We are pleased to welcome a new feature on our News & Events page—The Relationship Puzzle. This periodic contribution is brought to us by Brett Beaver, LMFT, and will focus on various aspects of navigating relationships. In the initial installment, Brett talks about bringing a “we are all trying to figure this out” perspective into our interactions with others.
They Are Like Us
All too often, in relationships that matter, when we feel vulnerability (especially during emotional exchanges), we lose the ability to view the other person as someone like us. We all bring our relationship history to our interactions—complete with the lingering hurts, traumas, and successes. Each one of us is trying to figure this relationship stuff out. If we can access this belief—the figuring it out part—during intense discussions, we might create empathy for the other person and create new communication pathways.
What if, in the middle of a disagreement/discussion, we took a deep breath and recognized the person on the other side of us as equally invested in making sense of the relationship—despite what they are saying or how angry they present? What if we interpret their intensity as a measure of how much they want to make the relationship work? What if we took another deep breath and let go of our need to defend, to protest, to counterpoint, and we looked at them through the lens of a fellow relationship traveler? This is a shared journey— one of many shared journeys—where at this moment, they are doing their best to engage and sort out the relationship pieces. What might that do to the intensity of the interaction? To our tone of voice? To our ability in that moment to listen to what they are saying? Chances are, the intensity would decrease, our tone of voice would ease, and the listening would increase.
On many occasions, in these intimate relationships, discussions devolve into heated disagreements where no one feels heard. We behave as if we are in a ring fighting for our lives. Or we are in front of a judge proving our point that we are right and more noble than the other! We lose the ‘us-ness’ or the shared partnership and the idea that we are in this together—both shared relationship wanderers trying to figure out our complex web of emotional activations and attachments. If we carry this idea (fellow relationship travelers trying to figure this out) with us and use this concept as a lens through which we share our thoughts and view others, chances are our interactions would improve and the relationship satisfaction quotient would improve.
An interesting idea? How does one access this in the moment of a heated discussion? In a future installment, we will talk about the evolving skillset of self-soothing at the moment that allows us to hold the “we are all trying to figure this out” mantra.