I have been alone the past few days and begin to feel like a bear hibernating quietly in her den waiting for spring to arrive. Milt went to Rapid City to do a film project and school kept me behind. I miss our lazy late night talks, watching American Idol, getting up to coffee and conversation. At the same time, it is a good thing to have time to sit with my own aloneness.
I consider a good relationship one of the major blessings of my life. After teaching workshops to thousands of people over the years, I’ve learned that a good relationship is what people want more than money, fame, success. All of those other things are a bit hollow if you have no one to share it with.
Today I was reading an NLP discussion on Linked In. A man posed the question, “What can I do if my partner constantly condemns, criticizes and belittles me?” There must have been 30 people chiming in to tell this good man what to do. Their answers were all over the place—dump her, change her, get her back, reframe her, lock her up, etc. None of them were stellar NLP strategies. Here is one response that did make me laugh out loud–kind of sums up the great movements of the world.
Empathetic: Sorry Dude. I understand how you feel.
Logical: You need to find the underlying trigger and intention for the behavior.
Philosphical: That which does not kill us makes us strong.
Ecumenical: Pray for this person. God does not give you anything you can’t handle.
Macho: Suck it up and deal with it you f#ckin’ pussy!
Freudian: Tell me how you feel about your mother.
Greek: The Gods must be angry.
Medieval: She’s a Which! Burn her.
Ike Turner/Mel Gibson/Steven Segall/Bobby Bown: You gotta bitch-slap that outta her.
Jesus: Do unto others…
Zen: Who is this ‘you’ that is perceiving these behaviors?
Milton Erickson: Can you imagine standing in a hurricane? And seeing the storm, you might imagine stepping back from all these apparent behaviors, perhaps back into the eye of the storm… yes, stepping backwards until you’re feeling that calm and quiet… You know, like in the eye of the storm? And as you see her behaviors fade away into the chaos of the storm, all the time feeling calm and anchored, safely in the eye of the storm. That’s right… And as you step back and imagine looking… looking from side to side, you see now that you can hardly make out the behaviors you used to see as they’ve become lost in the swirling grey of the storm. Standing there now, with this new perspective, the question is… Can you tell me how do you feel? OK?
After entertaining myself with this I went to Facebook and saw a post from my granddaughter. Kayna and her guy are celebrating their second year together. To celebrate their anniversary he took her out to dinner, gave her a gift, and then they went to a hotel room where he had spread rose petals all over the bed and the edge of the hot tub. Romantic and sweet.
These two “social networking” things seemed incongruous. How to get rid of a partner who criticizes and condemns versus how to find a partner that spreads rose petals on your bed. I wrote in her timeline, “If you want to have a golden relationship, give your partner gold.”
As I thought about it I realized that that is a pretty good strategy. It is a simple thing really, to maintain the balance of give and take in a relationship that is positive and not negative. It takes some practice, some discipline, some thought and consciousness, but it is not impossible. For instance, to balance such a romantic and sweet celebration of their time together, Kayna could now spend time thinking about how to do something equally sweet for him when he isn’t expecting it. She could pay him back so to speak. Bert Hellinger talks about this with real eloquence. The give and take in relationships is a finely tuned mechanism that can operate either positively or negatively. When somebody does something nice for you, think about how you could do something equally nice plus a little bit more. And it doesn’t always have to be stuff or material things but a gesture, a word, a smile at the right time, a gentle massage that was not requested. It works out there in the world with other relationships that you care about maintaining.
A relationship on the downward spiral spins the other way. If somebody hurts you, you set out to hurt them just as much plus a little bit more. Instead of restoring balance, it becomes about getting even. Over time, this bad balancing becomes a destructive force that kills the relationship. I’ve seen this operating in more relationships than I care to even count. It might start out with a bit of hostile humor, a jab at the soft spot of your partner’s psyche. This jab is returned by a counter jab at some point and it escalates from there.
Most of us are finely tuned to this balance of give and take. If somebody so much as buys you a coke or opens a door for you, there is a silent debt that needs to be balanced out at some point.
Bert Hellinger went so far as to talk about how too much giving or too much taking without any balancing will eventually end the relationship.
This sounds a little like score keeping and, in a way, it is. We do keep score. We can’t help ourselves. But we keep score on the positive side as well as the negative side.
But more importantly than what somebody does or doesn’t do is whether we can take responsibility for examining and discovering what we really need. And whether we have evolved into the type of person who can recognize and meet another person’s needs.
Balancing the give and take in a relationship is not about waiting for somebody to meet your needs but taking some responsibility in expressing what those needs are—or setting aside your needs for another when that is what is most important. It requires us to be awake and aware in a relationship, to read its signs and signals, to care for it as a living dynamic that is about “me” and about “we” at the same time.
And here is a final thought about how to have the perfect relationship. First of all, you recognize that the partner you choose is not perfect. The perfected beings are doing relationships on another realm. They don’t need our messiness. Secondly, it is like starting a new garden. (Yes, I am starting with garden metaphors—spring is coming.) You pick a patch of untilled ground, and it is full of weeds and tightly bound-up grass roots and, in my case, entire washing machines, car parts, and lawn mower bodies. Anyway, you break up what is there and then you begin to add (excuse my French) shit. You add a lot of shit. Money stuff, kid stuff, needs, decisions, housing stuff . . . and you begin to till it all into this perfect waiting soil. Then you tend it carefully, pay attention, make sure it gets what it needs and before too many years go by, you have a growing, balancing relationship.
If you wait for that perfect one, you will wait forever.
And if you choose an imperfect partner and treat them like gold, he or she will become the most precious thing to you in the whole world.
Missing you, Milt.
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