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Relationship Tip: Who’s on Top?

The most destructive dynamic in a relationship is the “one-up/one-down” battle. In our competitive society, we are unconsciously programmed to see relationships as a competition. Especially when there is conflict, we automatically seek to determine who is more important, more valuable, better, or right. Of course, no one wants to be “a loser,” so each person battles to establish that they are in the more important/better position.

Relationship StruggleThis is a BIG problem because as soon as you assert that you are right, better, or more valuable, you put your partner in the position of being wrong, and less valuable. No matter who “wins” this competition, the relationship loses. This is unavoidable because when you take the one-up stance, you lose empathy for your partner. Your position of power becomes more important to you than respecting your partner’s feelings! On the other hand, if you try to keep the peace by accepting the one-down position, you cannot help but feel resentful. Human beings cannot experience humiliation without resenting it.

To put it another way, the one-up person assumes an entitled position. It looks and sounds like this: “Because I’m right/smarter/more important than you, I have the right to get my way/do what I want, AND you have no right to protest!” The last piece is the real “kicker!” That attitude is the part that fuels resentment in your partner. You act as if he/she should not protest your proclamation or behavior. It implies that your partner does not have the right to negotiate to get his/her wants and needs included in the outcome. Thus you end up with one person feeling entitled and not caring about the other’s feelings. Quite naturally the other person is fuming with resentment – a “dance of entitlement and resentment.” Not exactly a recipe for a loving, harmonious relationship!

As you delve deeper into your mind when you are in the “one-up” entitled position, you find that not only are you acting pompous and conceited, but that you actually BELIEVE that you are better than the other person. You are sure of your facts and your analysis of the situation, and you are convinced of your inherent rightness. That is why it is difficult to give up the perceived power that comes with the grandiosity of being one-up. The sense of power is addictive. This cycle must be broken for relational harmony to be re-achieved.

The antidote to this power struggle is to work to create a world of “same as.”

What is this, you ask?

Bill Russell (a former NBA star) quotes his mother’s succinct description of the “same as” position. After he had become famous, she told him: “You ain’t no better or no worse than anyone else out there!”

Another way to understand this idea is to recognize that the one-up position has lots of power for the self, but no empathy for the other; the one-down stance has lots of empathy for the other, but no power for the self. The “same as” position is one in which you have both power (to do what you need to do and say what you need to say) AND empathy (for how this is going to impact the other person.) Of course, empathy needs to lead you to a willingness to consider the other person’s needs and feelings to be just as important as your own.

In the world of “Same As,” each person’s needs, feelings, ideas and opinions are seen as worthy of respect and consideration, especially when they are different from yours. So, when you and your partner disagree, you assume that both your perspectives are valid. You make an effort to present your view calmly and confidently and to listen to and understand your partner’s view respectfully. Then you look for ways to proceed in the situation that take both of you into account;you look for a “win/win” solution. Ultimately, this is the only way your relationship can deepen and thrive.

Relationship Tip: How Do You Show Your Love?

We never outgrow our need to feel loved by the people with whom we are in relationship.  The best way to lubricate the central axis of a committed loving relationship is by working to help your partner feel loved by you.   Love is the grease that allows the wheel of life to rotate smoothly.

Holding Heart Shows LoveBeing a loving partner takes intention and skill. “Intention” involves the internal commitment to yourself to be kind, considerate and respectful in all of your communication.  “Skill” means that you have been willing to break old self-defeating habits and have learned some new ways to demonstrate the loving side of your nature.

