Category Archives: Relationship Skills

The Anatomy of a Bad Apology

Screen Shot 2015-10-07 at 4.29.26 PMLast week I told the story of Amos and Zoe, the office party debacle and their ensuing fight.

I ended up asking ~

  1. Who should apologize to whom?
  2. What for?
  3. Why?

and I offered 15 sample apologies they could have offered one another.

This week I promised to critique the apologies and offer my handy-dandy “Best Apology Guidelines” (maybe with a sexier title!). However, the critique is lengthy enough so we’ll tackle “The Anatomy of a Great Apology” next time.

*****************************************************

So, what did you make of Amos and Zoe’s predicaments?

  1. Who should apologize to whom?
  2. What for?
  3. Why?

A dear friend (and loyal reader of this blog who has an interest in child development and some experience in that field)  submitted his response and I love it – thank you Stuart!

Here is his take:

I can think of two ways to approach the question of apology. One is to examine the offense; the other is to examine the anatomy of an apology. I think the offense first.

Was there an offense? Zoe requested Amos presence at a function that was important to her and then treated him – well, in my view, treated him dismissively. Likely, Zoe didn’t view her behavior as being dismissive but made the assumption, based on her own assumption of autonomy, that going off and pursuing her own interests was simply no big deal.

Amos behaved badly in reaction to the treatment he experienced. Probably his (over)reaction was based not only on what actually happened but on his own insecurity and sense of unworthiness.

Stuart’s points already hint at the complexity involved in whether or not a particular person feels what they did was “offensive.” Maybe they feel their partner is overly sensitive, or maybe they each have different abilities when it comes to expressing their needs. Often whether or not one feels offended is situational and worth becoming curious about. A topic for next week.

However, in a long term relationship, erring on the side of silence or bumbling your apologies when you’ve blown it, creates a rift between two people. Every time one person does something their partner feels hurt by – and fails to apologize, understand and make amends for their part – it deepens this rift. Until no bridge can span it any more and you drift – like vast inaccessible continents – too far apart to ever reunite.

How odd then, that even though we know (or at least suspect) that learning how to say sorry is a key skill for happy long-term relationships, there is still such a rich variety of appalling apologies out there? I figure it’s time to hit the pause button and review why “I’m sorry but…” (and it’s companion appalling apologies) is dead at the get-go.

So here you go. If anyone uses one of these ghastly apologies on you, you can tell them precisely why their attempt won’t cut it. Then, direct them here. Or, both come back next week to find out what it takes to use a painful incident to grow personally and interpersonally. It’s true. Mistakes really are opportunities for deepening our connections.

[If you didn’t read last week’s blog, this article will make more sense if you do. You can access it here.]

  • Amos’s apology is in green.
  • Zoe’s in red.
  • My rationale for why this is NOT a sincere apology follows in blue.

Apology #1

  • OK, I know I blew my lid Saturday morning and I’m sorry but honestly Zoe you were horrible to me at the party.
  • OK, so I had a fun night, made a bad choice at the end and I’m sorry but honestly Amos, you were a grump at the party and way out of line on Saturday morning.

FAIL!

It violates the “Never use ‘but” in an apology” rule.

Never use “but” in an apology. Ever. Period. Inevitably what follows is criticism or an excuse.

Apology #2

  • I’m sorry you felt hurt by what I said on Saturday morning.
  • I’m sorry you felt hurt by what happened at the party.

FAIL!

This violates the “Keep the focus on what you did” rule.

You are only responsible for your thoughts and your actions. How the other person reacts to you is their business and certainly does not need you taking any ownership of. “I’m sorry you felt hurt” can be experienced as belittling – like maybe feeling hurt is for sissies. Instead, own what you did.

Apology #3

  • Listen, if that hurt you I didn’t mean it that way.
  • Listen, if that hurt you I didn’t mean it that way.

FAIL!

This violates the “Don’t be conditional” rule.

“If” is a bit like “but” – an instant FAIL! When you say “If that hurt” you are telling your partner their pain is fictional, hypothetical, not something you are convinced of. Or worse, maybe your partner is over-reacting since any “normal” person wouldn’t be expressing pain round about now. No “Ifs”!

Apology #4

  • OK OK I was a total sh*t! I’m so so sorry! I ought to have just kept my peace, not said a word, welcomed you home with open arms and not cared one iota that you’d slept in another man’s house – or was it bed – that night?
  • OK OK I was a total sh*t! I’m so so sorry! I ought to have just focused on you and made sure you had a wonderful evening. It was selfish of me to want to dance with my co-workers and to stay at a friend’s house so I didn’t disrupt your sleep before the game, as you asked, remember?

FAIL!

This violates the “Don’t go over the top” rule.

Going over the top becomes Vaudeville. Loses it’s sincerity. Not to mention the inevitable sarcasm that can slip in. Honest brevity trumps fake verbosity.

Apology #5

  • Zoe, I made a terrible mistake. Will you forgive me?
  • Amos, I made a terrible mistake. Will you forgive me?

FAIL!

This violates the “Forgiveness is a gift to be bestowed upon, not begged for” rule.

Asking to be forgiven puts all the focus on you. Long before your partner needs to forgive you, you need to understand exactly what happened, and your role in it and begin to wrap your head around how you won’t hurt them again. A premature demand of forgiveness is damaging in its own right.

Apology #6

  • I know you’re mad at me Zoe and I feel like a low life. It was horrible of me to get all caught up in being jealous of Jake when I know that’s in the past . And I think I’m hurting more than you are that I lost my cool and yelled at you. I’ve never wanted to be the sort of fellow who screams at his woman . . .I mean, who does that?
  • I know you’re mad at me Amos and I feel like a low life. It was horrible of me to get all caught up in work stories and not to dance with you. I think I’m hurting even more than you are that I stayed over at Jakes.

FAIL!

This violates the “Don’t drown the injured party in your own pain & sorrow” rule.

When you’ve done something your partner experiences as painful, the focus of your apology is their pain, not yours. Stay focused on seeking to understand and acknowledge their pain. Put on your grown-up pants and manage your own pain quietly, or later in a different conversation.

Apology #7

  • While I must apologize, you’ve gotta admit, you brought all this on when you friend-zoned me in the first few minutes at the party.
  • While I must apologize, you’ve gotta admit, you brought all this on when you behaved like a sullen kid at the party and then totally lost your cool on Saturday.

FAIL!

This violates the “Don’t play the blame game” rule.

A true low-bar excuse of an apology. Not only does it start out badly (saying “I must apologize” is not an apology) this heads farther south by laying blame and accusing your injured partner of deserving the treatment you delivered. Ouch!

Apology #8

  • You know what, here’s the deal. I spent one whole evening and most of the following morning in agony, seeing you schmoozing with all those hot shots and then waking up to find you not home even when I had to focus on the game and everything. Then, sure I have a tantrum so maybe I’m 15% of the problem but you’re packing 75% culpability I’d say!
  • You know what, here’s the deal. I spent one whole evening and most of the following morning   being stressed out by your judgmental attitude. You made no effort to relate to my friends and then blew up because I choose to be thoughtful. So maybe I’m 15% of the problem but you’re packing 75% culpability I’d say!

FAIL!

This violates the “It takes two” rule.

Sure, sometimes you’re provoked. Sometimes your partner’s actions were super hurtful to you. And, we are talking apologies here. In every episode of relationship bruising each partner has some small part to play. Dump the math. Own your part. Simply say, “I’m sorry for my part in this.”

Apology #9

  • So yeah, I’m sorry and all that but heck, I’d probably do the same thing again if you treat me like that  Zoe! What man wouldn’t feel outrage when his girlfriend goes home with someone else after the office party?
  • So yeah, I’m sorry and all that but heck, I’d probably do the same thing again if we go to a party together and you’re no fun. I’ll take care of myself and try to have a good time. Who wouldn’t?

FAIL!

Two strikes here, right!

  • It violates the “Never use ‘but” in an apology rule, and
  • It violates the “Take corrective action” rule.

Here you’re saying that you’d do the same hurtful thing again. What sort of promise to behave differently is that? If you are genuinely sorry for something you’ve done, it’s important to start thinking about how to never do this thing again – not to threaten just the opposite!

Apology #10

  • Hang on! I’m not sure I even know why you’re so mad at me. What did I do? Expressed my  anger? Is that so bad? Go on, tell me, why are you so mad?
  • Hang on! I’m not sure I even know why you’re so mad at me. What did I do? Had some fun and stayed with a friend when it was so late. Is that so bad? Go on, tell me, why are you so mad?

FAIL!

It violates the “Ignorance is not an excuse” rule.

Sure, we’re not mind-readers and sometimes it’s true that you might be confused by an outburst of grief from your partner. However, you can’t possibly offer a sincere apology until you work hard to understand what you did that was hurtful or you’ll violate #9 above. If you don’t discover what you’ve done wrong, how can you promise never to do it again?

Apology #11

  • Zoe stop it! I said sorry a zillion times already. I won’t talk with you about this anymore.
  • Amos stop it! I said sorry a zillion times already. I won’t talk about this with you anymore.

FAIL!

It violates the “Do not attempt to silence your partner” rule.

If your partner is bringing up an event they clearly still feel some pain around, then your apology has not landed. It has not worked. You have not – effectively – apologized, no matter how often the “magic words” have left your mouth. This is especially poignant after an affair, when the wounds are so deep and the healing takes so long. You might just have to say “I’m so so sorry” a zillion and one times.

Apology #12

  • I hate it when you bring that fight up Zoe, it hurts. I’m sorry, I’m sorry, OK?
  • I hate it when you bring that fight up Amos, it hurts. I’m sorry, I’m sorry, OK?

FAIL!

It violates the “Don’t use ‘I’m sorry’ to dodge the deeper conversation” rule.

The work of repairing a breach in your relationship takes time and many forms. A glib “I’m sorry” is not a substitute for some tough explorations of the nature of one person’s experience or pain.

Apology #13

  • OK Zoe here’s the truth of it. I’m willing to say sorry, I’m willing to make amends and start over. I’m willing to accept you as you are and maybe you just are flirtatious and with a bit of a thoughtless streak. I can get over that.
  • OK Amos here’s the truth of it. I’m willing to say sorry, I’m willing to make amends and start over. I’m willing to accept you as you are and maybe you just are sensitive and a tad jealous. I can get over that.

FAIL!

It violates the “Do not use your apology to make your partner feel worse” rule.

This is as real bait and switch. You start off so well, the wound begins to heal over, then suddenly you lay the flesh open and expose the underbelly of your partner. Another ‘Ouch!”

Apology #14

  • I’ve said I’m sorry haven’t I? Isn’t sorry enough anymore?
  • I’ve said I’m sorry haven’t I? Isn’t sorry enough anymore?

FAIL!

It violates the “Sometimes ‘I’m sorry’ is not enough” rule.

Because sometimes it’s not. Be open to this feedback. If you really do not know how to make amends, come back next week. I’ll be talking a whole lot more about that.

Apology #15

  • Look, it really pisses me off when you bring up that event. Get over it already!
  • Look, it really pisses me off when you bring up that event. Get over it already

FAIL!

It violates the “No back-peddling” rule.

Any good you may have undertaken will be erased by this change of heart. If your partner is still bringing up your crimes and misdemeanors the better way forward is to talk with your partner about what it still hurting them. Like a piece of the splinter is still under the skin there – don’t get mad, get that splinter out.

