Relationships are the one of the most rewarding and challenging parts of our life. There are types of personal development that we are unable to do unless we are in relationship and there are ways that relationships push us to do work that we would not be otherwise motivated to do.
One of the greatest challenges in relationship can be our boundaries –maintaining a connection to our self, being open with another, and caring for the relationship that exists between us. We can run into challenges like losing our self in the relationship, over-caretaking, shutting down, passive aggressiveness, or saying things that are hurtful and can’t be taken back. Any of these sound familiar?
In the 1980’s Melody Beattie wrote about co-dependence. This is the pattern of behavior that a person develops when relating to a loved-one who has an addiction. However, Beattie’s writing hit a chord with most people whether they were in a partnership with an addict or not. Chiefly, she focuses on understanding what is ours to deal with and what is another person’s. This level of clarity is essential for other relational skills to develop. It is impossible to create healthy connectedness if we lack the ability to hold onto our self.
Holding onto our self is the ability to stay connected to what we think, feel and want while being in a relationship with another person. This is particularly important when that person is under stress or in a crisis. In intense situations, it is easier to get consumed by another person’s experience. Even sexual intimacy, as positive as it might be, requires not only that we can deeply connect and even merge with another but that we can come back to ourselves as well.
The truth of the matter is, when we do not know or understand something, our ability to be in relationship to it is limited. This means we need to be able to see our self ,or in other words be aware, to “hold onto our self.” The less we are aware of ourselves, the harder it is for us to know when something is us and when it is not. So, this is one of the many ways that personal development work serves you. The more that you know the easier it is to navigate relationships.
It is necessary to know our self to be open to a relationship in a healthy way. Being open in a relationship is both about the ability to connect and to disconnect. However, primarily it is about being able to choose when we want to connect and disconnect. This allows us to be consciously open or to consciously choose not put up a boundary when something is not healthy.
However, what I often hear people struggle with is determining what is healthy or not healthy for them. I have said that self care is anything and everything that is affirming of the entirety of who you are. It comes up here again because determining what is healthy or not healthy is guided by the same concept. Does it affirm or support who you are? If it does then it is healthy for you even if it is difficult. If it is does not, then it is not healthy for you.
Of course, the greatest gift that we can give in a relationship is our willingness to be as respectful with that other person as we have learned to be with our self. This desire to support another person in honoring and caring for themselves and learning and growing in their capacity to know themselves is a beautiful gift of a relationship.
The relationship is the third part of the equation. Relationships take care and time to be able to flourish. It is not enough for people to just invest in their own awareness and growth they also need to invest in the relationship. It becomes another member of the relationship and requires selflessness as much as anything else. What can you give to the relationship? How do you give to the relationship?
Developmentally, we are not able to give to the relationship until we have learned how to take care of ourselves. We are simply too immature to really be able to give what is required. That is why we need to start by doing our own work and understand what it is that supports us as we go through life. When we have done this work, the act of giving selflessly to a relationship is an additional joy rather than something that creates imbalance.
If you find yourself in a relationship and you are questioning your knowledge of your own needs or understanding of the different aspects of who you are, don’t worry too much about it. We are all in a continual process of growth. As you move forward in your relationship you will be called to focus on different aspects of the relationship: you, the other person, and the relationship itself. This process, if you choose to engage in it will be both challenging and deeply rewarding –ultimately offering you one of the most beautiful experiences that life has to offer.
It is often the case that the people we love most are those that we have the worst conflicts with. Our most intimate relationships can touch upon our deepest places of hurt, mistrust and wounding often leading to misunderstandings, distance or fighting. Although these bumps along the path of relating may be inevitable, we can smooth the ride (or at least manage to stay on the path!) by remembering to return to a place of love in all situations of conflict.
What does this mean? Well, It means that no matter how you are triggered, how right you feel, how hurt you are there is nothing that will support your relationship (and you) more than being able to stay connected to the deep love that you feel for the person with which you are in conflict.
There are lots of ways to practice this but today I want to give you the step by step of how you actually make the physical, mental and emotional shift from negative emotion to a place of love. So, that you can be more effective at solving the conflict and building trust and intimacy. These are the steps to take when you start to see red while engaging with someone you love. Whenever possible, as soon as you become aware that you are getting agitated, take a breath and a moment to do the following:
Step #1: Recognize where you are. See your desire to hurt, blame or separate from the other person.
Step #2: Switch your perspective. You don’t have to forgive, agree or accept them, anything they say, or what they are doing. Just remember what it feels like to love that person.
