Sunday, March 4, 2012

Relationships are Life

In Life, love ma, I spell out some of the wisdom I've shared with my kids over the years for getting along with others.  Life is rough enough without our close relationships being a struggle. Smoothing out friendships, romances, and family relationships brings a level of peace and prosperity unmatched by financial success. I hope these words help you or someone you love enjoy richer, more honest relationships.

(too many) great expectations

The truth is that our expectations drive our happiness more than our actual experiences.  I love Pema Chodron’s books – teaching us to experience the present moment for exactly what it is. Period. Are you cold? Feel the cold; don’t fight it. It’s an experience all its own, not to be missed by rushing to avoid it. And who is this person you’re with? Experience them as they are. Not as you wish them to be. There's your bliss.
Attitude IS everything. If you want something to be fun, make it fun by having fun with it yourself. Don’t wait for someone else to meet your expectation.
Do you want romance? Create it for yourself.  Set the mood you want. Don’t wait for someone else to meet your expectation. Do you want flowers? Tickets to a game? A piece of jewelry? An evening out? The laundry done?
You have two choices:
1. Do it for yourself.
2. Ask for it.
But if you ask for it, remember that this is a request to be reciprocated. What do they want of you? Hopefully they’ll be honest and let you know, rather than having an expectation you’re not aware of.
Expectations like these are traps. Weapons against yourself. They sabotage your happiness as well as your relationship. 
So where does trust, kindness, generosity, and all of the other attributes you need in a relationship come in if you don’t want to sabotage it with expectations? Shouldn’t you expect these things?  Yes. These attributes are the natural result of love.  You should expect them as much as you demonstrate them.  Forgiveness, patience and faith as well.  Have faith in your friend, family member or partner, and expect them to have faith in you.  Just don’t make the leap from expecting kindness to expecting him or her to do your laundry.  It’s a separate discussion.  

negotiate for peace
Every close relationship needs a little negotiation. Ask for the things that you need. But remember that this is how to get what you need – not how to change the person into someone who reads your mind.  If you each have un-met needs or wishes, you are obligated to share them and to negotiate a fair balance that you can both agree on – so that no one feels they carry a greater burden in the relationship. If anyone is harboring resentment or bitterness you will quickly sink deeper and deeper into miscommunication and unhappiness. 
Admit to yourself that you want certain things in your relationship for your own selfish reasons. For example, you’d like to be seen out with a beautiful woman – it really boosts your self-esteem. Or you’d like to dress up, do something dangerous with your hair, have an excuse to buy a little black dress. Admit these things are for you instead of pretending they are for your partner and you’ll enjoy them a lot more when you do them.
Reject the temptation to withhold your disappointments and hope the other person figures out what you want or need and makes things better for you. Express your needs. But when you air them, remember that this is a negotiation. They may have disappointments just as great as yours. Be ready to hear them and to reciprocate with meeting their needs, too.   
conscious dialogue for understanding
The most effective weapon against friction is conscious dialog. This is a technique I learned from a wonderful therapist in New York. Here is my oversimplified version:
A person with an issue asks for time to be set aside when you won’t be disturbed so they can have a conscious dialogue with you about it.
When that time comes, the one with the issue gets to say what is on their mind – how they feel, what’s wrong, etc. – uninterrupted until they are through expressing themselves. This is the Speaker. The Speaker is responsible for articulately sharing what they want the Listener to know and understand.
The job of the Listener is to set his or her opinion aside and focus solely on what the Speaker is saying.  Really hear every word – with the goal of understanding the other person’s point of view.
Next, the Listener has the job of repeating back what they’ve just heard, but not verbatim. What do you now understand? What is this person’s experience, feeling, pain, frustration, or dilemma?  In your own words, the Listener must relate to the Speaker that the Speaker has been heard and understood. Period. No editorializing. No injection of attitude, debate, contradiction, justification, etc. etc. etc. This is not about the Listener. This is all about the Speaker. Whether the Listener agrees with or is wounded by what the Speaker says is completely irrelevant. 
The Speaker gets to determine whether or not the Listener can take a turn as Speaker at this point. Perhaps they need time to feel safe and a later date is scheduled for the other person to convey their thoughts, fears, concerns, or to express what they feel is not readily apparent or understood about them. Or maybe the Listener did such a good job of understanding that the Speaker now feels safe enough to listen.
It takes a certain amount of maturity to participate in conscious dialog. That said, if maturity is an issue in the relationship, this is an excellent way to help with that. When you can speak without fear of being interrupted or challenged, and you are heard and understood, half of the battle is won. When you can get outside of yourself and really listen and see where the person you love is coming from – free of judging them – the other half of the battle is won. There you have it! The entire battle is won when you embrace the difficult and mature work of conscious dialog.  
Give it a try. 
If you try out this advice, please let me know how it goes. You can write to me at

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