Many thanks to J. E. Brown for some of these distinctions.

So OK, not these. But what?

Come back next week.

We’ll unpack what makes both a good apology and a great apology. There is a difference!

****************

FIRST TIME HERE?

This is the latest article in a year-long series on the “12-most-important-relationship-skills-no-one-ever-taught-me-in-school-but-I-sure-wish-they-had.”

Click the box for the full list.  Top 12 Relationship Skills

If you’re interested in reading this blog in sequence, below are links to the series to date, beginning with the first posting at the top.

OVERVIEW

SKILLS FOR UNDERSTANDING

SKILL ONE ~ Recognize (and get to know) the many “yous.”

SKILL TWO ~ Learn how to be pro-active: choose how y’all show up.

SKILL THREE ~ Accept (and get curious about) other peoples’ complexity

SKILLS FOR CONNECTING

SKILL FOUR ~ Master the Art of Conversation

SKILL FIVE ~ Learn How To Listen With Your Whole Self

SKILL SIX ~ Crack The Empathy Nut

SKILL SEVEN ~ Practice Kindness

SKILL EIGHT ~ Negotiate with a Win-Win Mentality

SKILLS FOR RE-CONNECTING

SKILL NINE ~ Build (or rebuild) trust.

Apology “Fails”.

Hey I’m sorry, but October is “Apology Month.”

Here’s a story problem for you (with no numbers, I hasten to add). It’s a not too atypical sort of mis-communication / mis-understanding / poor choice made by couples early on in their relationship. This is a composite example from some of the situations I’ve helped folks navigate.

I’ll describe the situation. You get to have sympathy for one or other (both or neither) of the protagonists as they stumble through a Christmas party fiasco.

After the damage has been done, I describe 15 hypothetical apologies they might use on one another. My invitation to you is to try these on. How do they feel if you are the one delivering the apology? How do they feel if you are the one receiving the apology. Is there one that would work for you? Or not?

Amos and Zoe are in their mid twenties. They’ve been dating for about a year and by choice each maintains a separate apartment. Over the past 3 months, Zoe has made a practice of staying with Amos after work on Friday through Sunday night so their social and recreational lives can be shared more easily.

Amos landed a decent job with a large firm in town and is finishing up his MBA on nights and weekends. He’s about three years behind the typical curve here since he took a gap year and volunteered in Costa Rica for two years with the Peace Corps. Zoe was a straight A student her whole life and saw no merit in delaying entry into the work force. She cruised through one of the nation’s best MBA programs and is now a rising star in the most prestigious firm in town. She is highly ambitious.

Screen Shot 2015-10-07 at 4.29.26 PM

Zoe has asked Amos to come to her office party. He has mixed feelings. Zoe’s at a huge firm stuffed with type A personalities all of whom – Amos suspects – will look down on his firm, his choices and his salary (not they he’s going to broadcast that but he will be showing up in a Datsun not an Audi ). On top of that, Zoe is tall, wicked smart, drop-dead gorgeous, a flirtatious dancer and Amos can imagine how the wolves will be circling all night. The alcohol and music won’t help and then – wasn’t her old college boyfriend recently hired? Plus, Amos has a game at 9:00am Saturday (he plays for a local soccer league and their main rivals are up tomorrow) so he has to watch his alcohol and hopefully get to bed soon after midnight.

On the other hand, he wants her to come to his office party, and better to be there fending off the opposition than sitting home worrying.

Zoe asked Amos to the office bash because she’s been telling everyone about her “friend” (it’s a fine line at work; she wants the safety of a relationship with the just-off-limits sense of promise for her male colleagues) so she better show up with him. But, it’s not the best plan since she knows he feels insecure about his education and work place (a trait she dislikes) and he’ll want to not drink much and go home early for the game.

They take separate cars and meet in the lobby. Things head south pretty quickly they both reported. A posse of Zoe’s immediate colleagues crowd the elevator with them to the party floor and immediately drop into “shop talk” so Amos is out on a limb and Zoe makes no attempt to either introduce him nor catch him up on the backstory. He literally trails behind the group as they leave the elevator and immediately looses her to a throng of mega decibel conversation and music.

Zoe’s on her game, loving the energy, the vibe, and excitement and the anticipation of dancing. Oh – where’s Amos?

Amos figures he’ll get their drinks and uses this offering to re-enter the group. At this point she introduces him and he’s stunned to hear she says “Oh hey, I’d like to you meet my friend, Amos. Amos this is the start-up team I was telling you about…”

Screen Shot 2015-10-07 at 4.36.25 PM

Friend-zoned in the first half hour? Not good. Amos racks his brains to see if he remembers any sort of opening gambit tid-bit about this team he’s apparently heard all about but draws a blank. But hey, all guys… he throws out a “how about the game last night?”

No takers. They seem to turn as one and drift off toward someone else they obviously find more interesting. Zoe pauses . . . then spots her girl friend Lucy. She grabs Amos and brings him to meet her. Lucy’s husband is away and Zoe seems keen for Amos to be attentive to Lucy while she… what did she say? But she’s gone – slipping into the throng.

From here out Zoe and Amos attend different events (experientally) and I’ll spare you the details. Amos leaves at 11:00pm after he finds Zoe on the dance floor to let her know. She agrees that’s a great idea and she’ll see him later and no, she won’t wake him on account of the game and his need for sleep.

By the time they make it to me about a month later their stories are hardened into battle lines. Here is how things played out.

Zoe did meet up with her old college flame. While she knew she did not want to hit the repeat button (he was way too self-absorbed for her long term, in fact “Narcissistic” came to mind as she described him) he was still funny, fascinating, wealthy and great dancer. By 3:00am the following morning she decided to accept his offer for her to sleep at his place rather than disturb Amos.

Amos left feeling angry and vulnerable. He berated himself for not putting on more of an alpha-male show and he wished, not for the first time, that he could Tango. He slept soundly though and it wasn’t until his alarm went on Saturday morning at 7:45 that he noticed Zoe had never come over. His own inner alarms went off but he showed up for his game (they lost) and then found Zoe sleeping off a bit of a hangover on his couch when he got home. In an instant all his frustration, anger, hurt, jealousy, doubt and insecurity erupted and for the first time in their relationship Amos went off on Zoe, calling her names, questioning her faithfulness, insulting her firm, friends, choices and attitude.

Screen Shot 2015-10-07 at 4.39.43 PMZoe – who was feeling a bit guilty – kept calmer, but neither partner felt good about the fight that followed.

********************************************************************

OK – so right here I have 3 questions for you.

  1. Who should apologize to whom?
  2. What for?
  3. Why?

Now you get to weigh in.

First, if you were Zoe, would any of the following apologies make you feel better?

  1. OK, I know I blew my lid Saturday morning and I’m sorry but honestly Zoe you were horrible to me at the party.
  2. I’m sorry you felt hurt by what I said on Saturday morning.
  3. Listen, if that hurt you I didn’t mean it that way.
  4. OK OK I was a total sh*t! I’m so so sorry! I ought to have just kept my peace, not said a word, welcomed you home with open arms and not cared one iota that you’d slept in another man’s house – or was it bed – that night?
  5. Zoe, I made a terrible mistake. Will you forgive me?
  6. I know you’re mad at me Zoe and I feel like a low life. It was horrible of me to get all caught up in being jealous of Jake when I know that’s in the past . And I think I’m hurting more than you are that I lost my cool and yelled at you. I’ve never wanted to be the sort of fellow who screams at his woman . . .I mean, who does that?
  7. While I must apologize, you’ve gotta admit, you brought all this on when you friend-zoned me in the first few minutes at the party.
  8. You know what, here’s the deal. I spent one whole evening and most of the following morning in agony, seeing you schmoozing with all those hot shots and then waking up to find you not home even when I had to focus on the game and everything. Then, sure I have a tantrum so maybe I’m 15% of the problem but you’re packing 75% culpability I’d say!
  9. So yeah, I’m sorry and all that but heck, I’d probably do the same thing again if you treat me like Zoe! What man wouldn’t feel outrage when his girlfriend goes home with someone else after the office party?
  10. Hang on! I’m not sure I even know why you’re so mad at me. What did I do? Expressed my  anger? Is that so bad? Go on, tell me, why are you so mad?
  11. Zoe stop it! I said sorry a zillion times already. I won’t talk with you about this anymore.
  12. I hate it when you bring that fight up Zoe, it hurts. I’m sorry, I’m sorry, OK?
  13. OK Zoe here’s the truth of it. I’m willing to say sorry, I’m willing to make amends and start over. I’m willing to accept you as you are and maybe you just are flirtatious and with a bit of a thoughtless streak. I can get over that.
  14. I’ve said I’m sorry haven’t I? Isn’t sorry enough anymore?
  15. Look, it really pisses me off when you bring up that event. Get over it already!

Now, if you were Amos, would any of the following apologies make you feel better?

  1. OK, so I had a fun night, made a bad choice at the end and I’m sorry but honestly Amos, you were a grump at the party and way out of line on Saturday morning.
  2. I’m sorry you felt hurt by what happened at the party.
  3. Listen, if that hurt you I didn’t mean it that way.
  4. OK OK I was a total sh*t! I’m so so sorry! I ought to have just focused on you and made sure     you had a wonderful evening. It was selfish of me to want to dance with my co-workers and to stay at a friend’s house so I didn’t disrupt your sleep before the game, as you asked, remember?
  5. Amos, I made a terrible mistake. Will you forgive me?
  6. I know you’re mad at me Amos and I feel like a low life. It was horrible of me to get all caught up in work stories and not to dance with you. I think I’m hurting even more than you are that I stayed over at Jakes.
  7. While I must apologize, you’ve gotta admit, you brought all this on when you behaved like a sullen kid at the party and then totally lost your cool on Saturday.
  8. You know what, here’s the deal. I spent one whole evening and most of the following morning   being stressed out by your judgmental attitude. You made no effort to relate to my friends and then blew up because I choose to be thoughtful. So maybe I’m 15% of the problem but you’re packing 75% culpability I’d say!
  9. So yeah, I’m sorry and all that but heck, I’d probably do the same thing again if we go to a party together and you’re no fun. I’ll take care of myself and try to have a good time. Who wouldn’t?
  10. Hang on! I’m not sure I even know why you’re so mad at me. What did I do? Had some fun and stayed with a friend when it was so late. Is that so bad? Go on, tell me, why are you so mad?
  11. Amos stop it! I said sorry a zillion times already. I won’t talk about this with you anymore.
  12. I hate it when you bring that fight up Amos, it hurts. I’m sorry, I’m sorry, OK?
  13. OK Amos here’s the truth of it. I’m willing to say sorry, I’m willing to make amends and start over. I’m willing to accept you as you are and maybe you just are sensitive and a tad jealous. I can get over that.
  14. I’ve said I’m sorry haven’t I? Isn’t sorry enough anymore?
  15. Look, it really pisses me off when you bring up that event. Get over it already!

What do you think? How many of these pretty common forms of apology would work for you? Two or three? None?

Come back next week and I’ll give the therapists’ critique of each of these, plus deliver my  handy-dandy Best Apology Guidelines (maybe with a sexier title!).

Plus – if you’ve stumbled upon this blog and have read this far – thank you! Or if you read it regularly by following the Facebook link, thank you!  I’d love to invite you not to miss next weeks (or any of the remaining weeks) by hitting the “FOLLOW” button to subscribe.