Here are some skills you can practice:

  1. Give your partner a verbal appreciation every day!  Remind yourself of your partner’s best traits and behaviors and tell them how much you appreciate that aspect of their personhood.  Be explicit and be concrete.  “You are a good Mom” is a nice start.  “I really admire the way you took the time to calm Jimmy down before you put him in that time out” is more concrete, specific and personal.  If you want to learn how to make your appreciations even more powerful, practice telling your partner how you interpreted their excellent behaviors. For example,   “I really admire the way you took the time to calm Jimmy down before you put him in that time out.  When I saw you do that I realized how you are teaching him self-soothing skills even as you are giving him a consequence for his bad behavior. What a great move!”
  2. Give your gifts from your heart Gifts that have strings attached are likely to blow up in your face.  When your partner senses that you are being nice because you want something in return, an alarm goes off in their survival/ reptilian brain that says “Danger! Danger!”  Instead of closeness you get distance and wariness.  And you wonder “What did I do wrong?”  Gifts, (i.e. both verbal appreciations and material presents) must be given freely, with loving kindness and without expectations.
  3. Use the Platinum Rule. The Golden Rule says “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.”  This is an excellent principal for treating others with consideration and respect. It is often referred to as the ethic of reciprocity.  However it can backfire in relationships.  If you use your behavior in the relationship to attempt to signal to your partner what you secretly want given back to you, miscommunication often results.  Take, for example, the anniversary where the husband (who wants more touching in the relationship) gives his wife a fancy electric massage machine. At the same time the wife (who privately wishes they would spend intimate time reading aloud to each other) give her husband a book of love poems.  They pretend to appreciate what they received from the partner, but secretly feel disappointed and misunderstood.

In place of the Golden Rule we suggest an updated version for love relationships.  Harville Hendrix has called this the Platinum Rule.  The Platinum Rule says “Do unto your partner as they would have you do unto them.”  Take the time to learn and to remember what your partner likes to receive.  Gary Chapman’s book The Five Love Languages   can help you and your partner understand each other’s primary and secondary love receptors. To become the best lover you can be, you need to give your partner what they most long for, not what you think they ought to appreciate.

The Dynamics of the Journey of Self Recovery

When men set out on the journey of self recovery and really begin to connect with their needs and wants and feelings, they are embarking on a journey into the long unexplored and long neglected realm of their hidden selves. The relatively few men in our culture who are courageous enough to take this journey can get deeply immersed in their needs and wants and feelings, so long ignored and possibly screaming for attention. The danger now, if they are in an intimate relationship with another, is to make what they need and want and feel preemptive; that is, more important than their relationship with the other. This is a challenging and often relationship-threatening place for a couple to find themselves.

The work of recovery takes on another dimension. I really begin to get that my needs and wants and feelings matter and are important and yet not more important than the needs and wants and feelings of the significant others in my life. Now I am faced with, maybe for the first time in my life, really being able to negotiate on an equal footing about needs and wants and feelings with another person rather than take entitled positions with them! This is because I am finally getting in touch with more of the whole of me than ever before and more able to be in touch with the whole of you.

But being able to do this is not enough. Now that I am more able, I must choose to do so; indeed to exercise and practice this new ability if it is to be more than just potential. In other words, now that I am truly growing up, I must also show up and know that I won’t do so perfectly. But you, my love, probably knew that anyway, and you may have been waiting a long time for me.

By John Mariner,
Licensed Clinical Social Worker

Men and Women: Equal Opportunity Offenders

Men and women, when behaving badly with each other, are basically “equal opportunity offenders.”

That’s right!

They will each get their digs in and twist the knife a little bit when they get the opportunity.

However, there is a basic difference.

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

When behaving poorly, men usually scare women and women shame men. Take your choice? Both suck! The difference is that it takes much longer to recover from being scared than it does from being shamed.

Here’s how this seems to work: Men hate being shamed. It reminds many men of how they were controlled as children by parents, teachers or other adults in their lives. Usually when the shaming stops (“Oh no, John, it never stops,” I can hear some men saying), men recover relatively quickly. When women are scared by the men in their lives, the recovery time generally takes much longer. It just takes longer to recover from fear.

This helps to explain why, when both individuals are behaving better, the woman may hold on to her hesitation or reluctance to be close again a lot longer than the man does. It can be very difficult for the man to understand that even though he has ceased his scary behavior, she is still holding him off. She just may need more time to recover than he does.

Hang in there, guys. More often than not your patience will be rewarded, and your changed behavior will be much appreciated.

Chime in with your thoughts: When behaving poorly, do you agree men tend to scare women and women typically shame men?

