It is tough being a human and one of the hardest tasks we face is making our relationships work. From the moment we are born, we try to figure out how to relate to others. It is the reason most of us exist and carry on and it is the reason some of us want to end our lives.
Define a human being any way you want but if you fail to address our need for connection, you have missed the central point.
The individual person is a bit of fiction. Most human babies who aren’t loved and nurtured in the first year of life are ruined. They must have love, care and concern. They look to their mother for the mirror that whispers yes. Love is just as important as oxygen and food. If you are psychologically healthy, thank someone, because you didn’t get there on your own.
Since our parents were not perfect and could not love us perfectly, we are not perfect. They made mistakes. We make mistakes. We are all stumbling and fumbling at our most important job: loving others and relieving their pain and suffering.
The Language of Blame
When I work with couples, I keep one thing in mind. They want their relationship to work but are deeply frustrated. Each thinks the other is at fault. The more they try, the more they fail and the more they fail, the more they blame the other. And the more they blame the other, the more the other defends themselves and returns the blame. There is no end to this game of blame and defend. In some relationships, it’s all there is.
David Burns reminds us, “We all provoke and maintain the exact relationship problems that we complain about. However, we don’t seem to realize that we’re doing this, so we feel like victims and tell ourselves that the problem is the other person’s fault.”
He also states, “We deny our own role in the conflict because self-examination is so shocking and painful, and because we are secretly rewarded by the problem we’re complaining about. We want to do our dirty work in the dark so we can maintain a façade of innocence.”
The good news Burns tells us is, “We all have far more power than we think to transform our troubled relationships – if we are willing to stop blaming the other person and focus instead on changing ourselves. The healing can happen far more quickly than you might think. In fact, you can often reverse years of bitterness and mistrust almost instantly – but you’ll have to be willing to work hard and experience some pain along the way if you want to experience this kind of miracle.”
I can’t begin to explain how rare it is to find someone who is willing and able to take full responsibility for the role they play in their relationship conflicts. If they can already do that, they probably won’t find themselves in my office fighting for the relationship they are unconsciously fighting against.
The Language of Love
Humans connect with one another through language. From infancy, we cue into the cadence of speech as the synapses in our brains develop super highways for the free flow of information and ideas.
We have “me, you and we maps” in our brains that allow us to create our own facsimile of the world. As Steven Covey reminds us, we see the world not as it is but as we are. But we think our view or perception of reality IS the fundamental truth.
Stepping back from that lie is the most powerful dance move you will ever make.
If you want to transform your relationships, get to know the disarming technique. Burns explains it is “the most difficult – and the most powerful – listening skill.”
The trick is to “find some truth in what the other person is saying and agree with them, even if you think that what they’re saying is wrong. This is a particularly effective tool when you feel criticized and attacked. It takes the wind out of the other person’s sails and has a profound and sudden calming effect.
“Regardless of how unreasonable their criticism might seem, find some grain of truth in it. When you resist the urge to argue or defend yourself and you instead agree with the other person, you will paradoxically end up a winner. He or she will usually feel like a winner too, and will be much more open to your point of view.”
Finally, remember to empathize, not personalize. It is never about you. It is about the other person. Care for them. Remember, “Your truth is your enemy” so give it up as you zero in on your partner’s “truth”.
Listen to them. Understand them. Hold their deepest pain in your soft hands and never let go. This rich ride is rewarding but exceedingly brief. When in doubt, remember this recipe: big love plus little blame serves all.
Doug Craig graduated from college in Ohio with a journalism degree and got married during the Carter administration. He graduated from graduate school with a doctorate in Psychology, got divorced, moved to Redding, re-married and started his private practice during the Reagan administration. He had his kids during the first Bush administration. Since then he has done nothing noteworthy besides write a little poetry, survive a motorcycle crash, buy and sell an electric car, raise his kids, manage to stay married and maintain his practice for almost 25 years. He believes in magic and is a Sacramento Kings fan.