In 2016 I plan to turn these Relationship Skills articles into a book, and having a healthy blog subscriber list all helps when it comes time to publish and market.

Here’s to some conscious apologies this week and come back for the critique.

FIRST TIME HERE?

This is the latest article in a year-long series on the “12-most-important-relationship-skills-no-one-ever-taught-me-in-school-but-I-sure-wish-they-had.”

Click the box for the full list.  Top 12 Relationship Skills

If you’re interested in reading this blog in sequence, below are links to the series to date, beginning with the first posting at the top.

OVERVIEW

SKILLS FOR UNDERSTANDING

SKILL ONE ~ Recognize (and get to know) the many “yous.

SKILL TWO ~ Learn how to be pro-active: choose how y’all show up.

SKILL THREE ~ Accept (and get curious about) other peoples’ complexity

SKILLS FOR CONNECTING

SKILL FOUR ~ Master the Art of Conversation

SKILL FIVE ~ Learn How To Listen With Your Whole Self

SKILL SIX ~ Crack The Empathy Nut

SKILL SEVEN ~ Practice Kindness

SKILL EIGHT ~ Negotiate with a Win-Win Mentality

SKILLS FOR RE-CONNECTING

SKILL NINE ~ Build (or rebuild) trust.

Before You Trust Again

Before you trust again, hit the pause button.

For some, the experience of losing trust in a loved one is a defining moment. Like those falling dreams where you are tumbling through space fearing there will be nothing beneath to catch you. And then you awake with a start. You’ve landed. You’re alive. The world has tilted on it’s axis. Your question might be ~

Now what? How can I survive in a world turned upside down?

For some, trust is a pretty disposable commodity. We give it and lose it and suck it up and do it again. The self-help industry is testimony to our human desire to rise again once we fall. The second, third and fourth marriage stats are a testimony to folks willing to risk the vulnerability of commitment again, and again, and even again. Your question might be ~

So what! Are there any safeguards against betrayal?”

I hope there are helpful things here for anyone who has ever felt the sting of lost trust. And, I realize I have a particular soft spot for people like my mother – who discovered my father was having an affair in the 1960s’ and had to just carry on. As a Catholic stay-at-home Mum she felt she had no options. Maybe I wish I could have shared these ideas with her back then. Maybe maybe she might have been able to guide her marriage into a more healthy harbor.

So indeed, loosing trust can be one of those moments we choose to gloss over. You know, go all British and bellow with false bravado “I say old chap, let’s . . .”

Screen shot 2015-09-30 at 10.35.38 AM

Which, while it worked well enough for Britain’s Shadow Ministry of Information to rally morale and tamp down hysteria during World War II, is really not a workable operating instruction for great relationships.

Instead, I’d offer this as your rallying cry when it comes to rebuilding trust.

Screen shot 2015-09-30 at 10.50.37 AM

WHY?

Great question!

Well, it’s interesting isn’t it  What we want is the depth of trust Piglet has in Pooh.Screen shot 2015-09-30 at 12.09.22 PMWhat we’ve got is doubt, anger and uncertainty. And right there, when you are feeling so sad, betrayed, worried, frightened and alone I’m going to invite you to be curious in three particular ways.

ONE ~ INTERROGATE REALITY

As in, find out all you can about what just happened, from at least 2 points of view.

Think of yourself as the doctor, initially for your own case of pain and breach of trust, and then for the person whose actions have caused this for you.

Get curious about these six things below, for you and for this other person. You are seeking to reduce your uncertainty and confusion by understanding as much as you can about the situation. You are doing the opposite of KEEP CALM AND CARRY ON. You’re investigating with eyes wide open and a determination to understand as much as you can. For each person, let yourself ponder these questions:

  1. ANTECEDENTS – what was happening just before this breach of trust?
  2. BEHAVIORS – what exactly happened? What did each of you do / not do?
  3. COGNITION – what are you thinking? How are you scripting this event? How is the other person scripting this?
  4. DURATION – how long has this been going on… for each of you?
  5. EFFECT – what are some of the outcomes of these actions and reactions?
  6. FEELINGS – what range of emotions have you been through? Have they?

When your trust has been broken, you initially may feel shocked, angry, disappointed. All so understandable. But you’ll also feel frustrated, helpless and uncertain. Letting yourself wrap your head around the initial facts of the situation can really help. There will be a time to go beyond the raw facts, but grasping these things can feel empowering, and even a little hopeful.

TWO ~ LEARN ALL YOU CAN

OK – so now you know the basics of the who / what / when  & where, and it’s time to reach out for some specific help. It could be your child you’ve lost trust with, in which case I’d suggest reading Option A (see below in gold). If it’s your partner you’ve lost trust with, scroll on down to Option B, also in gold.

A)  If it’s your child who’s challenging your trust in them by ~

  • Taking your car without asking
  • Getting a speeding ticket
  • Skipping school
  • Getting into drugs
  • Getting pregnant
  • Hurting or bullying someone else
  • Self-destructing and refusing to accept your (or anyone’s) help

Please do seek help. Here are 3 types of resources to begin with.

BIBLIOTHERAPY

Yes – books are a powerful source of comfort and help so letting yourself do some research up front can make a difference.

Type “Defiant Child” or “Suicidal Teenager” or whatever your particular concern is into your favorite search engine. You’ll see heaps of articles and books.

One caution. Before you read anything (book, blog or article) figure out the credentials of the author. Can you trust this person to be helpful to you? Do they have an obvious bias? Faith tradition? Parenting philosophy” Just be aware that not everything on line or in print is good. That’s why I suggest looking at lots of things. The ones that seem to make sense to you will rise above the others.

Go to the library and search through the books you read about . Stagger out of the place with shopping bags full of books.

Skim the titles, the back cover, the inside jacket. Look at the chapter titles. Dip in and out of whatever catches your eye. Notice the biases of the authors, but hopefully you’ll begin to find some helpful information.

Again, there really is a plethora of good material out there.  I am particularly fond of:

WISE UP

Just because your trust in your child has been challenged or broken, does not mean one of you is “right” and one “wrong.” There’s lots going on with teens and deepening your understanding of what’s happening for them is vital. If the trust challenge has to do with one of the issues below you’ll certainly benefit from the appropriate resource.

PROFESSIONAL HELP

When you reach the limit of your own ability to educate yourself with on-line resources, consulting a professional is enormously helpful.

Two great places to start in terms of finding a qualified professional in your area, with the particular expertise you need, are:

  1. AAMFT (The American Association for Marriage & Family Therapy) Therapist Locator
  2. Psychology Today’s Find A Therapist.

B)  If it’s your spouse who’s challenging your trust in them by ~

  • Not keeping their commitments
  • Being unavailable emotionally or physically
  • Squandering your joint funds
  • Not seeking help for their addictions
  • Having an emotional affair
  • Having a sexual affair
  • Leading a secret life

Please do seek help. Here are 3 types of resources to begin with.

BIBLIOTHERAPY

Yes – books are balm and letting yourself do some research up front is super helpful.

Type “Best resources for rebuilding trust” into your favorite search engine. You’ll see heaps of books. Review some of them that catch your eye. Read the reviews.

One caution. Before you read anything (book, blog or article) review the credentials of the author. Can you trust this person to be helpful to you? Do they have an obvious bias? Faith tradition? Axe to grind? Just be aware that not everything on line or in print is good. That’s why I suggest looking at lots of things. The ones that seem to make sense to you will rise above the others.

Go to the library and search through the books you read about . Stagger out of the place with shopping bags full of books.

Skim the titles, the back cover, the inside jacket. Look at the chapter titles. Dip in and out of whatever catches your eye. Notice the biases of the authors, but hopefully you’ll begin to find some helpful information.

Again, there really is a plethora of good material out there and so much depends upon the nature of the breach of trust.

WISE UP

Just because your trust in your spouse has been challenged or broken, does not mean one of you is 100% “right” and one 100% “wrong.” Life is messy and complex and there are demons within each of us who sometimes take over. If your trust challenge has to do with one of the issues below, learning more about the specifics of the problem is very important.

PROFESSIONAL HELP

If or when you reach the limit of your own ability to educate yourself with on-line resources, consulting a professional is enormously helpful.

Two great places to start in terms of finding a qualified professional in your area, with the particular expertise you need, are:

  1. AAMFT (The American Association for Marriage & Family Therapy) Therapist Locator
  2. Psychology Today’s Find A Therapist.

THREE ~ INTERROGATE YOURSELF

Ask yourself, and really answer, these seven questions.

  1. If there was one thing I was trying NOT to know about my relationship before I lost my trust, what might it have been?
  2. If there was one conversation I ought to have had much sooner, long before trust was broken, what might it have been?
  3. If there was one thing I silently judged about this person, what was it?
  4. If, looking back, there was one change in the way I related to this person who broke my trust – what might it have been?
  5. If, looking forward, there is one change I could initiate now in the way I relate, what do I wish it could be?
  6. If there was one positive outcome almost too good to hope for, that might possibly come about as we heal and move through this breach of trust – what is my most daring wish?
  7. If there was one aspect of my own character I would love to bring more conscious awareness to, what might it be?

So, dear reader, before you trust again, hit that pause button.

Love yourself enough to recognize no matter how powerless and broken you may feel, there is SO much you can do to understand, learn, support and be supported through this journey toward an ever expanding capacity for love, trust, understanding, wisdom, self compassion and that dash of curiosity that will allow you to indeed, after all of this . . .

Screen shot 2015-09-30 at 10.35.38 AM

FIRST TIME HERE?

This is the latest article in a year-long series on the “12-most-important-relationship-skills-no-one-ever-taught-me-in-school-but-I-sure-wish-they-had.”

Click the box for the full list.  Top 12 Relationship Skills

If you’re interested in reading this blog in sequence, below are links to the series to date, beginning with the first posting at the top.

OVERVIEW

SKILLS FOR UNDERSTANDING

SKILL ONE ~ Recognize (and get to know) the many “yous.”

SKILL TWO ~ Learn how to be pro-active: choose how y’all show up.

SKILL THREE ~ Accept (and get curious about) other peoples’ complexity

SKILLS FOR CONNECTING

SKILL FOUR ~ Master the Art of Conversation

SKILL FIVE ~ Learn How To Listen With Your Whole Self

SKILL SIX ~ Crack The Empathy Nut

SKILL SEVEN ~ Practice Kindness

SKILL EIGHT ~ Negotiate with a Win-Win Mentality

SKILLS FOR RE-CONNECTING

SKILL NINE ~ Build (or rebuild) trust.

How To Trust Yourself

In 1984, for reasons I will explain (and you will possibly consider idiotic) I brought our eighteen month honeymoon – traveling in a VW camper through Europe and the Middle East – to a halt because I wanted to nest in my own home and become an upholsterer.

Yes – we traded the charms of small French towns like Cassis

Screen shot 2015-09-21 at 2.48.10 PM

and adventures on an Israeli Kibbutz and the newly-returned-to Egypt vast Sinai Peninsula (which in 1983 was virtually unoccupied following the Israel-Egypt Peace Treaty of 1979)

Screen shot 2015-09-22 at 6.56.43 AM

so I could pull the stuffing out of elderly sofas, become adept at tying internal springs in the classic 8-way-pattern for maximum holding and comfort

20150920_192605and tackle the occasional “Button Back” project.

20150920_192605_2

An odd choice, and one I went on to regret.

What was I thinking?

