By the time you read this newsletter, my husband and I will have celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary. We are doing it up right by hosting a party at our house for family and friends and then taking the actual day off together. The time had flown by and it really doesn’t seem like that long ago that we started our life together.
I believe there are two reasons that we have been married this long. The first is that neither of us has ever seriously questioned whether we would stay together or not. It was always certain that we would. We’ve been in it for the long haul from the very beginning.
Secondly, each of us has been able to keep in mind that for the relationship to stay strong, we have to be willing to work on ourselves and be a better person for the sake of the other. There have been times when I just had to work on myself and improve who I am in order to make the marriage better. I am sure that my husband would agree he has done the same at times.
One of the ways I chose the topics to write about in Life Adventure Notes is from my personal life. Another way is from the clients I work with in my business. Sometime, like this month, I see the same topic in both places….
I recently had three new clients with the same issue – that will always get my attention. This time the issue was about relationship improvement and the other person in the relationship wasn’t interested in seeing me about the problems. Perfect idea to go with my anniversary theme of making your relationship better by working on yourself; so, here we go…please read the main article for the How-To’s!
Changing a Relationship Alone
There comes a time in most people’s lives when they have a relationship that is just not working very well. Perhaps you and your spouse are not as close as you once were. Perhaps you are unable to see eye to eye with your sibling. Or perhaps your parent is not happy with you for some reason.
When you have a relationship that is struggling, it is easy to say there is nothing that can be done because the other person won’t change. But this is just not true. You can make a big impact on any of your relationships even if the other person is not interested in working on the relationship.
Of course you cannot change another person. Especially when the other person has no intention of changing and may even be getting a payback for being exactly the way they are. What you can do is influence another person. In addition, you can also change the pattern of behavior that you and the other person habitually do together.
Ice dancing is a beautiful sport in the winter Olympics. The couple dances across the ice on a pre-set path and the beauty of the sport is how well they stay together in the pattern without any changes. Imagine what would happen to the lovely dance if one of the ice dancers decided today to do a rumba instead of a waltz. Changing your relationship is like that – if you can do something brand new (and out of the pattern), the other person has to do something different in response.
Here’s an example. My client, Samantha, had a long standing conflicted relationship with her mother. And it always came to a head over plans for the holidays. Samantha felt her mother was demanding and unreasonable in her expectations of her. Once Samantha decided it HAD to be different, that her own husband and children would come first in how she celebrated the holidays, she changed her way of approaching her mother about holiday plans. She actually told her mother in October that she wasn’t coming home for Christmas and her mother was predictably upset about this. But this was new behavior on Samantha’s part and she stuck with her decision. By the time Christmas arrived, Samantha’s mother had calmed down and even seemed to enjoy the new way of celebrating the holiday.
Let me give you one more way to know that you can make a difference in any particular relationship that you are having difficulty with. Imagine that you are having a very enjoyable time with the other person. But for some reason, you get a fiendish desire to ruin the day (I know, I know, just stay with me on this). Do you know what you could do or say to this person that would be sure to make things go sour? My guess is that you know exactly what would do that – you know how to “push the buttons” on that other person.
If you know what will make things go poorly, then you can also learn what will make it go better. You need to be able to push that other person’s POSITIVE buttons. What can you do or say that will make the other person feel good, loved, comfortable and happy? Maybe you haven’t thought as much about this as you have thought about what is wrong. Maybe it’s time!
Here are some guidelines on how to begin and what to do if you decide you want to work on improving one of your relationships all by yourself.
1. Give up your fear of making things worse. This is so normal and so not useful! If you never do anything different, then everything will stay the same. Recognize that changing is likely to make things worse for a short period of time and that you can survive that. Especially when there is a possibility of things improving in the long run. You may have to try a few things to find something that does work to make things better though. It isn’t failure to make things worse because you tried something… failure is doing something that isn’t working over and over.
2. Forget figuring out why. If you are spending your time trying to understand the other person, you are wasting your time. You are a complicated, many faceted person – so is that other person. Accept the hard truth that the two of you are different and will act, feel and think differently. When you spend your time on “why” something happened or didn’t, the most you can get is insight. Maybe you figured out that this problem happens because your husband was an only child, but that insight doesn’t get you anywhere in fixing the relationship. Focusing on “why” in relationships always leads to blame and defensiveness. Let it go and instead focus on what to do about it.
