People tend to get good at what we do frequently. Sounds obvious, right? Well in addition to studying a field, remaining current with new innovations, the really great practitioners tend to just love that field. We are continually looking at how a new contribution to the fields of interpersonal dynamics, the study of relationships, hoping to spot a great new contributor to that field.
The old adage, “separating the wheat from the chaffe” tends to apply in such pursuits. For every great new idea, there may be dozens, even hundreds, that are impractical, ineffective, misinformed, or even dangerous.
I was reading a marketing pitch for a therapist who was promoting his idea of winning back a partner…who didn’t want to be won. The idea was that when one partner in a relationship has decided that they no longer want it, the other partner can talk them into it.
Now we’re not talking about seduction, which we actually think has a place within a happy marriage. Think about it: Wouldn’t it be nice if your partner didn’t just “expect” sex on “sex night”? (And by the way, kudos to you if either concept in quotes seems silly to you!) Wouldn’t it be nice to be wanted, desired, and yes, seduced…? Of course it would. And statistically when people who cheat are asked why they did so, they typically cite “sex” as the cause. But when they’re pressed to provide details, (i.e. “Yes, but what will the sex DO for you?”), they wind up saying that they wanted to feel wanted. Desired. Coveted. Needed. So within a monogamous relationship, we believe seduction and playful foreplay is a very good thing.
That said, his technique focused on changing the partner’s mind, bringing them back in line with your thinking. As changework professionals, using tools like NLP and hypnosis, we would be hypocritical if we claimed that such a thing wasn’t possible. Of course it is. But overall, we would challenge the wisdom and intention of such a pursuit.
Moreover, the language the therapist chose causes us concern. He spoke of changing “even the most recalcitrant” partner.
Think about that for a moment. Merriam Webster (http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/recalcitrant) defines “recalcitrant” as “stubbornly refusing to obey rules or orders. Full Definition of RECALCITRANT. 1. : obstinately defiant of authority or restraint.” You get the idea. The underlying presupposition is that your partner is not, in fact, your partner at all, but some mindless automaton awaiting your orders. That doesn’t sound very loving or respectful to us. Further, consider the implications of that statement – that your partner just doesn’t seem to remember who’s the boss! (S)he doesn’t want to conform to your “restraint and authority”! How dare (s)he! This definition just summons the image of an abusive spouse to us.
We firmly believe that you cannot have a long-term, love relationship that isn’t based on mutual respect. The word “recalcitrant” or arguably its antithesis, “obedience”, does not belong in any list of adjectives for either member of that relationship. If it fits your relationship, we challenge you to make it healthy, because right now, it’s not. (And you in the kinky crowd, just bear with us a moment!)
What does that word remind you of, however? Does anyone remember the antiquated marriage vow that included the word, “obey”? As in, “Do you take this man, ______, as your lawfully wedded husband, to love, honor, and obey him…”
Suddenly, we gave the therapist a bit of a break – after all, he wasn’t weird or some sort of pervert, he had apparently just forgotten which century we are in! However, we respectfully suggest that if he can’t even get the century right, his program is probably not one we ought to trust! He might afterward try to make you a great deal on one of those new “horseless carriages the young folks are so fond of!” Then muttering under his breath: “Dang contraptions’ll end up being the death of us all!”
It actually reminds us of another well-intentioned (though similarly out of touch) therapist we encountered and discussed in an earlier article, Abstinence to Make the Heart Grow Fonder? Maybe the two of these folks could meet up, enjoy a nice dinner, a bottle of wine, or whine, as the case may be, some soft music, moonlight, and perhaps they could in one another find the answers they both appear to need. Alright, enough about them.
As most of us learn how to be a partner, and how to participate in a relationship through life experience, we’re not surprised that earlier in life, relationships might take on such a simplistic, primitive air. But as we mature, learn more about how to make relationships work, we (hopefully) begin to learn that our partner deserves our love and respect. (S)he is a great person, or we wouldn’t have chosen them. And one of the easiest ways to lose them is to show them no respect.
It doesn’t stop there. This fellow even called it a “myth” to believe that to improve a challenged marriage, we need better communication skills. He completely misunderstood what is meant by “communication skills” in the context of a relationship. Communication does not refer to witty repartee, clever debate skills, and good volume and timbre to the voice. No. We’re talking, as is every other relationship coach or therapist we’ve ever observed, about the ability to both convey your own ideas, needs, fears, hurts, loves, in a manner clear enough for your partner to understand and accept. As importantly, meaning that first portion is meaningless if you miss out on this second part – you must be able to comprehend when your partner conveys their own such information. If either of you projects (referring to the Freudian defense mechanism in which we, disliking something we see in ourselves, search for it, or project it onto someone else) your own issues onto your partner, or if either of you is guilty of “premature closure” (our term referring to assuming that we understand the communication before it’s actually complete, and even sometimes before it has even been started!), then communication skills are lacking. Likewise if either of you just doesn’t pay attention, and really listen to what your partner is trying to say, communication halts. All of this sounds simple to do well, as we do it every day. However it takes real practice to do it correctly, deliberately, and with an attitude of respect, concern, and love.
Take any lingering conflict, say the ongoing Middle East crisis, in which Arab and Israeli people have been warring for seemingly forever. They have overcome the language barrier. They comprehend the semantics as each side speaks. Perhaps they even bother to actively listen and understand. But there is a tradition of mutual disrespect and lack of concern for the other party. Imagine how much worse it might be if as each side began to speak, the other just knew what he was going to say, (premature closure) and had begun considering his rebuttal. Communication skills involves actively participating in a dialogue, which means that as the other person speaks, you invest energy into comprehending them. Then when it’s your turn, you consider what you’ll say, and only then do you speak. And that therapist didn’t think we need that in relationships. Nice.
When we work with couples, the Big Three issues mentioned are: Finances, Sex, and “Feeling appreciated”. But when we begin to lift the covers, so to speak, it is rare the communication skills are so well developed that they have no deficiency in the area. Our reasoning is that if they had that one locked down, they could effectively resolve their differences on even the Big Three, find a workable compromise, and likely even a better solution than they’d previously tried – one that meets both people’s needs even better. Communication has a funny way, when done right, of making everything work better…or if handled badly, flushing it right down the–well you get it.
Never underestimate the importance of developing your communication skills, improving your ability to both understand your partner, and to effectively convey your own thoughts. Without that skill, you both will be drifting toward your own version of the Middle East crisis. And you only have to check the news to verify that is not where you want your relationship to be.
And lastly, remember that it all begins with love and respect. Even with effective communication at a semantic level, if either of you disrespects or does not care about the other, you will also find yourself wandering into your own version of the Gaza Strip, unable or unwilling to focus on positive solutions, looking for creative ways to solve problems, find opportunities, and make your relationship better. You’ll instead find yourselves in conflict like the eternally warring factions in that region. And you only have to check the news…