Ordinarily, I'm not a big fan of self-help books. Last week, I bumped into one, The New Rules of Marriage by Terrence Real, that really (pun discovered, not intended) speaks to me – and I've only read the first half.
Terrence lists five relational strategies that don't work:
· Needing to be right – trying to convince your partner that your point of view is the correct one. Actually, who's right matters little in relationship.
· Controlling your partner – almost always generates resistance, a great way to get stuck in power battles.
· Un-bridled self-expression – often confused with honesty, letting it all hang out, without regard to the effect on your partner, usually does more harm than good.
· Retaliation – when we get hurt in relationship, we often feel victimized and, perhaps, entitled to retaliate. We tend to think that if we punish our offending partner, we're more likely to be safe from future "offenses". Not true. War begets war.
· Withdrawal – when we withdraw emotionally or physically from connection with our partner, relationship withers. There are times when we need to pull back to re-group, but that's always with the intention to re-engage. There are also times when we make a conscious decision to accept some aspect of a relationship, rather than fight a losing battle. This mature letting go is not a withdrawal of connection or affection.
So, what does work? Terrence Real presents a model he calls "relationship empowerment." Here, we move past the personal empowerment model, where I advocate for me, you advocate for you, and we both presume this path will lead to a good result (which it sometimes does). In the relationship empowerment model, we are invited, not to settle for "good", but to go for "great." We honor the individual, we listen deeply to ourselves and to each other, and we work together to give birth to something larger than me or you – a relational entity, an "us". We advocate for us.
This is not a co-dependent model, where we assume responsibility for each other. It's a partnership were we are responsible, together, for what we create.
This level of partnership: As an approach to marriage (and other unions), it has a nice "ring" to it.
PS. Stay tuned. Next week, I'll share some thoughts from the second half of the book, including five strategies that do work.