Saturday, January 26, 2013

Cliff Notes from The Relationship Seminar

My girlfriend called upset because her husband had placed a glass tray on the laundry room floor. Walking into the unlit room, she stepped on it. Fortunately, she was unhurt when it shattered into shards and sherds. 
In talking about it, she realized two things about her upset: 1) The floor is a stupid place for a glass tray. Why would anyone do that? Even he would not do that - therefore he must have been distracted and set it down. 2) Her bigger upset was that he seemed insufficiently contrite. He apologized, said he liked the tray too, too bad it was broken, etc., nonetheless - in her view, while he was sorry, he wasn’t sorry enough. He was insufficiently contrite.
I have had that very thought - even as a man apologizes, Monkey chatters in the background. He doesn’t SEEM very sorry. 
My girlfriend’s call spawned thoughts of relationship and the differences between men and women. Females are typically characterized as emotional and men - stoic. We will let you know how we feel ... and men - kinda don’t. 

Intermission: Some years ago I attended a course called, Transforming Yesterday’s Strategies. One man shared, “This is how it is for me. I told you I love you, that means forever. What don’t you get about that and why do I have to repeat myself?”
I rest my case. He apparently missed the memo stating nothing lasts forever, least of all untended relationships. I know he was joking... sorta.
End Intermission.

When a male friend does not have/make time for me or worse, cancels our date - he calls, apologizes and reschedules. Its all very quick and matter of fact. 
“Hey Lorin, bad news. Somethings come up and I can’t make that beer on Tuesday. Can we reschedule? How about X. Good, thanks, sorry.” Baddah-bing; baddah-boom. Done.
I am always seemingly more sorrowful, filled with more longing and fret than they. They don’t seem to care as much because if they did... they would be more contrite. As a species, they are insufficiently contrite. 
My reflex arc perceives such calls as a lack of love and affinity rather than a scheduling conflict. I doubt men reflex similarly. When I am disappointed by a man; can he ever be sorry enough? What does sorry enough look like, sound like? 
A woman would apologize differently, exuding emotion, “I am so sorry. I was really looking forward to catching up. I have so much to tell you. But we’ll do it soon, promise.”
 I would feel her remorse and thereby - feel heard, known, understood, and comparatively better about the cancellation. Knowing that I knee-jerk to I’m just not that important to him, helps calm the Monkey and quiet his shrieks. This process is me working on me versus me working him over.
However, if that man says, “I, too, have regretted that there hasn't been more time and space to talk,” or more authentically, “I’ve missed you,” I am instantly restored and the stories in my head are put to rest. Easy-peasy. Why can't he just say that?

Why is authentic communication sooo uncomfortable? What are the barriers to authentic, heartfelt words? Answer: upsets comprised of broken agreements, unmet desires, unrealistic expectations, and undelivered communications. Over time, these accumulate and like shards of glass, hurt, annoy and bleed happiness from relationships. How do we transfuse new blood into anemic or exsanguinating bonds?

We well know the adage: actions speak louder than words - and to some degree its true - though not entirely. An overarching tenet of Landmark Education is that the quality of our lives is created in language. If the nature of our lives is created in language - what new words and conversations are required to infuse new life into stale or faltering friendships? And what of elevating great relationships to new heights of care, understanding, connection, and love?

The Relationship Seminar posits our relationships often focus on crisis management and quotidian mechanics (day-to-day details) rather than that which fosters true connection: creating and nurturing. When the majority of communication is based in crisis management and quotidian mechanics, people are left feeling unheard and forgotten. After all, there is little connection in deciding who picks-up Junior and what’s for dinner.
Additionally, human beings operate from a body of concerns, i.e. finances, kids, being right, looking good, safety, companionship, avoiding “alone”, to name just a few. 
In session-4, the Relationship Seminar proposed that our body of concerns gives rise to a set of in-order-to’s, that our actions, responses, behaviors, and choices are informed by in-order-to’s: in-order-to be loved, in-order-to be good or at least look good, in-order-to keep the other happy, in-order-to keep the peace or avoid upset, in-order-to belong, in-order-to stay together, in-order-to be accepted, in-order-to not be alone, in-order-to give or get, in-order-to to pay the bills, in-order-to fit in, in-order-to have someone, in-order-to dominate or avoid domination, in-order-to be right or avoid being wrong, in-order-to be (or not be) like Mom or Dad, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera... (said in my very best Yul Brenner with rolled R’s of course). What are your in-order-to’s?
If that proposition is so, consider that the highest state experienced in our inauthentic relationships is RELIEF.  And relief could feel like love because for today - there was no upset, no argument, no fight, no struggle, no avoidance, no perceived in-order-to. Surely that MUST be love!
Notice these concerns and subsequent in-order-to’s are borne of “I” and “me” versus “us” and “we”. What is possible in a relationship borne of “we”? What if I was for you in every way and you felt completely supported, loved, nurtured, treasured, respected, honored, cherished, and adored? That would take something. Could I generate that faithfully? Doubtful, bulldog that I am, lest you threw more than the occasional, obligatory bone. 

In all relationships - stuff happens - and distance grows with each small hurt, each unkind word, each perceived offense, each shard of glass.
How then to reestablish love and affinity? What follows is The Recipe, a new conversation that removes shards and stems bleeding, words to apply salve and begin healing. Often we don’t remove the splinter, rather, we slap on ointment and bandaid and hope it heals. (Commonly referred to as sweeping things under the carpet.) What we get is momentary relief before the onset of festering. 
       The recipe provides a way to work through upset by acknowledging (versus ignoring) the upset, giving voice to each persons experience in the upset, creating new actions, and restoring love and affinity. If applied at every upset, no matter how slight, participants can find safety during conflict, shuck their armor, and begin to feel partnership again. The shift from combatants to partners is a dramatic one.

