Have you ever wondered how couples look from a relationship therapist’s eyes? I can only speak for myself, but in my travels I have seen that any therapist who is trained well to work with couples and who is also made of quality stuff sees with a similar perspective.
We humans have powers of perception, largely with our eyes, and also with our ears.Of course, there are more avenues for intake, including the power of intuitive wisdom, which is influenced by but transcends information taken in by our five senses.
Good therapists need good instincts. Good couples therapists need even better ones. There’s so much going on between people.
Eyes and ears are the two biggies – my tools for receiving information when I work with clients. I get the bulk of the information I need in order to be an effective helper by observing a couple interacting with each other. Often for only a few moments.
I say this not to pass judgment or come from a critical place. I speak as a practitioner of a skill, which is art and science combined, that is most helpful to others when its tools are used accurately.
So what is revealed in a few moments of observing a couple interacting?
How they talk to each other. Their voice and their body language. My ears and eyes are sensitively attuned to the slightest contaminant in their communication. The slightest veering off the path of what I call Responsible Communication.
Irresponsible communication can’t be hidden. It is the symptom. It’s like bacteria.
What is revealed by how a couple talks to each other are the leaky spots. The holes in the bowl. The places where there is a disconnect. And the disconnect reveals where a person’s own relationship with themselves causes them to disconnect from their partner.
Disconnect is evident by withdrawing or shutting down, but it is also when someone is unkind, sarcastic, mean or critical. We can’t be mean to someone we are connected to. This all happens unconsciously, for the most part.
This can all get very complex psychologically, which is the deep river that runs under the work that I do. But this blog post promised a simple, big, obvious secret.
I shall deliver that.
It is this: Talk nice. Talk nice to each other. Talk nice to each other all the time.
I must be joking, right?
Well, there’s more.
When you fail to do that, when you fail to talk nicely to your partner, which you will – because you are human – then use that departure from being nice as a window into what ails you inside of you in that moment.
And take responsibility for it. Immediately.
I told you it was simple.
I know, I know.
It is simple. But it is not easy. It is not easy because of our defenses. Defenses, deeply engrained in us unconsciously, are default reflexes that obstruct the path of being nice all the time, of conscious, happy relationships.
Yet – and this is my theme song – relationships give us the very best opportunity to grow into happier, non-defensive,loving beings because they give us such perfect material to work with. Literally, the perfect, exact, custom-made material we need to work with if we want to be happy.
That material is our own resistance to talking nicely – whenever it comes up. Those moments reveal our triggers, our emotional reactivity, and our defenses.
Here is the two-part, big, obvious secret to happier relationships:
1.) Talk nice.
2.) Take immediate responsibility when you don’t.
How does one take responsibility? I’m glad you asked.
That is covered very well in my private work with clients. It is the main topic I talk about in my writing. It is my life purpose – to help people have happier relationships and be happier people by learning to manage their own emotional reactivity and be conscious communicators.
For this blog post, I only have to glance at my tool bench for the easy-access, user-friendly section. I will give you one big, so-obvious-it’s-not-obvious repair tool for taking personal responsibility for being bacteria-free in one’s communication.
I call this tool, As-Is. It goes hand in hand with the age old Pink Elephant concept.
As-Is works like this: Something is off; someone shines a light on the fact that something is off. You As-Is it. It’s a verb.
It’s invites the opposite of unconsciousness.
It’s invites the opposite of ignoring the elephant in the room.
It brings the light of consciousness – not a harsh, cold-light-of-day kind of interrogation fluorescent glare – a bright, beautiful, strong, warm light of simple but necessary truth.
As-Is can be used when something you have said or done is off, or something your partner has said or done is off. It doesn’t matter who initiates the consciousness. What matters is that it is initiated, and welcomed, as uncomfortable as it may feel at first.
As-Is sounds like this:
• “Wait. I just used a harsh tone. I’m sorry. I take that back. Let me try that again in a gentler voice.”
• And, “Time-out. The way you just spoke felt like a harsh tone. Would you please use a gentler voice in a do-over?”
• Here’s another example: “Oops. I just broke from our agreement to use Responsible Communication. I rolled my eyes. I’ve been working on not doing that. I’m sorry. Would you say what you said again, and I will not make a face?”
• And, “I’m pressing Pause. I just saw you roll your eyes. That is not Responsible Communication. We have an agreement. Would you be willing to take it back and we can do that one over?”
And yes, I’m serious. I am asking you to try this at home.
There are endless examples. Anything can be said responsibly, including a repair request in the form of an As-Is.
This simple tool is extremely powerful. It stops the action from steamrolling past a contaminant and allows two people to clean it up and get back to connection again.
What to do after the As-Is intervention is a whole other blog post, or several. In some situations, a quick fix as seen above is sufficient to keep things running smoothly between two people. Other times more unpacking is needed.
Tools to handle conflict and turn it into growth and connection opportunities are also on my work bench. Imago Dialogue, Keys to Conscious Communication, and Key Repair are the mainstays of the skills my clients learn.
This article, The Big, Obvious Secret to Happier Relationships, is a nugget that has some elements of Dialogue, Conscious Communication, and Key Repair in it. It’s a little taste, an hors d’oeuvre.
For the full meal, the whole work bench of tools, please contact me to discuss my private work.
Thank you for reading. I wish you happy, conscious, connected, responsible, As-Is’d relationships.