I had persuaded myself that I was a contemplative craftsperson who needed to work quietly on my own with classical music and scented candles, carefully restoring gorgeous antiques for folks who liked such things. And I wasn’t interested in hearing anything to the contrary.

Until I did. And the contrary voice I heard was loud, insistent, and from within.

I’m miserable! Here I am working away on my own, in the basement with things while what I really love and crave are people, sunlight and ideas!”

I had completely mis-read who I was and what I needed. Talk about undermining my trust in what I knew to be true about myself! I set aside my tools.

Screen shot 2015-09-22 at 7.13.21 AM

In 1980, for reasons I will explain (and you could possibly also consider idiotic) I brought my 2 year back-packing adventure around the USA to a halt Screen shot 2015-09-22 at 7.16.36 AM

by moving in with a man three days after I met him at The Last Exit on Brooklyn, in Seattle.

Me! A convent-boarding-school-graduate-with-two-sisters-nuns-who-had-no-intention-of-getting-married-anyway. But, I made the lightening quick decision to stay with this warm, kind Seattleite.

For a while.

Another odd/out of character choice, and one I’m eternally grateful for.

What was I thinking?

Lots of things!

I really liked this man. He felt familiar and kind and I was an emotional kaleidoscope. Some days I’d feel loving and secure, others I’d panic about my future and our differences. Sometimes I’d feel content at the prospect of choosing “the one”, other times I let myself explore my options. [if you’re curious read this]. I had lengthy phone conversations with my aunts and sisters; I sobbed and laughed with girl friends; I sought counsel from wise folks; and Mark and I went about our lives getting to know one another ever more deeply.

20150921_165819

700 days after we met (during which time Mark came to England to meet my family, and we sought a work visa for me) we said our “I dos” at the Burke Museum in Seattle at our pot-luck-home-spun wedding filled with the crazy chaotic kindnesses of friends and family (still grateful for that cake Stuart!). 

20150921_165904

So – how come the trust I placed in my decision to be a contemplative upholsterer was so misguided, while the trust I placed in my spontaneous decision to move in and ultimately spend the rest of my life with Mark, so spot on?

How can we get trust right?

In Can We Trust Too Much, I suggested the way forward lay in “helping a person learn how to nourish their own feedback systems so they can:

  • manage their natural inclination to be either more or less trusting, this Alphabet helps;
  • manage their attachment wounds, if present, so that the fear of abandonment or abuse is recognized and healed;
  • cultivate a clear-eyed, robust sense of self so they can wisely discern what level of trust this or that person or situation safely warrants.”

So, what is this feedback system and how come it’s trustworthy anyway?

Here’s what works for me, and increasingly, for my clients.

Our own infallible-once-we-know-how-to-use-it feedback system is ~

  • Available to us 24/7
  • Body-centered
  • Compassionate
  • Do-able
  • Effective
  • Fair
  • Growth-promoting
  • Honest
  • Individualized for our specific journey . . .

(OK – you get the point. I won’t go through the whole alphabet)

Maybe you can discern what it is as I review the ways I approached becoming an upholsterer versus the way I approached staying with Mark?

In the first instance I listened to only one inner voice. I listened exclusively to that Part of me who was absolutely of the opinion that I was, at my core, destined to be a contemplative upholsterer.

I had shut down the opposition. Any Part of me who might have had doubts about the plan was seen as a threat to my desire for certainty and the poster-child of certainty for me then was a life-long-dedication to the craft of upholstery.

But, in that tiny percentage of my attention I was ignoring, there were Parts gnawing at my gut, tightening in my upper back, and whispering in my heart ~

  • But I hate sewing;
  • Maybe I want to go back to Grad School;
  • Will I earn enough;
  • What if I get lonely?

Too bad for them! My contemplative-hold-tight-to-certainty Part monopolized all the attention in my inner Cabinet, drowning out dissent and shoving aside the President. Until she couldn’t. Until those ignored inner knowings erupted and I could no longer refuse to hear them and I cracked open with frustration, grief, and rage at my inauthenticity.

I was like a President who fills her cabinet with “yes people.” In trusting only one adviser, I was completely oblivious to the larger reality I’d been ignoring.

Enough of the broken chairs already!

Screen shot 2015-09-21 at 5.38.41 PM

With the Mark decision it was the opposite. Within my inner Cabinet I was certainly swayed by my Minister for Spontaneity who argued “Hey, you gotta seize the moment girl..tomorrow you move on. If you don’t spend time with this man now, this moment won’t ever come around again.”

But, this Part had lots of supporters~

  • This man feels safe and kind, this is a great decision;
  • His family is European, so it feels familiar;
  • I like that he has a career already sorted out;
  • Good job finding a man who sings so wonderfully!
  • He loves animals too – an excellent sign.

And lots of opposition too ~

  • What about my volunteer job with VSO in Indonesia  – I want to see that through;
  • I’d be nuts to put my dreams aside for a man;
  • Do I even want to stay in America?
  • I’m still grieving the death of my mother, this is no time for love;
  • Our spirituality is way too different.

But the difference this time was that I welcomed information. I listened to all these Parts. I paid attention not only to my thoughts but to my body, which had plenty to say! I listened to depression, to a spasming back, to knee and ankle injuries, to headaches and to the gnawing in my gut. I worked the issues until I felt I understood what needed to be understood in that moment.  I let reality be messy and complex.

Each Part held a piece of the truth. Each part wanted what was best for me, from her perspective. This idea of listening carefully to multiple competing views is hardly new, in psychology or politics. Fellow history enthusiasts might appreciate the analogy to Lincoln’s cabinet, beautifully described in Team of Rivals. Author Doris Kearns Goodwin explains (in an interview for National Archives)

At the same time, Lincoln was facing a Republican Party that was very young and whose members had come from a variety of other parties. They were former Whigs, former Democrats. By putting his rivals in his cabinet, he had access to a wide range of opinions, which he realized would sharpen his own thinking. It also gave him a way of keeping all those conflicting opinions together. If he didn’t have a unified group fighting against the South, the fight would be impossible to sustain. So having all those opinions in his cabinet not only helped him; it helped the country as well.

So, like President Lincoln, when it was time to make a decision, that decision arose from a deeply informed place. My own inner team of rivals  was led by my inner President (what I usually call my Self) in a way that considered the views of all the Parts. My Self was curious and compassionate toward all the fears, all the stories, all the desires held by these Parts. My Self understood, for example, both how hard it would be to abandon my VSO position in Indonesia and how hard it would be to walk away from an extraordinary relationship.

Each Part of me, each distinct set of beliefs/fears/desires I held, was welcomed, attended to, appreciated for the specific perspective it brought, and considered or negotiated with. Until I realized that I knew what needed to happen. Until I recognized an upwelling of certainty that came from getting to know all the Parts. And, at some point there was no longer a question. I knew I wanted to be with Mark above everything else. And all the Parts felt good about it.

Don’t trust me on this one folks – try it for yourself!

Next time you need to trust yourself with a decision – whether about a relationship, office politics, a move, an issue with your child or parent – let yourself genuinely tune into all the Parts of you who have something to contribute. View them all as helpful. It’s the Parts of us we shove aside as irrelevant or discordant or irritating, or frightening in their implications, that have the most power to unravel whatever version of “trusting myself” you come up with.

If you want some help here are five suggestions for moving forward

  1. Read more about Parts work and Dr. Richard Schwartz’s Internal Family Systems
  1. Read Jay Earley’s book Self Therapy
  1. Read There’s A Part of Me (or anything else that catches your attention) here:
  1. Sign up for a few sessions with an IFS-trained therapist in your area;
  1. See the first three articles in this series

Why bother?

Because every relationship is built on trust. So, what Part(s) of you are doing the trusting? Your ability to trust other people will grow to the extent you get to know which Parts of you are showing up as you decide whether or not to trust. Trust is a process. It ought not be given too quickly. So, the more your President (your Self ) learns how to distinguish and listen compassionately to all your inner Parts the greater the chance you will form a clear and informed assessment.

Before you can trust (or re-trust) someone else, you need to learn to trust yourself.

 

FIRST TIME HERE?

This is the latest article in a year-long series on the “12-most-important-relationship-skills-no-one-ever-taught-me-in-school-but-I-sure-wish-they-had.”

Click the box for the full list.  Top 12 Relationship Skills

If you’re interested in reading this blog in sequence, below are links to the series to date, beginning with the first posting at the top.

OVERVIEW

SKILLS FOR UNDERSTANDING

SKILL ONE ~ Recognize (and get to know) the many “yous.”

SKILL TWO ~ Learn how to be pro-active: choose how y’all show up.

SKILL THREE ~ Accept (and get curious about) other peoples’ complexity

SKILLS FOR CONNECTING

SKILL FOUR ~ Master the Art of Conversation

SKILL FIVE ~ Learn How To Listen With Your Whole Self

SKILL SIX ~ Crack The Empathy Nut

SKILL SEVEN ~ Practice Kindness

SKILL EIGHT ~ Negotiate with a Win-Win Mentality

SKILLS FOR RE-CONNECTING

SKILL NINE ~ Build (or rebuild) trust.

Can We Trust Too Much?

Screen shot 2015-09-08 at 2.38.53 PM

Q   Can we trust too much?

A    Yes!

If you think about your life, I expect you can think of a time when you put your trust in a stranger who let you down.

  • Has a salesperson ever made false promises about a product ?
  • Did you fall for that on-line magical diet only to find you’re still 15 lbs more than you want to be?
  • Has a vacation brochure promised sea views from your balcony but here you are looking at a brick wall?

My guess is however that you still believe strangers, buy stuff, sample new diet aids and are persuaded by good ad copy to take distant vacations.

Why do you do that?

How come you knowingly engage in activities that conned you before?

Possibly, like me, you learn from the feedback you receive each time your trust is betrayed.

You’ll probably consult the Better Business Bureau or talk to friends before believing a particular products’ claims.

If you’re in the market for some self-improvement routine for your body or your mind you’ll probably read the testimonials, or maybe talk at length to some people who have tried what you are considering.

And as for those glossy sea-views or cruise-ship brochures? Two words. Due diligence.

In other words, you cultivate discernment. Hopefully you make fewer dumb purchases, and the economy still thrives because there are so many folks who are on their own particular learning curve so shoddy products, fake diets and ghastly vacations still sell like hotcakes!

Let’s go deeper.

I expect you can think of times when you put your trust in someone you love who then let you down.

  • Did your parents ever say “I’ll be at your game!” only to never show up?
  • Did your partner swear to live within the budget you both agreed to, only to squander $1000s gambling and rack it up as unanticipated debt?
  • Did your spouse promise to be monogamous, only to cheat on you?

Now what?

  1. Did you stop inviting your parents to your events so you’d not feel let down?
  2. Did you invite your parents, give them dozens of chances to redeem themselves, and ride that roller coaster between hope and despair in your childhood home?
  3. Or did you invite your parents, but manage your expectations so whether they came or not you’d be OK?

What about your gambling partner?

  1. Do you file for divorce immediately and unravel your joint finances so you can regain control over your life?
  2. Do you have another budget conversation and trust them to “never gamble again, I swear…”
  3. Or do you create some accountability with a firm-but-fair response that connects your spouse with some version of Gamblers Anonymous and you with resources to help rather than enable the behaviors?

What about an unfaithful spouse?