3. You are part of the problem. Too many times, people believe that the other person is the problem. But it is always both people. And the hard truth is that often the exact things that you are doing to try to solve the problem are actually making the problem worse. Try doing or saying something completely new and you will get a new response. Be willing to change because unless you do, nothing else will.
4. Be more positive. Psychologists tell us that to have a happy relationship, there needs to be 8 times as many positive interactions as there are negative ones. That’s a lot! If you want your relationship to be better, you need to ramp up your own ability to compliment, be a cheerleader and give support. This is a powerful principle of psychology. Be willing to reward the other person for any behavior that pleases you. Create a positive flow between the two of you even if it feels awkward or forced at first and even if the other person hasn’t changed a thing.
5. Let go of the negative. Start noticing the times you interact with this person that are neutral. Look for the tiny moments when things are actually good. Once you can see these moments, savor them by replaying them in your mind. Even if they are small or just neutral (instead of wonderful) give them as much attention as you give the disagreements and other negative times. You will have to do this on purpose and practice it because it doesn’t come naturally to anyone!
6. Stop believing “I shouldn’t have to do that.” The words you say to yourself have everything to do with how you feel. If you build yourself up to feel outraged or even just put upon, your relationship will not get better. Instead, be ruthlessly honest. The truth is that in a perfect world, you wouldn’t have to do any of these steps. But in your world – with this particular person – you can do these steps or you can continue to have the difficult relationship that you currently have. Give up the “should” and “shouldn’t” and instead focus on what works.
Questions From Janet
What relationship in your life would be better if you made some personal changes?
How can you be sure that your efforts could make a difference?
Which of the suggested actions will you commit to experiment with for the next month?
What can you do to create more positive interactions with this person?
The Monkey and the River
by Mark Nepo
From the Book of Awakenings
It is said a great Zen teacher asked an initiate to sit by a stream until he heard all the water had to teach. After days of bending his mind around the scene, a small monkey happened by, and, in one seeming bound of joy, splashed about in the stream. The initiate wept and returned to his teacher, who scolded him lovingly, “The monkey heard. You just listened.”
With the best of intentions, we often build false careers of studying the river without ever getting wet. In this way, we can ponder great philosophy without ever telling the truth, or analyze our pain without ever feeling it, or study holy places without ever making where we live sacred. In this way we can build a cathedral on the water’s edge, spending all our time keeping it clean. Or we can count our money or say our prayers, without ever spending anything or ever feeling God’s presence. In this way, we can play music or make love skillfully without ever feeling the music or our passion.
The apprentice was brought to tears because the monkey, slapping and yapping its way in the river, had landed in a moment of joy, and the apprentice knew that all his reverence and devotion and meditation hadn’t brought him the joy of a monkey.
The river, of course, is the ongoing moment of our living. It is the current that calls us to inhabit our lives. And no matter how close we come, no matter how much we get from staying close with a sensitive heart, nothing will open us to joy but entering the stream.
I was once on a screened-in porch on a lake I used to visit every summer for twenty years. My friend and I were watching it rain, as we had done countless times over the years. Suddenly, like that simple and beautiful monkey, my friend bounded up, slapped the screen door open, tracked his clothes and jumped into the rain-filled lake.
I watched like the apprentice, feeling the pain of always being dry, and then I shed my clothes and jumped in too.
There we were in the center of the lake, water from above in our mouths, in our eyes, pelting us, water entering water, lives entering their living. Each pelt of rain, on us and in the lake, uttering… joy, joy, joy.
INDIVIDUAL COACHING BY PHONE
Want to stop that feeling that life is passing you by?
Would you like to able to experience your life as an exciting series of adventures?
Would you like to feel more joy and achieve more success?
That is what I help my clients develop in their own lives. Working with a coach helps you overcome the challenges that can keep you from a successful life. Coaching gives you a companion on the journey; someone with whom to discuss events as they unfold and to help you move toward joy in the adventure. Developing clear goals, focusing intently and staying committed become possible.
If you aren’t sure and would like to explore whether coaching is right for you, please send an email to Janet@lifeadventurecoaching.com or call me at 828-691-4655 for a complimentary consultation.