I love to think about relationship from a spiritual perspective. I'm enchanted by the mystery of it all and intrigued by the notion that intimacy is a dance of uniqueness and oneness. I'm inspired by the idea that every act of human love contributes to an expanding universe of Love, and I'm heartened to remember that, goofy as we are with each other at the level of personality, we're all madly in love with each other at the level of soul.
In my work as a psychologist and relationship coach, I usually approach the subject more pragmatically. I'm likely to focus on skillful communication and win-win problem solving strategies. I invite clients, especially men, to consider the principle of "enlightened self-interest." From this perspective, generosity is good business. If we listen respectfully to our partners, honoring their needs as well as our own, we're much more likely to achieve our heart's desire.
In The New Rules of Marriage, Terrence Real has written a powerfully practical book about intimate relationship. In last week's posting, I reviewed five relational strategies that don't work. Here are what Real calls: "The Five Winning Strategies."
· Shifting from complaint to request – moving from a focus on what's negative in the past to positive possibilities for the future. More specifically he advises: "Don't criticize, ask! … Criticizing what your partner has done wrong rarely engenders an attitude of increased generosity … Great relationships mean more assertion up front and less resentment on the back end."
· Speaking out with love and savvy – remembering that you're talking to someone you love and being clear about what you want to accomplish. He's speaking here about a deeply respectful style of assertion that empowers your partner and helps him/her give you what you want. "A disempowered partner is seldom generous."
· Responding with generosity – listening to your partner with a generous heart, temporarily setting aside your own agenda, responding generously, being of service, giving what you can. "When listening with generosity, points of contention become points of curiosity … When your partner confronts you about some behavior or character flaw, do a one-eighty on defensiveness. Rather than deny whatever you can, admit whatever you can … Transform argument into acknowledgment."
· Empowering each other – How can I give you what you want and help you give me what I want? In relationship, we commit to teamwork, to helping each other succeed. This, of course, requires overt conversation between partners about how to succeed with each other. Terrence is not inviting a covert manipulation, as in: How can I get you to do what I want?
· Cherishing – cherishing what you have and keeping it strong, moving from appreciation deficiency to appreciation proficiency. Focus on what you have rather than on what you have not. Notice what you love about your partner. Feed your connection. According to John Gottman, healthy relationship requires that positive interactions outweigh the negative ones by a factor of at least five or six to one. Sometimes it's a bit of a stretch for us to have it so good. So, we need to ask ourselves: How good can I stand it?
Terrence Real summarizes this way: "These winning strategies equip you to succeed in the critical tasks of getting, giving, and having. The first two strategies, shifting from complaint to request and speaking out with love and savvy, help you get what you need. The second two strategies, responding with generosity and empowering each other, help you give everything that you can to your partner and your relationship. The last winning strategy, cherishing, helps you grow, sustain and honor all that you have."
Works for me.