  1. Do you immediately file for divorce without exploring any of the circumstances because it’s just too darn painful and you feel irreparably betrayed and righteous as in “How could s/he do this to me?”
  2. Do you so fear being abandoned that you put up a modest fight, but let them know you forgive them if they just won’t ever do it again?
  3. Do you insist on clarity, and invite both of you to therapy to explore what led to this affair, to understand what your relationship needs now, begin to heal and renegotiate the contract each of you wants going forward?

It’s not black and white is it?

And while it might seem as if I biased the answers above to favor option 3 in each case, the truth is that how we respond depends upon a whole other layer of trust. We can only end up more or less in alignment with the option 3 responses to the extent we trust ourselves.

We experience our world as predictable enough, as trustworthy enough to the extent three factors are in play:

NATURE – there is mounting evidence that people are born with different predispositions around trust. Don’t take my words for it! Here’s

NURTURE – Since John Bowlby’s work on attachment in the 1950s we’ve understood that parenting matters. Here’s

NOURISHMENT – Is the term I’m giving for this third factor in ones ability to trust. It’s the only one over which you have control, and it’s never too late to begin. Summed up by one of my favorite aphorisms:

“Trust in Allah, but tether your camel first.”

it’s about cultivating conscious awareness for all the factors in play before deciding whether, and how much, to trust.

As Frank Crane puts it ~

Screen shot 2015-09-08 at 12.43.19 PM

We need that Goldilocks zone of trust.

Believe me, if a couple comes to me so burdened by one partner’s inability to ever trust again after a painful betrayal it greatly reduces the likelihood the relationship will ever recover.

And, if a couple comes to me with one partner totally committed to trusting their sweetie in the face of overwhelming evidence that this is unwise (refusing to recognize when addictions are present for example) it will bring about their mutual assured destruction.

More and more I find I’m working to help individuals learn how to trust themselves enough to be able to make heart-centered yet informed decisions.

This means helping a person learn how to nourish their own feedback systems so they can ~

  1. manage their natural inclination to be either more or less trusting, this Alphabet helps;
  2. manage their attachment wounds, if present, so that the fear of abandonment or abuse is recognized and healed;
  3. cultivate a clear-eyed, robust sense of self so they can wisely discern what level of trust this or that person or situation safely warrants.

What does this look like in practice? Come back NEXT WEEK where I’ll be writing about how to trust yourself more accurately

FIRST TIME HERE?

This is the latest article in a year-long series on the “12-most-important-relationship-skills-no-one-ever-taught-me-in-school-but-I-sure-wish-they-had.”

Click the box for the full list.  Top 12 Relationship Skills

If you’re interested in reading this blog in sequence, below are links to the series to date, beginning with the first posting at the top.

OVERVIEW

SKILLS FOR UNDERSTANDING

SKILL ONE ~ Recognize (and get to know) the many “yous.”

SKILL TWO ~ Learn how to be pro-active: choose how y’all show up.

SKILL THREE ~ Accept (and get curious about) other peoples’ complexity

SKILLS FOR CONNECTING

SKILL FOUR ~ Master the Art of Conversation

SKILL FIVE ~ Learn How To Listen With Your Whole Self

SKILL SIX ~ Crack The Empathy Nut

SKILL SEVEN ~ Practice Kindness

SKILL EIGHT ~ Negotiate with a Win-Win Mentality

SKILLS FOR RE-CONNECTING

SKILL NINE ~ Build (or rebuild) trust.

The Alphabet of Trust

Trust is like love. It’s one of those super dense words we seldom unpack. So, for a start, what does it mean to love? What does love look like?

I think that’s why 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 is such a popular wedding verse. It offers a set of “How To” guidelines:

  • Love is always patient and kind;
  • Love is never jealous;
  • Love is not boastful or conceited,
  • It is never rude and never seeks its own advantage,
  • It does not take offense or store up grievances.
  • Love does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but finds its joy in the truth.
  • It is always ready to make allowances, to trust, to hope and to endure whatever comes.

Absent these suggestions, we might think love is just a fuzzy feeling.

So how about trust? Is trust just a fuzzy feeling, or are there behavioral guidelines that show us how to behave in a trustworthy manner? Or how to demonstrate our trust in someone else?

And if so, what are they?

Relationship researcher extraordinaire John Gottman has a fascinating article on Trust & Betrayal. If this is an area you are interested in, I highly recommend checking this link.

Meanwhile, I decided to take a stab at my own list of behavioral guidelines for how to cultivate trust.

Your character (who you are ) and your competence (how you act) show up in many ways of course, but the list below, if practiced, will help your relationship in two powerful ways.

  • You will become more trustworthy
  • You will become more trusting.

I’ve been thinking about this because I’ve had a few clients lately who were raised in less-than-trustworthy environments. They were abused sexually, emotionally or physically and never learned what a trustworthy adult looked like. These young people can’t call upon an inner experience of trustworthiness. They have to think through the huge issues of “Whom can I trust?” and “How do I trust?”. They could use some behavioral guidelines.

This Alphabet of Trust is for them

Screen shot 2015-09-01 at 7.41.26 PM

ACCEPT influence ~ from your partner. If you show them you accept (which does not mean you have to agree) their views and opinions, they will be more inclined to accept, and trust, yours.

Screen shot 2015-09-01 at 7.41.36 PM

BELONG to one another ~ reassure your partner you are there for them, they belong in your heart, there is always a space for them.

Screen shot 2015-09-01 at 7.41.44 PM

CONTROL ~ is an illusion in all but two places: your thoughts and your behavior. So, by all means take responsibility for all you think (and the stories you tell yourself) and all you do (how you show up on the planet with words and actions). But release any temptation to control or manipulate your partner. Trying to manage the outside world to protect your inside emotions never works.

Screen shot 2015-09-01 at 7.41.51 PM

DUMP DEFENSIVENESS ~ if you make a mistake, don’t use excuses or be defensive. Own your error and simply say you are sorry. Be clear. Be true. End of conversation!

Screen shot 2015-09-01 at 7.51.00 PM

ENJOY EYE CONTACT ~ lean in, look into each other’s eyes, whether you’re chatting over a beer or making love. Eyes seldom lie.

Screen shot 2015-09-01 at 7.51.09 PM

(be) FAITHFUL ~ to whatever promises you make. If you’ve pledged monogamy, stay monogamous; if you’ve pledged to move after med school, move after med school; if you say you’ll take kid duty all Saturday, do that. Keep your commitments. If you absolutely need to change things, negotiate. Don’t  just drop the ball.

Screen shot 2015-09-01 at 7.51.15 PM 

GIVE thanks ~ be grateful for little things; a bed made, a meal served, a wound kissed, a knotted shoulder rubbed.

Screen shot 2015-09-01 at 7.51.26 PM

(be) HONEST ~ tell the truth in everything . Little lies are a slippery slope to big lies. Tell the truth even when no one will know otherwise.

Screen shot 2015-09-01 at 7.56.18 PM

INITIATE connection ~ reach out frequently. Little and often is great. A text. A smile. A hand squeeze.

Screen shot 2015-09-01 at 7.56.25 PM

JUDGE with your heart ~ it’s too easy to tell ourselves negative tales about why our partner did this or that. Suspicion is like a poisonous worm – it will eat you up from the inside out. If you have a worry, it is better to confide that you have a worry and get it out in the open.*

Screen shot 2015-09-01 at 7.56.33 PM

KEEP their secrets ~ if your partner shares something with you in confidence, guard it fiercely. The alternative is a fast track to betrayal.

Screen shot 2015-09-01 at 7.56.39 PM

LISTEN deeply ~ tune in, seek to understand, paraphrase what you heard and ask “Did I get that right?”

Screen shot 2015-09-01 at 7.58.59 PM

(be) MINDFUL ~ when you speak and act. It’s crazy-making to live with someone who says or does hurtful things and then denies having said or done them crying “But I didn’t mean it!”

Screen shot 2015-09-01 at 7.59.06 PM

NEGOTIATE WITH A WIN-WIN MINDSET ~ in partnerships, that old win/loose idea is actually loose/loose. It does not feel like a simple win/loose, it feels like win/betray. Get creative until you find a solution that works for both of you. See How To Negotiate The Small Stuff for tips on how to do this.

Screen shot 2015-09-01 at 7.59.11 PM

OWN up ~ if you blow it, say so. Offer an apology. Excuses suck!

Screen shot 2015-09-01 at 7.59.18 PM

(be) PREDICTABLE (but not boring!) ~ a fine line, I know! Create certainty in the big stuff, like your values and dependability. Bring variety to the small stuff, like where and how you “eat, pray, love” (Thanks Ms. Gilbert).

Screen shot 2015-09-01 at 8.16.43 PM

QUESTION ~ what you do not understand, don’t make assumptions. Ask your partner to clarify things so you can get to know the truth, not your fantasy.

Screen shot 2015-09-01 at 8.16.49 PM

RESPECT ~ who your partner is, take his/her thoughts seriously. Never be dismissive.

Screen shot 2015-09-01 at 8.16.55 PM

SPEAK ~ carefully. Not all the time of course, the warm friendly banter between two lovers needs no scripting nor censorship. But if something is bothering you (from a small irritation about making the bed, through a huge gut-wrenching fear your partner may have been unfaithful) HOW you approach the issue is key.  Huge topic of course – you may find my series on communicating helpful. It begins with The Five Conversations,

Screen shot 2015-09-01 at 8.17.01 PM

(be) TRANSPARENT ~ be upfront about your motives, reasoning and opinions.

Screen shot 2015-09-01 at 8.17.41 PM

USE “Us” & “We” ~ not “I’ and “You,” as in “We’ve got a problem between us”  rather than “I want this and you want that; I’m right & you’re wrong.”

Screen shot 2015-09-01 at 8.17.49 PM

(be) VULNERABLE ~ let yourself show up warts and all. We all have aspects of ourselves we are afraid of, or embarrassed by. It is a huge vote of trust to share these aspects of who you are.

Screen shot 2015-09-01 at 8.17.55 PM

WAIT ~ and count to 10 if you must, before you express an angry emotion. Being with a partner who flies off the handle is emotionally frightening. Calm yourself down before you talk about a difficult subject. If this is an issue for you, see The 7 Deadliest Fights.

Screen shot 2015-09-01 at 8.18.01 PM

(E) XAMINE ~ your life and conscience from time to time. Are you as trustworthy as you can be?

Screen shot 2015-09-01 at 8.18.06 PM

YIELD ~ your desires and wants sometimes. It can feel very reassuring to feel prioritized by a partner.

Screen shot 2015-09-01 at 8.18.13 PM

ZIP-IT ~ sometimes stopping all the noise, all the words, all the “communicating”, processing, planning, commentating, justifying and explaining to simply be still in the presence of one another is the biggest boost to mutual trust there is.

  • CAVEAT

These guidelines are not always wise. It will depend upon whether or not you are in a relationship with a more or less healthy individual. Be sure to come back next week and we’ll explore what to do when your partner is not yet deserving of trust.

  • Is learning how to trust rocket science?
  • No.
  • Does it require the dedicated life long practice of heart, mind and soul?
  • Yes.

And well worth it it is.

(Thank you to  Jenn Erickson for the delightful vintage alphabet images.)

NEXT WEEK?

Can we ever be too trusting?

FIRST TIME HERE?

This is the latest article in a year-long series on the “12-most-important-relationship-skills-no-one-ever-taught-me-in-school-but-I-sure-wish-they-had.”

Click the box for the full list.  →Top 12 Relationship Skills

If you’re interested in reading this blog in sequence, below are links to the series to date, beginning with the first posting at the top.