By John Mariner,
Licensed Clinical Social Worker

The Spiritual/Life Journey as Surfing

Just yesterday, a client came up with the metaphor of surfing for what it is like to be on the journey of life.  Though I’ve never surfed, it makes a lot of sense to me.  We really aren’t in control of what waves life sends our way.  We do have the choice of whether to fight them, sink, or do the best we can to ride them with as much grace as possible! To ride them, we must be aware and attuned both to the wave and to ourselves, and have the courage to jump into the flow.

AND, we will not always catch it just right.  We may frequently get unceremoniously dumped and even beat up a bit – or a lot.  Still, we can choose how we react to the experience.  We can wallow in self-blame or self-pity, we can sink under the water and refuse to play again. Or, we can swim to shore, find our bearings and say, “Well, THAT didn’t work!  What can I do different next time? “  We might need to nurse our bruises for a while, but hopefully, eventually we’ll find the courage and confidence to try to catch the next wave a little more gracefully.

Mary Simon, Psy.D.

Moving Beyond the Power Struggle

 

Remember the song that said “For everything…, turn, turn turn, there is a season…, turn turn, turn.”  This is a phrase from Ecclesiastes that provides deep reflection on some automatic behaviors in relationships.   After the “Romantic Stage” of all relationships there comes a period in which the partners feel hurt and betrayed by each other.  This is often referred to as the “Power Struggle”.  At this time conflicts are not resolved and resentments begin to build up inside both partners. 

Many people handle this stage by turning away from the other person.  It just feels safer and less fraught with frustration and grief.  The endless repetitions of all too familiar fights are avoided by shutting down, stonewalling the conversation, and turning inward.  This can have devastating effects on a love relationship.

Unbeknownst to you, your partner feels lost and abandoned.  S/he feels unimportant and unloved by you as you stop talking and control your own reactivity through silence.  What you are doing to feel secure and to avoid the conflict feels provocative and offensive to your partner.  Obviously this is not going to move the relationship closer.

 What is required here feels counter-intuitive.  You must stop your retreat and turn toward your partner.  You must abandon the security of your fortress of silence and approach your partner with an open hand and a curious mind set.  What you say is not as important as making the approach with warmth and a desire to be closer to your friend.

~ Dr. Howard Lambert

 

 

 

Being Present: Avoiding the Reactivity Trap

Here’s a concept that I’ve been finding really helpful of late.  It’s called “The Shelf,” and it’s the place where I can rest my “baggage” when I find that my buttons are getting pushed by something.  The best example I can think of is when I’m trying –  REALLY trying – to listen to something that my partner is explaining, and I find myself getting triggered.  The idea is that I go, ‘Aha!  I’m about to fall into the “reactivity trap.” I need to take “my stuff” and put it on the shelf, so I can be truly present here.’  It’s an active decision to not pay any attention to my own internal triggering.  Maybe later I can take it down and explain my side of things.  Or maybe I can just leave it up there  . . . ?

 Mike Misgen, LPC

PRESUMING SANITY

We have probably all had the experience of being in the middle of a fight with our partner and thinking to our self… “That is absurd. How can you possibly think that? You have got it all wrong.” It is my contention that those thoughts are an indication that I have totally lost my neutrality and that my non-verbal behavior is about to become dismissive, invalidating and maybe even condescending.
I generally know my partner to be thoughtful and reasonable. Why do I doubt that now? Well it is probably because she is disagreeing with me. She sees something differently from me. My sense of self is threatened and I feel an urge to fight back and assert my superior knowledge or right to my own opinion. It is actually my own insecurity that is taking command of the ship.
If I presume that everything she says, thinks and does makes total sense (to her) from within her own perspective I would never look down on her and become arrogant and dismissive. If her ideas do not make sense to me it means that I have not taken the time to inquire into her world view to see how it makes sense to her. That needs to be my next job at those moments.
When I say, “You are not making sense!” I am actually saying, “You are not making MY sense.” How pompous I must sound at those moments.
~ Dr. Howard Lambert