3 Relationship Killers and 3 Relationship Builders
As a couples and family therapist for more than 25 years I have grown tired of listening to couples and family members not listen to each other. I find that when I try to mediate the he said/she said, zero sum game, childish (if not infantile) debates the best that is achieved is a temporary truce. More often it has felt like putting a temporary band aid on a hemorrhaging gaping wound.
It may be that I have grown weary of interceding between such people, or am demonstrating my countertransference (i.e. my negative reaction to them carrying over from my reaction to the hundreds of such couples I have seen in my career), or perhaps I have discovered what really kills and conversely helps relationships. I choose to believe the latter.
The 3 Relationship Killers:
- Mental weakness – is the inability to feel something negative without acting negative, to feel hurt without getting angry (or depressed), to feel afraid without running away, to feel upset without getting upset. It is your lower/reptile/acting out brain riding roughshod over your upper/human/thinking brain when your middle/mammalian/emotional brain is feeling something.
- Presumptuousness – is jumping to conclusions without really knowing the facts or what the other person is really thinking or feeling. It is imputing motives to them that are not accurate or true. At it's worst it manifests itself as the "ignorant blamer," a person who doesn't know and doesn't want to know the truth, who then proceeds to take absolutely no responsibility for their actions.
- Selfishness – is what fuels the upper two killers. It is not caring enough to not act upon upset feeling nor caring enough to get the true facts or find out where the other person is really coming from.
The 3 Relationship Builders:
- Mental toughness – is the ability to feel upset (vs. denying it) without getting upset and then reacting negatively back at the other person. Instead of being destructive, it is containing your upset feelings, pausing and thinking what's the best response for the situation and then acting.
- Curiosity – is as Stephen Covey said: "Seeking first to understand, then to be understood." It is not merely hearing what people say, but listening to what they really mean to say, most of which is located between their words rather than in them.
- Unselfishness – is being generous. It's caring enough about the other person to modify how you are saying what you are saying. It's wishing to make a situation better more than you need to be right. The greatest manifestation is selfless sacrifice. It's what I was bathed in when I recently attended the Memorial Day program at the Los Angeles National Cemetery, watched Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts carry the pictures of the brave and selfless men and women who had been killed in Afghanistan and Iraq and heard TV actor and Marine Hugh O'Brien tell the audience that we were there to honor: "the all who gave some, and especially the some who gave all" so the rest of us could be free after which I returned to the world of spoiled children and adults driving their BMW's and Mercedez on their cell phones oblivious to (if not irritated by) the homeless veterans on the corner of Sepulveda and Wilshire Boulevards one block away in Westwood, California.