My friend and colleague, George Taylor, just released his A Path for Couples. Based on his 25 years as a couples therapist, and 36 years in a happy, loving marriage, Geo’s Ten Practices for Love and Joy really are full of very practical, doable wisdom.
The ten practices are:
1. Being Present – Here I Am!
2. Appreciation – What Your Partner Deserves
3. Communication Model I – Can We Talk?
4. Working with Intentions – Creating a Vision
5. Communication Model II – I Didn’t Know You Felt That
6. Time-Out – Stop in the Name of Love and Return to Connection
7. Creativity, Collaboration and Joy
8. Awareness of the Field – Is That You Over There?
9. A Positive Connection – Creating More Love and Happiness
10. Ten More Key Intentions
My favorite, which I’m already incorporating into my Skills of Relational Intelligence training, is a communication model which really is a deep shared inquiry into patterns of reactions. Excerpted from the book:
Practice Three: Communication Model I – Can We Talk?
In this practice, you study a recent repetitive conflict or stressor. This would often be an attack-defend or a pursue-withdraw pattern. Our unconscious is highly creative and invents many variations on these basic themes!
The first time you practiced this model, do NOT use a pattern you get into with your partner. We want to build up a whole series of skills first.
Instead, think of a recurring specific reaction you have to various situations. It could be that you feel defensive, attached, judgmental, or critical. You are looking or a reaction that you have in a variety of situations with different people. This repetition is important information for you, because it usually points to some of your earlier conditioning or training.
When you use Practice Three, you become more mindful of your habits and patterns. You “become friends” with your actual experience.
I recommend that you do this Practice several times, studying and writing down the reactions you have each time. At time goes by, you will experience more versions of the same pattern. You will recognize more and more information about this specific patterns of reactions. Over time you will become more aware of your actual sensations. (Self-awareness) You will understand how you might have learned your reaction. (Self-inquiry) And you will learn to talk about this pattern in a new way. (Self-disclosure). Then you will be able to make better choices about your behavior.
As you work on these basic communication skills, they become easier. As you build up the skills, the Practice with direct you to patterns with your partner. (These patterns are more challenging to work with!)
This Practice takes twenty to thirty minutes.
1. You discuss with your partner a specific reaction you have when confronted with stress or disagreement. Listen carefully to feedback from your partner who is here to help you with this inquiry. Then take these steps.
2. Partner: “Let’s take a few deep breaths together now.”
3. Partner: “Please close your eyes. Imagine the last time you were in the pattern. Where were you? What do you remember about the surroundings. Were you at work or with a friend or family members? Were you indoors or outdoors? What was the topic you were discussing? When did the tension or stress begin to arise in your body?
4. Partner: “Now, turn your attention more deeply inward, towards yourself, and remember as deeply as you can everything you notice about the following as I read to you: With a pause between each question)
* What as the first physical or emotional signal that you were beginning to feel stressed, distant or upset? Did you go into a predicable patterns then?
* Did you begin to feel anxious, angry or separate then?
* What is the first thing you remember saying?
* What was your tone of voice? Did you notice any changes in the way you were talking? (Louder, slower, quieter, more urgently?)
* How did your breathing change when you went into your response?
* What was your posture and body language? What were they expressing? What were they concealing?
* Did you have tight or stressed body tensions? Where in your body did you feel these?
* Did you notice any other body signals?
* What was the most predominant feeling you had? (Examples: anger, sadness, or loneliness)
* Were there any more subtle feelings that might have been hard to notice?
* How does this pattern of feelings and reactions that you just escribed to me seem familiar from other relationships? From seeing one or your parents or siblings act this way?
* Have you had similar reactions before?
* What are you learning about yourself from studying these reactions? Your history of relationship? Your parents’ influence on you?
Partner: When you are ready, please open your eyes and make some notes. (Five minutes or more.)
Partner: Will you read your notes to me now?
When the inquirer is done reading, you can sit together quietly for a few minutes. You may want to discuss the discoveries, now or at a later time.
Thank each other for your efforts to be conscious together.
The skills of self-awareness, self-inquiry and self-disclosure are interwoven with each other. Sometimes as you are disclosing, more feelings arise, or another insight. Good for you!
The inquirer can be quite tender or quiet after sharing. This is not a good time for the Partner to make comments or to bring up painful memories!
As you do this Practice a few times, and explore more details, you will probably realize that your unconscious reactions to this type of situation didn’t begin recently. You will understand more deeply how you were trained and conditioned.
This information can help you understand some of the reactions you have in your current relationship. And it helps our partner not take your reactions so personally.
These Practices can seem simple. But they work to substitute new habits for old ways of thinking and acting. So repetition is the key. You and your partner should de each of the practices several times. Change comes with discipline.