1. Take responsibility (distinct from blame or fault) for that which is yours to own. My ex-husband used to say, “It’s my fault; I’m a bad boy.” End of conversation. That kind of communication is neither helpful nor open, rather, it shuts down all communication. 
What was your role in the upset? Did you fail to communicate or break an agreement? Was there an unmet need or unrealistic expectation?  Own what is yours to own and admit it - out loud.
Steps 2 and 3 nurture.
2. Ask, “How is it for you?” Relationships are entwined with perceptions of how the other is left. Hear them without argument or defense. Get their point of view. 
3. “What’s it like to live with/in/like that?” Get the impact over there.  How is it for them living with your rage, drinking, silence? Get the impact, whether you agree or not.
4. Together, identify new actions to take. (This step creates in us and we language.) Among other things, men - this is an invitation to express through a broader spectrum of emotion. Women - this is an opportunity to bury the sword and accept that your man is not your girlfriend. Don’t expect him to act like one. Explore new ways of relating.
5. Be willing to be responsible for communicating anything that creates distance or upset.
“I can’t do that!” a friend said, wide-eyed with exasperation, “If I did that you would think I’m whacked!”
“Yes I would,” I laughed, “And we would have the cleanest relationship in the world, filled with love and affinity.” I dunno - whacked and crazy loved or withheld and making do - you choose.
6. Stop knowingly causing upset. “How many of you know things that upset your partner?” The Landmark Forum Leader asked for a show of hands, nearly every hand rose.
“How many of you do them anyway?” Nervous laughter flitted about the room. “STOP doing that!”

This - my friends - is the path less traveled ... the other is strewn with bodies.

Why bother? 
A friend recently said of her dying friend, “His family is not stepping up or showing up in a way that he needs or they could.” Glass shards in their eyes, they are blind to a different path. So common is this experience, we have aphorisms like - too much water under the bridge and he made his bed, let him lay in it - as if an explanation is what’s called for. They have not attended their small hurts and wounds  along the way. Now one of their own is dying and they are unable to stand vigil. Often, very often - the path is revealed after someone dies. Tragic. But why wait?

Months ago, my ex-mother-in-law was destined to spend Thanksgiving alone because of circumstances surrounding my ex’s car. “She understands; she’ll be okay,” my ex said. I had just returned from China, Honolulu, and nearly 30-days of rooming with my Mom. I was acutely aware that she valued every moment with her kids and grandkids. Our Mom’s are in their 80’s, my ex is an only child, his mother, a widow.
I contemplated overnight before offering him the use of my vehicle. He initially balked but ultimately borrowed my SUV and spent Thanksgiving with his Mom.
“That’s just you being co-dependent,” several of my friends chimed in instantly.
I think not. Co-dependence is a reflexive, self-denying response to domination and manipulation (perceived or real). This was not that. This was a choice borne of generosity and forgiveness. Those who know the story know there are many reasons and much evidence for why I am divorced. In generosity I will assert he is perfect just the way he is and we simply were not a match. I was codependent in my marriage to him but I am codependent no more. In this instance, I chose for generosity - for his Mother. And I must say, it felt good to be big enough, to have the capacity for something larger than defending my righteous hill. While he benefited, I was by far the greater beneficiary.

My point? Follow The Recipe for YOU. Who can we be for ourselves when we mend those bonds, forgive, and cross the burnt bridge yet again. It is a very small and limited life defending the hill of righteousness. Don’t do it. Let us reach out again for parents, partners, siblings, those valued friends who strayed or hang-on by a thread. Abandon our pretense, games, armor, and in-order-to’s to be authentic with one another. Its not hard work, its different work with a predictable serendipity - the rise of connectedness, love and affinity.

“Click” more often. Science demonstrates that connected and loving people live longer, happier, and more fulfilled lives. Find love and connection in the numerous micro-moments surrounding you. 
Barbara Fredrickson, who studies positive psychology writes, “Evidence suggests that when you really “click” with someone, a discernible yet momentary synchrony emerges between you, as your gestures and biochemistries, even your respective neural firings, come to mirror one another in a pattern I call positivity resonance. Love is a biological wave of good feeling and mutual care that rolls through two or more brains and bodies at once.”

Relationships with a high degree of love and affinity are borne of generosity. Ultimately, I find friends in those who are willingly and willfully generous with me, who correct and forgive. Corrections inform our relationship; you teach me how to treat you. Please teach me kindly. 
When I am not feeling connected and loved, I can look for my concerns, those blocks to relatedness. I can abandon my pretenses, my armor and righteousness, Amore’ resurfaces, I could let it in and give it voice. When you too can set aside your concerns and in-order-to’s - you will likely hear I love you in surround-sound. Fundamentally, isn’t that what we want?

Let me close with a poem I wrote several years ago entitled, I Promise to Never Know You. It was penned after hearing those very words - a man’s promise to his wife. In this context, not knowing allows the other to occur newly without the constraints of past knowing.

I Promise to Never Know You

I promise to shuck your history with me,
Your thorny crown of crimes and offenses, 
Those broken agreements and heartstrings I bear like a cross.

I promise to let you begin today 
With a clean slate, a clean plate,
...From this day forward, ‘Til death do us part.

I promise to recreate this daily.
The warden’s keys, Resurrection and life anew
In an act of pure generosity and love.

May you find that kernel of generosity within 
to grant others freedom from your knowing. 


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  3. I love this new term "insufficiently contrite" it's so appropriate for men from a women's point of view.

    It sure lands over here! :-)

  4. I love the term "insufficiently contrite"

    As a man I get it! :-)

    And I see how it could land that way.