It’s funny, how much of our lives are lived on autopilot. From an efficiency perspective, not having to think about, say, how to brush your teeth, is a great thing. Where it’s not so good is when we are relating with something dynamic. I remember, for instance, my first trip to London, and stepping off the curb after looking to the left. I just about got run over by a cab, coming from the right. My autopilot behaviour almost got me killed.
I’d like you to think about your primary relationship. Or better, simply observe your side of things for, say, a week. I suspect that, if you are paying attention, you’ll see much mindless, repetitious behaviour.
It will be things like “tuning out” and not really hearing what your partner is saying [you may even say to yourself, “I’ve heard it all before…”] Or, s/he will do something and you’ll “automatically” be mad or sad.
You may discover that both of you have settled into a “safe” routine and work quite hard at not ruffling each other’s feathers. Or, something comes up and one or both of you retreat into sullen silence.
I’d like to suggest that this is actually a problem of attention, as in ‘not paying any’. Couples in trouble do this stuff all the time, and the only way out is waking up. Because predictability and autopilot do not make for great relating.
Here’s a bit of a running example for you!
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Let’s call this couple Jack and Jill. Jack is 40, Jill is 20, and they’ve been married a year. Their issue: prior to getting married, Jill loved the attention Jack paid to her. After, he started getting really possessive—wanting her “to dress appropriately”, “to be home at a proper time.”
Jill had left home at 16; her father had been cruel and dominating. Guess what? Now, it was like Jack was turning into her father! And Jack played right in, first “suggesting”, then criticising and demanding. When they fought, all there was, was finger pointing and blaming. They were on the verge of separating.
I suggested that they get out of their heads, out of their stories, and relate as Jack and Jill. Initially, they both thought I was nuts—clearly, the other person was entirely to blame! They wanted me to be a judge, and I refused.
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Let’s look at what I suggested that they do next.
Descriptions and Concepts
Let’s start with relating. It’s clear that most people don’t know the “whats” and “whys” of their relationship, and have no clue how to relate elegantly. Think about it: prior to your first relationship, all you knew about relating came from watching other relationships—primarily that of your parents’.
Each parent models how their child relates to: the same sex, the opposite sex, a spouse, their “kids”. You absorbed their way of doing things. But seeing is one thing—doing it yourself is another!
Anyway, so one day you meet Mr/Ms Right, and now you have to paddle your own relationship kayak. With no practical experience.
Most folk have no clue about relating and think it’s unnecessary to go to someone to learn; but then they can’t figure out why they’re always “flipping their kayak”.
The dumb stuff starts happening when the glow of newness [and lust] starts to wear off. One morning, one or both roll over, look at their partner, and shudder: “Who is this person, and what am I doing here?”
Then, the second dumb thing happens: either you try to ignore the differences and difficulties, or you try to “fix” your partner.
Most folk have no clue about relating and think it’s unnecessary to go to someone to learn
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Back to Jack and Jill. Jill had expected to always be adored, and Jack wanted to be endlessly thanked for looking after Jill. But then, as with most relationships, the novelty wore off.
Jill had rebelled at 16, and that was what she did when she felt pressure. Jack would suggest she do things differently; Jill would immediately do something to provoke.
I had to help them get out of fixing and blaming mode.
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I think the “cure” to this drama starts with some reflection. Let’s start with a little exercise.
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