Life can be better as a couple or it can be worse or it can be for better or worse. It can also be very hard work. The divorce rate is above 50 percent for a reason. Nobody taught us “Relationship 101.”
As a psychotherapist I see couples learning to communicate, struggling to understand each other. One day I was so moved emotionally by witnessing the changes in a couple that I cried quietly where nobody could see me. It just hit my heart that partners and families who are trying to learn to listen and talk to each other are so brave. I thought about my own history and how little I knew about relationships for so long.Just think – if people were better at being in relationships and learned to communicate, it would help the world so much.
I see how divorced, widowed, married and single people all want to be better at connecting with others. I’ve talked with people who struggle with shutting down or over-reacting in anger and anxiety – people who feel confused or stuck in some partnership or in too much isolation. I’ve seen people who are very judgmental or can’t articulate their needs and circle around the same relationship problems with no resolution.
How do we live with differences? Kindness goes a long ways. So does humor. But, nothing replaces respectful communication, especially in the middle of hot spots – conflict. I’ve seen the power of speaking and listening in non-attacking ways, but it’s challenging.
Harville Hendrix theory, that relationships are the best way to learn about ourselves, sure seems true. And the cauldron of intimacy can force us to face ourselves.
His theory is that humans are run by their primitive brains and the “fight or flight” system. It appears that the limbic brain (the animal brain in the lower hypothalamus), gets triggered when we’re hurt, angry or scared. This makes us frustrated and defensive. We tend to strike out or detach. Does this sound like most of our planet?
Hendrix says that the entire evolution of the species depends on good dialogue in relationships. Can you imagine what a great globe it could be if relationships had respectful conversations everywhere? OK, call me idealistic.
And in very simple terms, it is the little child inside us who criticizes and shuts down, still alive with old conditioning and conditioned responses. Harville says a simple stance of “curiosity” goes a long ways in coupling – just show a sincere interest in the other person.
I know everyone believes that sex is the cure. But, Harville says that passion dies because of anxiety. So, that takes us back to good communication and not blaming. This can be easier said than done. We are born needing attachment but we learn dysfunctional ways of relating soon after birth.
Hey, I’m human too and I’m surprised by my own constant learning as well. It all sounds so simple, but under stress – well, you know. And though couples complain that they don’t want to “stretch” into changing their behaviors, Harville reminds us: “you grow in a way you need to in this process, in order to become a whole human being and actually become more of who you actually are.”
A thump on the head, I know. Who wants to change anyway? A friend said it with tongue in cheek the other day: “I haven’t spoken to my wife for many years. I love her so much that I don’t like to interrupt her.” It’s supposed to be wit, but the point is that listening is good! And so is speaking about our wishes, having social skills and making
“I” statements with positive requests.
I know some of us come to relationship with emotional hairballs, we want to vent or feel rejected easily. But, if we can learn to play ball instead, we might actually begin to have a ball.
Communicate respectfully; after all, conversation was once called intercourse. And while I can’t say, “Have intercourse with everyone,” I can say: keep learning about “Relationships 101.”