Your mate pushes your buttons. It's inevitable. But it's not your mate who installed those buttons.
Whatever your buttons and frustrations with your husband/partner/girlfriend might be, they were installed by the events of your childhood and early adulthood.
I've always known this and so I approach my relationship with my husband from a place of always seeking to have awareness of where I'm coming from. I also know that there are tools out there that can always help us in our growth journey.
Therefore it was not surprising that in our marriage vows we both knew to include a promise to each other to always seek out couples' retreats. :)
Just this weekend we attended our very first one.
We were lucky to attend a workshop with Harville Hendrix and Helen LaKelly Hunt. Through their 30+ years of marriage and working partnership, Harville and Helen have created an extraordinary framework for relationship called Imago Therapy. Their foundational workshop is called Getting The Love You Want, which is also the name of their bestselling first book.
The weekend was extraordinary. Justin and I learned new tools to communicate better, appreciate each other, and effectively resolve conflicts. We laughed, we cried and we certainly walked away with a deeper understanding of each other.
With deeper understanding comes deeper connection, and deeper connection leads to growing unconditional love.
SOME KEY INSIGHTS:
It's impossible to share the entirety of the experience or the depth, but here are a couple powerful nuggets:
1. Your greatest conflict in your relationship dynamic is a product of clashing personal histories.
Justin and I discovered that our main source of tension in our relationship (me wanting to talk about something related to our relationship, and him not wanting to talk) came from opposing stories. His past experiences brought significant pain as a result of having conversations. My pain came from childhood experiences where I felt that I wasn't allowed to express myself.
Where is there a power struggle with your mate?
The place where you are each standing is informed by your past experiences.
2. Your mate does not see the world like you, nor assigns the same meaning to behaviors and events as you do.
In our relationship tension around talking, I would feel Justin's hesitation or delaying our conversations as a lack of caring. From Justin's perspective, my insistence was to him a pressuring that didn't respect his needs.
Neither one of us had realized that our frame of reference for these conversations was shaped by certain past experiences. As we shared these with each other, the depth of empathy for each other grew significantly, and as a result our love and desire to not only support but also respect the other were heightened.
How might your meaning about your issue be different than your mate's meaning?
What past wounds or challenges might have created some of that meaning?
My meaning was, "Justin doesn't care." Justin's meaning was, "she's pushing me and not respecting my needs."
3. Nobody has taught you relationship skills.
Nobody teaches relationship skills in school. We learn through what the adults around us model. Our parents learned from their parents. Fortunately with each generation, and with the help of teachers such as Harville and Helen, we are learning better skills to pass on.
Even with all of my training in counseling and coaching related skills, this weekend I learned invaluable skills SPECIFICALLY DESIGNED to create a conscious relationship.
Think about the things you excel at, whether it's skiing, public speaking or creating financial spreadsheets. You may have an inherent natural talent for them, but in all cases you had to master specific skills in order to become proficient. In fact, I bet you can actually write a list of the essential skills that allow you to excel in this.
What specific skills for relationship have you mastered?
How often do you practice them?
The longer you are in relationship -after the lovey-dovey romance turned into a committed relationship- the more you need to use these skills.
RECOMMENDATIONS FOR ACTION:
1. Don't wait for your relationship to break down in order to work on it. Creating your relationship consciously as you are both feeling deeply in love is the best way to start. But if you are already in a challenging place, now is as good a time as any.
2. Look for a Getting the Love You Want workshop happening near you, or also helpful is a Non-Violent Communication (NVC) workshop. Sign up with your mate. Both of these serve couples in all stages of relationship: new or established, struggling or thriving.
3. Look for books to learn the skills of relationship. Here are a few that I recommend:
Making Marriage Simple: 10 Relationship-Saving Truths, by Helen LaKelly Hunt and Harville Hendrix
Being Me, Loving You: A Practical Guide to Extraordinary Relationships, by Marshal B. Rosenberg
WHAT JUSTIN AND I ARE DOING:
As a result of the workshop, Justin and I have promised to each other to do the following for the next 30 days:
We are getting together once a week to use the dialogue skills we learned and perhaps do some of the exercises in the workbook
We are taking Harville and Helen's 30-day Zero Negativity Challenge. The zero negativity challenge is to call each other out in the subtle negative expressions that can happen in a relationship (eye rolls, sarcasm, put downs, etc.) Anything that can be experienced as negative by one partner is negative.
Give each other a daily heart-felt appreciation. Justin and I are very good at being kind and loving towards each other. Adding a daily appreciation brings it to a deeper level of conscious connection, especially for me because I'm very much a verbal processor. :)
I deeply believe in the power of our relationships to help us heal, become more whole and live increasingly conscious and loving lives.
Wherever you find yourself in the context of relationship, there are many gifts for insight and growth to be found. You can start by checking out one of the books in the list above.