OVERVIEW

SKILLS FOR UNDERSTANDING

SKILL ONE ~ Recognize (and get to know) the many “yous.”

SKILL TWO ~ Learn how to be pro-active: choose how y’all show up.

SKILL THREE ~ Accept (and get curious about) other peoples’ complexity

SKILLS FOR CONNECTING

SKILL FOUR ~ Master the Art of Conversation

SKILL FIVE ~ Learn How To Listen With Your Whole Self

SKILL SIX ~ Crack The Empathy Nut

SKILL SEVEN ~ Practice Kindness

SKILL EIGHT ~ Negotiate with a Win-Win Mentality

SKILLS FOR RE-CONNECTING

SKILL NINE ~ Build (or rebuild) trust.

  • The Alphabet of Trust

Values Worth Fighting For

When you feel a surge of anger, very likely one of your values has been compromised.

I discovered this when another driver took my husband’s parking spot one day.

Screen shot 2015-08-26 at 3.36.37 PM

The perfect storm: a downtown office appointment in a busy city on a hot day. We probably should have taken public transport.

Anyway, Mark finally found a parking spot and pulled past it to reverse in (good parallel parking behavior). As he was in the process of reversing in, someone came from the other direction and zipped into the spot. Almost hitting our then-reversing car.

My even-tempered sweetie morphed into a ranting, raging mad-man. He jerked on the brake, hopped out of our car and started yelling at the “jerk” who’d pulled into “our” parking space.

Needless to say, this did not change the behavior of the parking man. He got out. Locked up his car. Gave Mark the finger and strode off.

Screen shot 2015-08-26 at 4.49.54 PMMarks tells me he nurtured fantasies of sticking spikes under each tire but instead we drove off, went around the block, found another space, parked and got on with our day. It took a while for Mark to flush out all that adrenaline, but later that night we discussed why he’d lost his usual cool.

Mark knew immediately. “It’s the unfairness! I was clearly going for that space. There are certain rules of decency on the road and that guy violated them.

Now of course, to this day we don’t know the other chap’s back-story. Was he in a rush to save the world and our judging him as “unfair!” missed some greater good?

But more relevant to our lives was this lesson about our own values.

We went over other times when one or other of us seemed to loose it out of the blue. We revisited some old fights. Thought about family members and friends. It seemed true to say that for the most part (for folks without a serious anger issue, and for folks who were not living in unduly stressful situations) when we got angry, we could trace it back to a value that had been compromised.

  • Because I value beauty and calm, I can get grumpy and irritable when things are cluttered and dirty;
  • Because I value seeking to understand, I get very triggered by partial truths or secrets;
  • Because I value kindness, I can get triggered by couples whom I perceive are unkind to one another;
  • Because I value authenticity, I get really put-off when I feel someone is acting, or being fake.

You get the idea.

But here’s the neat thing about values.

  • We don’t get to use them to beat up other people because they don’t live our values.
  • We get to use our flash of judgmental anger to identify our values for ourselves.
  • And then we get to honestly ask if we are living our values.

So, when I’m grumpy in the face of clutter and disorder, I get to acknowledge to myself how much I value calm and clean.

Then, maybe I can take it another step and practice this value? If it’s a friend’s home – maybe not. If it’s my own place? Might be time to let myself tackle some decluttering.

This is a tiny example.

But there may come a time in your life when you’re eaten up by an angry knot of judgment about a person or situation. Nothing seems to shift this dead weight inside. I know I go there. It’s like walking around having swallowed a cannon ball.

I humbly offer this exercise as a way to start softening the lead weight inside so you can bit by bit release the power this heaviness holds on you. Not because I’ve mastered this I hasten to add, but because I’m thick in the midst of working the issue.

1. Feel for where you hold the tension or weight in your body.

  • Is it in your gut?
  • Jaw?
  • Shoulders?
  • Fists?
  • How do you sense it?

2. Focus on this area.

Feel the discomfort. The tightness. The clenching. Really let that knot come into focus in your system. This can be painful. Acknowledge that too.

3. Find out what story you are telling yourself.

As you keep your attention on this tight area, let yourself listen to your judgments.

I hate it that X treats Y so badly. It’s unkind. It’s petty. It would take so little for X to be generous and kind…”

Whatever this tight part of you is feeling and judging, let yourself listen without judging yourself as a rotter for thinking these things. You are not putting this on Facebook for heavens sake – just listening to your own fury wash over you.

4. Flush out the Values.

In the critique of X & Y’s relationship above, is it the absence of kindness, big-heartedness and generosity that is fueling the fires of my judgment? Do I value Kindness? Big-heartedness? Generosity?

5. Investigate this.

If you notice your anger seems fueled by your assessment that someone is behaving unkindly, ask yourself: “Do I really value kindness? Could it be I’m so mad because I hate to see folks being unkind to one another?”

For as many possible causes for the anger you discover, see if you can find a value you hold that’s been compromised.

6. Turn It Around

If you discover what seems to be one of your core values, ask yourself:

“Where in my life am I not living up to this value myself?”

As we master this sort of self-awareness, that old familiar (and perhaps unwanted) flash of anger can be put to good use.

Play with the idea.

  1. Next time you experience that flush of rage, stop.
  2. See if you can discover what value of yours has just been violated.
  3. Then, rather than waste energy being mad that this person or triggering event is not honoring one of your core values, turn it around more quickly.
  4. With a hug of self-compassion, let yourself see if there is some area in your life right now where you are not living up to this core value of yours.

Not too sure what your values are?

Here’s a quick way to begin to discover – or remember – what you value.

Print out this List of Values

Read it through (this feels strangely good – to be reminded of all the wonderful ways we humans can show up).

Circle the values that flutter your heart. The words that seem to call to you as worthwhile.

If you have circled more than ten values, read through what you have and see if you can whittle the list down to just ten.

OK – that’s it!

My hunch is that bringing these top 10 core values to mind will allow you to enjoy living them out.

And, it’s a neat way to enjoy all that judgmental anger!

FIRST TIME HERE?

This is the latest article in a year-long series on the “12-most-important-relationship-skills-no-one-ever-taught-me-in-school-but-I-sure-wish-they-had.”

Click the box for the full list.  →Top 12 Relationship Skills

If you’re interested in reading this blog in sequence, below are links to the series to date, beginning with the first posting at the top.

OVERVIEW

SKILLS FOR UNDERSTANDING

SKILL ONE ~ Recognize (and get to know) the many “yous.”

SKILL TWO ~ Learn how to be pro-active: choose how y’all show up.

SKILL THREE ~ Accept (and get curious about) other peoples’ complexity

SKILLS FOR CONNECTING

SKILL FOUR ~ Master the Art of Conversation

SKILL FIVE ~ Learn How To Listen With Your Whole Self

SKILL SIX ~ Crack The Empathy Nut

SKILL SEVEN ~ Practice Kindness

SKILL EIGHT ~ Negotiate with a Win-Win Mentality

How To Negotiate The BIG Stuff

Learning how not to sweat (but to quickly and easily negotiate) the small stuff in your marriage is a darn good idea. I wrote about that last week in How To Negotiate The Small Stuff.

This week, what about the big stuff?

Well, what IS the big stuff?

At some level I want to say the big stuff includes things like:

  • where to live
  • if and when to start a family
  • whether to buy or rent your home
  • budgeting the big ticket items
  • where your kids go to school
  • where and how to spend the important holidays
  • whether and where to worship.

However, from years in the trenches helping couples navigate some stormy waters, I’ve come to see the definition of “big stuff” differently.

For most of us, the big stuff we have to negotiate in our long term relationships gets defined by what matters to us as individuals that we disagree about as a couple.

That could look like the list above, for sure.

But what if you and your partner both feel similarly about these things?

Then those things – like buying a house and whether to have kids – become the small stuff because the process of negotiating the hows and whys and whens are non-issues. You both agree. No problem!

But, what if you disagree about one of those, or even;

  • how to fold the towels
  • whether to join a Bank or a Credit Union
  • whether it’s funny or rude when the kids burp at the table
  • whether to clear the table completely each meal or leave mats out and salt & pepper in place (don’t laugh  that’s me!)
  • and a host of other things that you and your partner might disagree about, whether they seem objectively large or small?

These then become the “big stuff.”

Now what?

Screen shot 2015-08-20 at 6.25.04 PM

The rather well-worn old Chinese-character-for-crisis metaphor works well here.

Areas of disagreement are both a danger and an opportunity.

The dangers include ~

  1. having a win-loose or right/wrong mentality
  2. losing sight of the long-term benefits of cultivating a great relationship over achieving the short-term benefits of “winning” an argument
  3. doing damage by the way you go about negotiating for what you want.

The opportunities include ~

  1. getting to clarify what really matters to each of you, and why
  2. getting to expand your thinking
  3. getting to build your creativity as a couple as the two of you co-create a both/and solution that brings you closer, inspires cooperation and confirms your mutual respect.

So, here’s the “How-To-Negotiate-The-BIG-Stuff” method I recommend.

In blue type is an example of what by any “normal” standards would be a “small stuff” item. But see how it became a “Big Stuff” for one couple.

#1   Describe The Problem

Usually “Big Stuff” only becomes “Big Stuff” after a few rounds of unsuccessful negotiations. Two people won’t know what they disagree about until they disagree. So, after a few rough and unsuccessful attempts to have things go as you wish, you might decide you want to have a real conversation to sort things out. A real negotiation to put this issue to rest. Not by “winning” I hasten to add. But by coming together as fellow explorers, fellow solution-seekers, to see what you can both learn about one another and discover about how to move beyond whatever the gridlock is.

For couple Frank and Heidi their differences regarding how to treat their dining room table after meals went from “cute” to “amusing” to “touchy” to “frosty” to “All-out-hostile” over the course of a few years.

Heidi loved a “Zen” space. She wanted the dining room table cleared off after each meal. She needed the salt and pepper or sugar put away; the mats shaken and taken off the table and the table wiped down.

Frank hated having to put out for every meal what should have been out since the last meal. He loved having the salt, pepper, ketchup, sugar, mats and even extra cutlery out and on the table. Why create work?

At first they found it sort of quaint that they felt so differently about this. They initially did what the other wanted. Frank would put stuff away while singing a song about the department of redundancy department. Heidi would leave stuff out – but way too much stuff… things that might go off like cream, mill and OJ.

But after a couple of years the battle lines were drawn. Frank never put anything away at the end of a meal. Heidi put everything away at the end of a meal. Someone was always unhappy.

#2   Get curious about why this bothers you.

Here are some questions to guide your curiosity.

  1. What precisely is this flare of disagreement about for you?
  2. What do you wish your partner would do instead of what they actually do?
  3. What value of yours seems to be compromised by the actions of your partner?
  4. What story do you tell yourself about your partner when things don’t go as you wish?
  1. As FRANK thought about what pissed him off  it was the inefficiency.
  2. He wished Heidi would see things from his point of view and leave the meal-time-necessities there on the table.
  3. He valued investing his precious life-energy in things that had immediate and observable feedback – which mico-managing the salt and pepper did not! He valued efficiency – yes!
  4. He told himself that Heidi was wasting his time over nothing.
  1. HEIDI was on overwhelm. She was super busy. Frank was beyond busy. It was as if their lives were about to fly off the handle and unravel totally. What she needed was some small ritual that demonstrated they were OK.  
  2. She wished Frank would simply take the 3 minutes it took to clear the table at the end of a meal.
  3. Her values for calm and beauty were being massively stomped on.
  4. Heidi told herself that a messy table meant they were heading downhill as a couple. They were loosing the battle for the things that mattered – which was home and family.