Step #3: Think of what you would do or how you would act if you were feeling this love. In other words, if you were to choose loving connection over hurt, blame or disconnection what would you do.
Step #4: Decide what you want. Now that you have seen each of the options, which is the one that you want to choose?
Step#5: Love yourself for making the best choice you can in the moment regardless of what it is.
It is really easy in the heat of the moment to lose sight of everything that we valued and believed when we were not in the conflict. Simply by reconnecting with the memory of being loving towards the other person, it frees us up to find new options for resolution and connection.
Join Dr. Kate Siner with her guest, relationship expert, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and founder of Romantic Alchemy, Tabatha Bird Weaver as they discuss ways to connect with compassion no matter what situation you are in on this weeks hour of Real Answers Radio. Tune in for the tools to reduce conflict and create deeper levels of trust and health in all of your important relationships. Thursday, March 12th at 12pm EST. Learn more here.
“Judge a man by his questions rather than by his answers.” ― Voltaire
Are you being judged by your questions? Not moving forward in your career, business, marriage, or fill in the blank _______? It could be because you are not asking the right questions. You need to be good at asking questions.
You might not be getting the feedback you need to make corrections in your behavior. You might not be getting type of answers that you need to hear. You also might just be getting downright wrong information.
What Do You Want?
When you ask a question, you have to know what you want for an answer. I spent quite a few years in the military. We had intelligence reports coming in; we needed data, not someone’s opinion. That meant we wanted strictly the information. We did not want any interpretation. Just the facts, ma’am. When you are asking questions, make sure you put it in the right context.
Other times you might want someone’s opinion. For example, “What do you think of this cologne?” Sometimes you want a reasoned opinion or advice. “What is the route to get from uptown to downtown?” As you get ready to ask your question, make sure you have the right source and they know what you want from them.
Do I need a factually correct answer?
Do I need an expert opinion?
Do I need a well-reasoned judgment?
How to Be Amazingly Good at Asking Questions
Once you know what kind of information you need and who to ask, you have to ask your questions in a manner that gets the best possible information in response. Asking amazing great questions is skill like any other skill, it takes practice. Here are some techniques to draw out what you need to know.
1. Don’t Ask Yes or No Questions
When you ask a yes or no question, you will most often get incomplete information. Instead, ask an open-ended question. By using an open-ended question you get insights and additional information you might not have known existed. Questions with “would,” “should,” “is,” “are,” and “do you think” all lead to yes or no. Questions with “who,” “what,” “where,” “when,” “how,” or “why” lead to people giving some thought to their answers and provide much more information.
2. Dig Deeper
Always consider using follow-up questions. Unless you are looking strictly for the facts, there is some sort of assumption in the answer the person gives you. Ask them a follow up question such as, “What makes you say that?” or “Why do you think that?”
Let’s say that you are talking to a co-worker and need to know details of a project. Your co-worker tells you that one of the suppliers has been very difficult to work on the project. You will want to follow up on that comment. A question such as “What do you mean he is difficult to work with?” will lead you to the real facts. It may not be because the supplier is particularly difficult to work with but rather is not reachable for quick communications or any number of outside reasons. Follow up questions give you insight and let you make your own opinions about things.
3. Use the Power of Silence
Start getting comfortable with asking a question, waiting for response, listening to the response and then waiting some more. Many times the person you are questioning has more information and will bring it out when you wait for it. You have to be comfortable with that silent period before the dam breaks. Police and military interrogators use silence very effectively. People feel a need to fill the holes in the conversation and often they will then bring out the critical bit of information you seek.
4. Don’t Interrupt
Don’t interrupt the person with whom you are talking. First, it tells the person you don’t value what they are saying. Interrupting stops their train of thought and directs the conversation the way you want, not necessarily the way it should go. Ask your question, then let the person answer it in full, even when you think you are not getting the answer you want. Listen fully to what they are saying and use that to direct them back to the topic in the next question when there is a natural pause.
If time is of the essence and the person has long strayed from the topic, then of course you need to interrupt. Be as polite as possible when doing it. This shows the person that you do respect what they are saying. Say something like, “Excuse me, I want to make sure I understand you. What I heard you say is…” and then bring them back on point to the matter at hand.
As you go forth in your quest for knowledge, remember that asking great questions takes practice. This implies that you probably won’t get it perfect every each outing. Just get started asking questions. Your skills will improve over time. Remember that if you want good answers, they come from asking good questions.
About the author: Former Green Beret Mike Martel focuses on helping individuals, entrepreneurs, and small businesses get results and improve productivity. For more information and a free Green Beret Productivity Toolkit, click here.