Tuesday, August 30, 2011

If Your Marriage Isn't Sick, You Don't Need a Doctor!

And they lived happily ever after. That's what they seem to be promising when you first learn about marriage.

But in reality, what most people actually get is "tired of having the same old argument" instead. How did this happen?

If you are mentally or psychologically too ill to be married, then going to a therapist for your marital woes makes sense.

If your problem is that you are arguing, however, then you should go to an argument specialist, in other words, to a mediator.

Going to a therapist for arguments is like going to a cardiologist because you are sad. Yes, they help heal heart pain, but they treat illness.

Your marriage isn't sick, you're arguing because of differences you don't understand or know how to benefit from.

Monday, August 22, 2011

How Open Should a Healer Be to the Suffering?

How open should I keep myself to the suffering of others as their healer?

Each new man comes in unable to breath, chest reified into stone with their certainty about how wrong their wife is. 

They bluster their fear at these women who love them, thinking they are solving the thing they are creating.

The little girl in their wife looks out of the outraged woman's eyes, so sad and bewildered at the betrayal. Both girl and woman convinced by the silly mask the terrified man wears, writing epoch poems of injustice which are justified and just as off the mark as is his "logic.”

I watch them take pot-shots at each other, only half trying to hurt - really trying to help the other back to a better time.

Time. So much of it lost in the snake biting its own tail and rolling down the years.

I feel the weight of that lost time, and its heaviness feels like sadness in my heart. But perhaps it's just weight.

Maybe I'm misreading my feelings. Maybe the weight is just the love I feel: for the scared boy, for the betrayed girl, for the little bits of man-flesh that haven't yet turned to stone, for the angry woman fighting for her life; for myself, who volunteers to go into this nuclear reactor of relationships, over and over, with the tools to collect the radiating energy, and cool the fires down to one man and one woman who love each other but don't know how.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Violently Using Non-Violent Communication

Anything which can be used can be misused, and therefore anything powerful can be powerfully misused.

It's important to avoid the trap of using Non-Violent Communication as weapons instead of as tools. For instance, knowing that your partner (or anyone) has just spoken a judgment is not a license to judge them! That will just create an unmet need in them, which they will likely throw back at you as a judgment, and the only benefit you'll have gotten out of NVC is using it to have arguments at a higher level - about process instead of about content. But they're still arguments, and they will leave everyone's needs just as unmet.

And eventually you'll get the "You're doing that thing again, that NVC thing. Stop doing that to me!"

If you hear this or some phrase like it - sometimes the person says, "You’re not my therapist," what they are communicating is that you are using the techniques of nonjudgment from a judgmental place. The idea here is not to change your words or to change your partner. The idea is to change where you stand in the world, so you really see your partner as your equal and on the same side as you, and to communicate FROM there. All the techniques are aimed at helping YOU notice where  YOU are.

So if you notice your partner talking in judgments, you haven't caught them in a mistake, you've just noticed they have an unmet need and so now you're in a position to help them get it met.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Marrying My Wife's Needs

A few months ago, I decided to marry my wife's needs. I had been seeing my needs as good (okay, a pain when they were unmet, but mostly good) & hers as a pain (except when I met them, & then they were fun for me). I realized that as my skill for meeting needs increased, BOTH of our needs were becoming increasingly more fun for me. So I married hers, & now I have twice as many opportunities for satisfaction!

Monday, August 8, 2011

How to Change Your Partner: Accept Them!

We worked with a couple who were fighting about their teenagers. This was a second marriage for both of them, and she had raised her kids in a give-and-take way, listening to their ideas, and developing their sense of self-respect and autonomy. For her second husband, she married a Greek immigrant, very old-world who believed in discipline and authority. Needless to say, he and her two teenage boys didn't get along at all. She had dragged him into mediation, she thought, to get reinforcements to fight with his power-mongering, but we could see right away how scared and baffled he was by the situation. She had been trying to batter down the gates of his fortress for a couple of years, and now their relationship was on the rocks.

After listening to his litany of how bad the boys were (judgment) and a restatement of his firmly held belief that all they needed was a little discipline, I reframed his position this way: "So you grew up with discipline and the requirement that children respect their elders, and that created a safe and stable environment for you as a child."


"And parenting in that same way meets your need for continuity: it worked for your father, and you always expected to be that same kind of father."

"Yes!" he says, and looks at his wife and points to me as if to say, 'See, he understands.'

"And making a decision and sticking to it is important to you. Having your ideas understood and followed would meet your need for respect."

"Yes! But they fight me at every turn!"

"Okay, so bringing your father's style of parenting into this new family meets your needs for continuity, autonomy and respect. How is it doing in terms of your need for cooperation and peace?"

"Terrible. No peace. No cooperation!"

"So if we were to come up with a different strategy which continued to get your needs for respect and autonomy met, and which ALSO met your need for peace and cooperation, would you be willing to consider that?"


"And if in the bargain, it also happened to meet the boys need for respect and autonomy as well, would that be a problem for you?"

"No. No problem. I want the boys to feel good about me and the family and themselves. I just want them to listen."

"So you are not feeling heard? Perhaps we can start there. Let's see if there is a new way you can communicate which will get your need to feel heard met as well."


This actual conversation demonstrates how willing even the most rigidly held strategies surrender when the underlying need is addressed. The wife in this couple was stunned by her husband's willingness to let go of something which seemed unassailable to her. As so often happens in couples, she was assigning blame to the other person, for their reaction to her approach.

As we worked with Petre on his inherited strategies, which were a part of the cultural identity that he loved and valued, we were amazed at how willing he was to notice that what he had assumed to be his culture, was actually a set of strategies. He came to see that those strategies probably didn't work all that well for his father, either, at least not every single one in every single situation. It became possible for him to value his culture, and become flexible about the strategies he employed with his new family to achieve the the same values he loved about his own family.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Controlling Controlling Partners

It's been an interesting week. I've done two sixth (last) sessions, and two first sessions. It really shows how much can happen in just six weeks.

One of the couples I just finished with came in with a really popular issue: The Controlling Partner (and by implication: The Partner Who Feels Controlled).

In this case, the wife felt like her partner wanted everything his way. He was "always" correcting, suggesting, and judging. Occasionally, he would ask for input, and then he'd go ahead and do it exactly the way he wanted to. Sound familiar?

I put "always" in quotes, because it is a red flag that I listen for. It tells me that the speaker is describing their experience of what happened, and that their perception is distorted. Nobody does anything always.

It certainly was true that this husband knew how he liked things. It was also true that he really wanted to share the load, but he didn't feel met by his wife, so in the vacuum of her speaking out about what she wanted, he went ahead and did what he thought was what they both wanted. I call this the "Generous Controller." Most "controllers" are trying to be generous, though it certainly doesn't feel that way to their partner.

Even though the "controller" obviously has a lot to learn about how to cooperate, I want to talk about the judger - the one who calls their partner a controller.

In this case, we went over a few instances of his "control" and in each case; his behavior was motivated by a positive intention. As the wife went from example to example, she began to see her husband in a new light. Here was the man she had married because she liked how he made an effort to please her. She liked his proactive nature.

What she didn't like was not having input, but then whose responsibility is that? I will teach the husband how to seek it out, but I focused this session on having the wife notice how hard it is for her to advocate for her own needs.

We practiced some, and in every case, when her needs were expressed non-violently, he was completely open to co-creating a solution.

As so often happens, the "controller" in a relationship is the creation of the one feeling controlled. And keeping their focus on their partner not only created tension and judgment, it kept them from knowing what it was they needed.