#3   Get curious about why this might bother your partner.

Even though your partner might well be doing what you’ve just done – getting curious about him or her self – it can help to imagine how they might answer this. Knowing what you know about your partner, what might be happening as they appear to resist your request for how to handle this situation?

  1. What might your partner wish you’d do in the face of this situation?
  2. Do you have any feel for what story your partner might be telling him or her self about you and your actions over this issue?
  3. What value might your partner have that could be compromised by what you are doing?

Frank thought long a hard. What might Heidi want? He knew she wished he’d clear the table – but he really was not about to concede his valid point. Yet.  He figured her clean-table thing had to do with, humm,  . . what? Third-grade rules? He could see no value to her request and felt angry and clueless.

Heidi thought about Frank, and his life and how full each day was and she figured he was going for efficiency. She knew he wished she’d just let this bone drop…. But she had standards, after all.

#4   Ask for some time to talk about the issue.

Engage the old grey-matter here.

If you launch into your partner with some hot-blooded diatribe like

  • “You’re such a [insert personal attack here. “Slob” says Heidi / “Neat freak” says Frank]
  • You always [insert globalizing accusation here “Create a mess” says Heidi / “Make unnecessary work” says Frank]
  • I wish you’d just [Insert one-sided demand here “Take 5 minutes and clean” says Heidi /  “Relax, sit a talk to me for 5 minutes” says Frank]
  • Or I’ll [insert ultimatum here “Eat alone without you” says Heidi / “Eat at work without you” says Frank.]

These do not work – right?

So before you launch the one-sided attack, followed by the global accusation, followed by the one-sided demand, followed by the ultimatum, simply say:

“I’ve noticed we have this on-going issue about the dining room table. Would you be willing to set aside some time for us to resolve it?”

#5   Share what you’ve been thinking

Tell your partner about your inner homework. Share what you’ve noticed about your values.

“You know Heidi, I’ve been thinking. I’m so full-on at work, I’m really about eliminating anything that does not feel vital. For me, clearing the table of things we’ll only use again in a few hours seems like madness.”

“You know Frank, I feel I want to take one small stand against all the busy-ness we are both in the midst of and for me, that is symbolized by the small effort it takes to clear up after a meal.”

#6   Invite your partner to share what they have been thinking.

  • “Heidi, tell me more about what you’ve been thinking.”
  • “Frank, tell me more about what you’ve been thinking.”

#7   Zero-in on the values

Just that. The “Big Stuff” is always about core values. Get curious. What is underneath this stand your partner is taking?

“Oh” says Frank. “For you Heidi you have a value around not acting as if we are so full tilt busy that we can’t even clean up after a meal? You value not letting this sort of small ritual fall away even though we are moving so fast?”

“Humm”, says Heidi. “Frank, given how fast your days are you have come to value being super efficient, and it makes no sense for you to move stuff on and off the table when it seems not to matter at all that stuff stays in place?”

#8   Brainstorm some solutions

Just this. How might the two of you honor one another’s values but do something different?

FRANK SAYS

“OK Heidi. I get that. We both are moving way faster than we ever have and we’re both maxed out. But for you, this small thing (not that it always feels small to me mind you) about having a clean table, makes you feel calmer? How about this idea? Since you really value it clean between meals, you go ahead and clear the table and leave it empty and clean. That honors your values of zen and high standards, right? And since I like having stuff around me while I’m eating so I’m not jumping up and down fetching things all the time, I’ll stop grumbling about putting things out before a meal and just do it?”

HEIDI RESPONDS

“Yes, that could work Frank. But on weekends, or when we have friends over and there’s lots of stuff out at the end of a meal, I’d appreciate your help then. And, you know, could we make gathering all the meal-time-stuff up easier? Maybe a tray or caddy for salt, pepper, sugar, and another one for fridge stuff?”

And so they are off. Each now informed about why this matters to one another. Now they can negotiate respectfully towards a win-win, instead of the old win/loose.

It’s not always this simple or this easy obviously. But the thing to remember about “Big Stuff” is that what makes it Big is not the objective assessment of the money or effort involved. What makes an issue big between people is the issue’s connection to competing core values. Frank’s value of efficiency clashed with Heidi’s value of calm and clean. Unless you get to the root of these deeper issues, you’ll never find peace.

And if negotiations don’t go so well? If some of those less-wise words slip out – like the attacking, accusing, demanding and ultimatum-type language? Do what you can always do when things aren’t going well ~

  • Stop.
  • Comment on the fact that neither one of you is up for the conversation right now ( in ohter words, don’t blame anyone).
  • Suggest you take a break.
  • When you are ready, say sorry for your part in the melt down.
  • Try again.
  • Remember – keep your eyes on the prize: a long term happy relationship where each of you continues to learn about what matters to one another and to seek to honor those things that each of you values.

FIRST TIME HERE?

This is the latest article in a year-long series on the “12-most-important-relationship-skills-no-one-ever-taught-me-in-school-but-I-sure-wish-they-had.”

Click the box for the full list.  →Top 12 Relationship Skills

If you’re interested in reading this blog in sequence, below are links to the series to date, beginning with the first posting at the top.

OVERVIEW

SKILLS FOR UNDERSTANDING

SKILL ONE ~ Recognize (and get to know) the many “yous.”

SKILL TWO ~ Learn how to be pro-active: choose how y’all show up.

SKILL THREE ~ Accept (and get curious about) other peoples’ complexity

SKILLS FOR CONNECTING

SKILL FOUR ~ Master the Art of Conversation

SKILL FIVE ~ Learn How To Listen With Your Whole Self

SKILL SIX ~ Crack The Empathy Nut

SKILL SEVEN ~ Practice Kindness

SKILL EIGHT ~ Negotiate with a Win-Win Mentality

How To Negotiate The Small Stuff in Marriage

Sure, you can toss a coin, or play “Rock-Paper-Scissors,” or pick-a-card-from-the-deck-&-closest-to-Ace decides.

And maybe there are times in a marriage or long relationship where making a decision about something small using these playful things is fun, and makes sense.

But over the long haul, each of the zillion tiny decisions you make together, day in and day out over the years, is doing one of two things: bringing you and your partner closer together or pushing you farther apart.

You get closer together to the extent you learn something about yourself or your partner that you did not know before, and you share this, and you find the process of deciding things is respectful, informative, even exciting.

You grow farther apart to the extent you stay small, dig yourself into a rut, confirm a negative stereotype about yourself or your partner, and find yourself being bruised by a one-sided decision-making process.

Is there a better way?

Screen shot 2015-08-12 at 3.30.33 PMAndy and April want to go out to the movies together.

She’s keen to see Train Wreck, and he’s excited about Mission Impossible.

How will they decide?

Screen shot 2015-08-12 at 3.33.46 PM

Brian and Belle fancy eating out together.

She’s been craving Thai. He’s more wanting a burger.

How will they decide?

Screen shot 2015-08-12 at 3.39.06 PMCarol and Cindy are redecorating their living room. Carol thinks a high-color accent wall would be fun.

Cindy’s into calming ivory tones on the neutral spectrum.

How will they decide?

Couples face small-stuff decisions like this day in and day out for decades.

I mean – I’m just getting started here, right!

  • Is turning left or right the fastest route to where we’re heading?
  • The chicken or the fish?
  • Lights on or off?
  • The jazz or the classical music over dinner?
  • Walk the pup now or after doing the dishes?

Back in singles-ville you probably didn’t even notice you were making 1001 small decisions every day because no one brought you a counter point.

You knew what movie, meal, or room color you wanted and got on with it.

You knew how to get where you were going, what airplane meal to “enjoy”, what lighting and music and dog-walking preferences you had, and you got on with them.

Ah – bliss!

Here are three simple strategies (and attendant questions) for resolving these decisions in your relationship before they become deal-breakers.

Strategy 1 ~ Eyes on the prize!

Remember – we’re talking small stuff here.

In the big scheme of things, what matters most is the relationship. Keeping your eyes on the prize of a loving, happy, mutually giving and receiving relationship, ask yourself this question:

Question 1 ~

Can I freely, joyfully and lovingly accept my partner’s influence here and go with his or her choice with absolutely NO resentment? Would it give me pleasure to meet my partner’s needs in this way?

If the answer is an unconditional YES, choose that.

If the answer is more nuanced, not to worry. I get that. Here are some of the reasons these “small stuff” issues begin to look bigger.  See if any of these thoughts came to your mind as you considered question #1 above:

  • I always give in
  • It’s his / her turn to go with my preference
  • This really matters to me
  • I actively dislike my partner’s preference
  • I enjoy getting clear about how important our preferences are to one another, I don’t want to cave in just yet.

OK – proceed to ~

Strategy 2 ~ Get Curious

Being in a relationship is a great way to learn more about what matters to you, and why.  And of course, what matters to your partner, and why. It’s also a great way to clarify your values and to notice which values are most important.

Question 2 ~

Ask yourself how strongly you really feel about the options before you and then grade your preference with an A, B or C with the following criteria.

A = “Must have”. In truth there are very few “A”s and the ones we rank as A tend to have to do with core values, Bucket-List type things and one-off opportunities.

It might be you are in a city well known for it’s fabulous Thai restaurant so your desire to eat Thai food that night, whilst you are in this city with this particular opportunity, might be an A for you.

Or maybe you’ve longed to have a soft, gentle neutral living space with high ceilings and just the right touch of light, and your new homes needs to be painted so it feels so much like “now is the time” so you decide to make your desire an A.

Know that you can’t make every desire an A – it’s not fair!

Know that you need to be able to make an exquisitely compelling case to your partner for why your choice is an A to you.

B = “Strong preference.” So, it’s not an A but you really have been excited about Mission Impossible and – if you remember correctly – you went to a chick-flick last week and need an action-movie-fix.  So, it’s not a core value, or Bucket List thing, but if the decision was yours to make, it would be Mission Impossible over Train Wreck for sure.

C = “No Real Preference. As you think about the choices in front of you and really check in with yourself, you find you are genuinely open to all of them. Or maybe you are just too tired to form an opinion.

This evaluation often takes very little time and you will get better with practice.

Once you know what is true for you, go to ~

Strategy 3 ~ Negotiate using Your A, B, Cs.

Question 3 ~ Invite a mutual sharing of which letter grade you and your partner have given to your stated preferences.

An A will trump a B or C.

A B will trump a C.

Two A’s will cause each of you to have a conversation about core values which becomes an interesting game-changer.

Maybe you will both realize that these A preferences are so important you need to find a way to allow both people to achieve their A choice together – doing things sequentially for example.

Maybe one of you comes to recognize, as you listen to your partner’s rationale for why something is an A for them, that in comparison yours is really a B+. You can back down.

Two B’s will invite a conversation too of course, wherein you each get to be clear and specific as to what you each want, and why.

As you do this, remember Strategies #1 and #2: keep your eyes on the prize of your relationship prevailing over the long haul, and remain curious about one another.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * *

That’s it!

Mark and I came up with this idea somewhere along the years and have been using it successfully for those 101 daily decisions that end up in the “small stuff” category.

Oh – hang on, we’ve got a BIG decision to negotiate. Think I’d rather go off and toss that coin . . .

NEXT WEEK?

