Recently I was talking with a couple about their relationship. The proverbial "stuff" hit the fan. One of the realizations that came from this relationship mentoring moment was thanks to the husband being a fire fighter. It's always a challenge to peel back why we are where we are, how we got here, and how we move forward. It's especially difficult when emotions run high from infidelity, abuse, abandonment, or other traumatic experiences.
This husband was low. He was the supposed to be the leader of his family. Having a family was supposed to be the answer to a lot of things in life that felt out of sorts. Instead, it ended up being the source of major set backs, disappointment and just being stuck. He was feeling really down, and in order to move forward and take action to make adjustments we must first believe we're capable of the action, that the circumstances are capable of being changed, and then also know how to move.
At one point in the conversation I asked him to tell me about his experiences as a fire fighter. Then it happened.
He sat up. His shoulders straightened. His eyes grew in size as they opened and showed the whites in excitement. His speech picked up pace and his voice was no longer low and hesitant but clear and sharp.
He described a moment in which he arrived on scene, and realized that they were short on resources. He had to improvise. Luckily, he referenced his training and knew what to do next. He started giving commands and his men started to fall in line with his plan. It was a moment to be proud of.
So, I asked him. Why can't you do that at home then? You're clearly a capable, confident and accomplished man. He looked at me sideways like I just brought him back down. Then he sat there and in his mind, I could tell he had given up,
"I don't know," he said.
I do. You have not been trained. Take a moment to realize that our families that we are born into as blank slates often teach us maladapted ways of avoiding problems rather than facing them, poor communication habits, and lack of priorities when dealing with emotional situations. Schools do not teach these concepts or tactics. There's no real skill development in creating solid and functioning decision-making models for emotional intelligence or relationship and communication. Relationships are one of the most quintessential aspects of our lives and yet there's no subject in schools devoted to them until you're in your twenties and by then already been in and destroyed several.
He sat up and I could tell that for the first time, he had done 2 things.
He stopped blaming himself for the problems he felt like he was being suffocated with.
He realized exactly where to shamelessly begin building his relationship back up.
He wanted training.
Relationships don't come easy, and there's no cookie cutter approach to all of them. However, there are some building blocks that can help. These are rooted in communication habits. This article is already too long to go in-depth into them, so I will just briefly list them here.
Lead With Curiosity.
- It's easy to lead with accusations or immediately get our emotions involved. It's far too counter-cognitive (creates frustration not progress) to respond only to what's on the surface without giving thought as to WHY something feels off. So, set emotions down for a moment and first identify and check to see if what is happening is in fact what is meant or if there's something else beyond a veil you have yet to peak behind. The if you turn out to be right, be pissed off...or happy, etc.
Use Your Words.
- I feel like this one goes without saying, but that goes against the very premise of it. Avoid making assumptions. One of the most devastating things in communication is when I assume that I heard you say is what you meant, and how you meant it. Or perhaps was even directed at me or about me. There's so many reasons why something can be off, and we assume that what we're trying to communicate is clearly coming through, or that faces and emotions can be read without the need for explanation. This simply isn't true. Reading queues in emotion is just as learned as reading road signs, which have to be trained, and without proper training and reinforcement can be totally misread.
- Following the previous note, create pauses in the communication flow in order to install understanding check-ups. Are you in fact on the same page before you move forward. Is what you're communicating out matching what the other person is taking in? It's so vital and even the most seasoned couples should go back to this basic when things feel off. I think about my children when they're young and we teach them - use your words. But how frustrating their existence can be in moments when they haven't yet tapped the power of language to express themselves.
- I cannot say enough about this. It's so paramount. In all of life the only thing that you truly have any control over is yourself. Always view your relationship through this lens. It benefits nothing to view yourself as the powerless victim of circumstance. Always be on the lookout for what you can do. What levers you can pull, and what changes lie within YOUR capability to make.
- This one does go without saying, but I'm going to place it here anyway for the sake of completeness. I trust that all of us wake up with an inherent desire to become better than we currently are. I doubt there's such a person, or at least I haven't really met a person, who wakes up with the full intention to be worse off today. Perhaps some psychosis or anomaly exists, but for the most part we all inherently chase improvement whether in leaps, or steps. But one key thing to remember is that in making adjustments it's good practice to keep variables controlled. Make small changes that you can track so that you can easily tell what is responsible for gaining ground or losing it as you reach for results.
And that's it for now.