was living up to the role of being “parent.” More and more distance was being created between them.
Therapy was limping along, until I gave them an assignment.
They both agreed to only make a comment about the other’s choices, if they were first given permission to do so. For example, “Would you like my opinion on what you dressed little Mary in today?” Or, “Can I offer a suggestion on how you might get same little Mary to take a bath?”
The next week, they came in laughing. Sometimes, permission had been given. Most of the time, it was not. And what they learned, was that another way of doing things could be just as good, and the relief from not arguing all the time was so welcome, that it was worth shutting up, and letting the other be in charge.
They continued the practice. And got along much better, rediscovering the respect they had for one another, as well as laughing more, enjoying their kids more and feeling more affectionate.
What did it take? If you’re in the habit of being critical…
1) It takes attention and self-discipline to stop.
Remember what you love about the person you are partnered with, and stop tearing them down at every opportunity. Habits can be hard to change, but it’s do-able. He or she is probably trying to do their best, and not intentionally doing things to disappoint or irritate you.
2) It takes being miserable enough about the way you’re relating, to try something different.
We human beings sometimes have to have things get really bad, before we do something about them. (Tornado shelters are often built after a bad tornado.) Recognize that just because your relationship has fallen into a ditch, it doesn’t have to stay there.
3) It takes both people taking responsibility for the problem.
If your answer for things becoming happier is for the other person to change, then that’s a problem. The only thing you have control over is yourself. Take a risk, and try tweaking your own behavior. Hopefully, your partner will respond.
4) It takes apologies and forgiveness.
If barbs have been slung around, it may take an apology and forgiveness on one or both sides. The above couple could have “stayed mad” about what had been said in the past. I certainly have had to ask for forgiveness in my own relationship, and have given it. You go forward.
These changes are about kindness. “The quality of being friendly, generous and considerate” is the definition.
[tweetthis hidden_hashtags=”#drmargaret #relationships”]You can create misery with your words, or #compassion. Your choice.[/tweetthis]
Hope you try it out for size.
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