How To Negotiate The BIG Stuff in Marriage

FIRST TIME HERE?

This is the latest article in a year-long series on the “12-most-important-relationship-skills-no-one-ever-taught-me-in-school-but-I-sure-wish-they-had.”

Click the box for the full list.  →Top 12 Relationship Skills

If you’re interested in reading this blog in sequence, below are links to the series to date, beginning with the first posting at the top.

OVERVIEW

SKILLS FOR UNDERSTANDING

SKILL ONE ~ Recognize (and get to know) the many “yous.”

SKILL TWO ~ Learn how to be pro-active: choose how y’all show up.

SKILL THREE ~ Accept (and get curious about) other peoples’ complexity

SKILLS FOR CONNECTING

SKILL FOUR ~ Master the Art of Conversation

SKILL FIVE ~ Learn How To Listen With Your Whole Self

SKILL SIX ~ Crack The Empathy Nut

SKILL SEVEN ~ Practice Kindness

SKILL EIGHT ~ Negotiate with a Win-Win Mentality

The #1 Reason Marriages Fail

And no, it’s NOT what you think!

Despite the fact that numerous couples interviewed after divorce cite things like ~

  • Incompatibility
  • Adultery
  • Boredom
  • Abuse
  • Marrying Young

(from Legal Zoom)

and despite the fact that numerous autopsy studies after a divorce cite things like ~

  • Getting in for the wrong reasons
  • Lack of individual identity
  • Becoming lost in the roles
  • Not having a shared vision of success
  • The intimacy disappears
  • Unmet expectations
  • Finances
  • Being out of touch … literally
  • Different priorities and interests
  • Inability to resolve conflicts

(thanks to Your Tango)

these remain symptoms of a much deeper problem, not the problem itself.

Screen shot 2015-10-26 at 11.55.54 AM

It’s as simple and as challenging as that!

Here’s why.

Core human needs will ultimately trump everything else.

What are core human needs?

I love using Tony Robbins’ list. It’s short, memorable and in alignment with Maslow – the “grandfather” of needs identification.

Screen shot 2015-08-05 at 7.30.12 AM

Below are some simple stories illustrating how these needs might be unmet in a relationship. I use the six terms Tony Robbins uses:

  • Certainty
  • Variety
  • Significance
  • Love and Connection
  • Growth
  • Contribution

I use actual examples from my clinical practice, with identifying names and circumstances changed, to build my case that it’s not the specific “crime” that brings the relationship down. It’s the inability of partners to negotiate, to advocate for their needs.

CERTAINTY / VARIETY

Max and Ira were international circus performers (yes – I meet fascinating clients!). They met when Ira was hired by the same prestigious group of performance artists and spent three years traveling the world with the group. They fell in love. They committed to one another and spent nearly every waking moment together for five years. Somewhere along the way, Max’s capacity for constant shift and adventure took a toll on another deeper need he felt for stability. For nesting. For settling down into a lifestyle he could count on. He wanted to be sure he’d know where he’d be 3, 6 18 months into the future. He wanted to put down roots. And he wanted Ira by his side.

Ira was still enchanted by the lifestyle that circus performing gave him; international travel, astonishing highs, a degree of fame. That almost lottery-ticket thrill of not knowing exactly what his apartment or city would look like 6, 9, 18 months out. He adored international vagabonding and performance art and he wanted Max by his side.

They knew other couples in their circus community who managed marriages and even families, but they could not negotiate a solution.

Max’s need for certainty, and Ira’s need for variety were, for these two, the stumbling blocks that ended their relationship.

As an interesting aside, the fastest growing segment of the population getting divorced is the over 50 set. It’s super high over 65. But, as Bridgid Schulte writes in The Washington Post  “More than half of all gray divorces are to couples in first marriages. Indeed, 55 percent of gray divorces are between couples who’d been married for more than 20 years.”

Folks have been unable to negotiate sufficient variety in their lives or marriages… they’ve been drowning in their own long-outdated need for certainty!

SIGNIFICANCE

Oh, I could name scores of couples here where one partner was unable to communicate to their spouse / lover / former adored chosen-one how much they ached to be really seen. To be considered as relevant. As special. As worthy of time and attention.

But I’ll tell you the story of Cassandra and Rex. The classic beginning, they met in med school. Rex was a rare male going into Psychiatric nursing while Cassandra had a knack for surgery. They courted in the exhausting crucible of residency and first jobs and both were initially deeply supportive. They had a wide circle of friends, were generous and social, and married with a showy bash funded by Cassandra’s wealthy parents.

They came to me about seven years later. Their careers were flourishing. They were both superb at what they did, well paid, articulate, well-respected in their fields.

The core issue?

Underneath it all, Rex believed Cassandra did not value him, who he was, or his profession. He noticed how certain unkind comments slipped out at gatherings; how she said the word “nurse;” how she’d blow off commitments they had as couple with his friends, for non-emergency get-togethers with her friends (all surgeons).

The way Cassandra treated Rex fed into his own core insecurities. Rex had a core Part of himself who felt insignificant in his own eyes. This part needed Casandra to value him all the more. Meanwhile, Cassandra too had a powerfully insecure part cultivated in her high achieving family home. This part leveraged a sense of significance by looking down on Rex.

The way forward for them as a couple would have been for them each to meet and heal their core insecurities. They each needed to feel significant in their own eyes first. Absent that, their way of meeting their personal need for significance was coming at the expense of their partner.

But because they had spent so many years hiding from themselves, because the system they had evolved had Cassandra managing her insecurities by letting Rex see her as highly significant and Rex managing his insecurities by having Cassandra as his wife, they had caused one another too much pain and decided to divorce and move on.

CONNECTION AND LOVE

Because the need for love and connection is so central in relationships, it’s the inability of partners to negotiate  this prime need that brings most couples in to see me.

Once that loving feeling has worn off, how do two people continue to express and receive love from one another?

We may have moved into the 21st century, but Della and Rob’s situation is repeated with subtle variations in (dare I say this?)  many couples in the USA?

Once the post-romantic-love high has worn off, couples settle into the business of living. Earning a buck. Making a home. Raising a family. Both Della and Rob love their work and in fact, increasingly, getting out the door in the morning to go to work is the highlight!

It’s on the home front that things are a battleground. Della has been totally unable to get Rob to see that “if he loves her” he will ~

  • Pick up his laundry
  • Fold the towels and put them away
  • Do the dinner dishes
  • Cook occasionally
  • Help her teach manners to their hyper-active toddler
  • Help her discipline their overly-sassy-pre-teen
  • Vacuum
  • Be OK with her time spent with girl friends on weekends

And Rob is increasingly loosing the battle to negotiate for the two things that spell love for him ~

  • Weekly sex
  • Weekend TV sports

As these individual but differing recipes-for-love go un-expressed and un-negotiated, they remain unmet. Each partner feels increasingly alone in the marriage, and they begin to drift apart.  By the time Della and Rob  came to see me they were ready to hit the “eject” button out of their marriage without having done the work necessary to prevent them from re-creating this same scenario again. The work? To figure out their core needs and learn how to negotiate for them fair and square.

For too many folks it seems easier to just start over with pockets full of hope than to do the important inner work that no one has taught them how to do anywhere along the way. (Yes, you hear my frustration with our educational system!)

GROWTH

Healthy couples allow space and room for each partner to grow. When one person wants to get a degree, start a business, travel the world, fly airplanes or learn Arabic and work with the International Rescue Committee – how they negotiate this expansion is key.

Both sides have work here – the one negotiating for the new thing will be wise to be mindful of their partner’s needs (maybe for certainty, maybe for significance after this new event) and the partner being invited to embrace these expanded horizons will need to manage their own fears and perhaps invite their own aspirations.

Elise and Frank came to see me on the brink of divorce, but are now in some solid negotiations with themselves and one another.

Elise has a promising break with her acting career which could take her to New York. Frank is heading for tenure at a good University in the mid-west. It’s a crux move in their marriage. Fortunately they are both willing to look inside themselves to see what triggers these two opportunities are igniting, and what needs these opportunities are meeting for each of them, and one another. Thus informed, their negotiations are grounded in self-awareness and understanding which is allowing them both to be creative, flexible and willing to do the work necessary to have a marriage in which growth is not only possible, but supported with enthusiasm.

CONTRIBUTION

Maybe with a twist of irony, think American Sniper here. For those who don’t know the story, here’s a summary lifted from the Amazon publicity spiel on the link above.

From 1999 to 2009, U.S. Navy Seal Chris Kyle recorded the most career sniper kills in United States military history. His fellow American warriors, whom he protected with deadly precision from rooftops and stealth positions during the Iraq War, called him “The Legend”; meanwhile, the enemy feared him so much they named him al-Shaitan (“the devil”) and placed a bounty on his head. Kyle, who was tragically killed in 2013, writes honestly about the pain of war—including the deaths of two close SEAL teammates—and in moving first-person passages throughout, his wife, Taya, speaks openly about the strains of war on their family, as well as on Chris.”

Clearly it sounds as though this couple did a remarkable job of negotiating a way to allow Chris’s desire to contribute to his fellow Seals to continue as long as it did. And, it put enormous strains on their marriage and family.

Living with a “legend” isn’t always easy…

***********************************

So if – as I have come to believe after nearly 20 years of working with couples – the #1 reason marriages fail and relationships end is because one or both partners is unable to negotiate a way to meet their core human needs within the marriage, then these three things need to happen.

  1. We need to understand more about our own needs

We need to spend time with ourselves and ask ~

  • What needs do I have?
  • How do I meet my own needs?
  • How do I choose which needs to meet if I have more than one and they seem to compete?
  • How do I negotiate my needs when I’m around others?
  1. We need to understand more about our partner’s needs.

As we are getting to know a potential partner, we need to ask ~

  • What needs does my partner have?
  • How does my partner meet his/her own needs?
  • How does my partner choose which needs to meet if s/she has more than one and they seem to compete?
  • How does my partner negotiate his/her needs around others?
  1. We need to understand how to negotiate our needs as a couple.

As we consider building a relationship together, we need to explore ~

  • What needs do we each have in this relationship?
  • How do we each advocate for our needs to be met?
  • What do we do when it seems as if our needs are in competition or mutually exclusive?
  • What does each of us do when we feel our needs are not being taken seriously by our partner?

STAY TUNED!

This is a huge topic and I’ll be exploring it for the next 3 posts.

FEATURED IMAGE

Thanks to the Your Tango article referenced in this piece.

FIRST TIME HERE?

This is the latest article in a year-long series on the “12-most-important-relationship-skills-no-one-ever-taught-me-in-school-but-I-sure-wish-they-had.”

Click the box for the full list.  →Top 12 Relationship Skills

If you’re interested in reading this blog in sequence, below are links to the series to date, beginning with the first posting at the top.

OVERVIEW

SKILLS FOR UNDERSTANDING

SKILL ONE ~ Recognize (and get to know) the many “yous.”

SKILL TWO ~ Learn how to be pro-active: choose how y’all show up.

SKILL THREE ~ Accept (and get curious about) other peoples’ complexity

SKILLS FOR CONNECTING

SKILL FOUR ~ Master the Art of Conversation

SKILL FIVE ~ Learn How To Listen With Your Whole Self

SKILL SIX ~ Crack The Empathy Nut

SKILL SEVEN ~ Practice Kindness

SKILL EIGHT ~ Negotiate with a Win-Win Mentality

  • The #1 Reason Marriages Fail