Ten Characteristics of a Conscious Partnership -Dr. Harville Hendrix
You realize that your love relationship has a hidden purpose—the healing of childhood wounds. Instead of focusing entirely on surface needs and desires, you learn to recognize the unresolved childhood issues that underlie them. When you look at relationships with this X-ray vision, your daily interactions take on more meaning. Puzzling aspects of your relationship begin to make sense to you, and you have a greater sense of control.
You create a more accurate image of your partner. At the very moment of attraction, you began fusing your lover with your primary caretakers. Later you projected your negative traits onto your partner, further obscuring your partner’s essential reality. As you move toward a conscious relationship, you gradually let go of these illusions and begin to see more of your partner’s truth. You see you your partner not as a savior but as another wounded human being, struggling to be healed.
You take responsibility for communicating your needs and desires to your partner. In an unconscious partnership, you cling to the childhood belief that your partner automatically intuits your needs. In a conscious partnership, you accept the fact that, in order to understand each other, you have to develop clear channels of communication.
You become more intentional in your interactions. In an unconscious partnership, you tend to react without thinking. You allow the primitive response of your old brain to control your behavior. In a conscious partnership, you train yourself to behave in a more constructive manner.
You learn to value your partner’s needs and wishes as highly as you value your own. In an unconscious partnership, you assume that your partner’s role in life is to take care of your needs magically. In a conscious partnership, you let go of this narcissistic view and divert more and more of your energy to meeting your partner’s needs.
You embrace the dark side of your personality. In a conscious partnership, you openly acknowledge the fact that you, like everyone else, have negative traits. As you accept responsibility for this dark side of your nature, you lessen your tendency to project your negative traits onto your mate, which creates a less hostile environment.
You learn new techniques to satisfy your basic needs and desires. During the power struggle, you cajole, harangue, and blame in an attempt to coerce your partner to meet your needs. When you move beyond this stage, you realize that your partner can indeed be a resource for you—once you abandon your self-defeating tactics.
You search within yourself for the strengths and abilities you are lacking.One reason you were attracted to your partner is that he or she had strengths and abilities that you lacked. Therefore, being with your partner gave you an illusory sense of wholeness. In a conscious partnership, you learn that the only way you can truly recapture a sense of oneness is to develop the hidden traits within yourself.
You become more aware of your drive to be loving and whole and united with the universe. As a part of your God-given nature, you have the ability to love unconditionally and to experience unity with the world around you. Social conditioning and imperfect parenting made you lose touch with these qualities. In a conscious partnership, you begin to rediscover your original nature.
You accept the difficulty of creating a lasting love relationship. In an unconscious partnership, you believe that the way to have a good relationship is to pick the right person. In a conscious partnership, you realize you have to be the right partner. As you gain a more realistic view, you realize that a good relationship requires commitment, discipline, and the courage to grow and change; creating a fulfilling love relationship is hard work.
This current Weekly Reframe is written by someone very dear to my heart; my mother, Deborah K. Ward, LCSW-C. She is a certified advanced Imago Relationship Therapist who specializes in teaching families and couples new skills to repair old wounds and create lasting experiences of true emotional safety. This article is about the power of good listening and how it can transform any difficult relationship into a thriving one.
My young daughter walks with me around her grandmother's Florida community. We pass lots of people riding bikes, playing tennis, on their way to one place or another. We are on holiday sharing mother-daughter time, holding hands. She shares stories about her life, about friends and feelings, ideas and dreams. I listen at first but then find I am drifting, soothed by the sound of her voice, the cadence of our walk, the warm summer day. My attention slips away, and I am unaware that I am no longer tracking what Jen is saying. She squeezes my hand and gently brings me back.
"Mommy, are you listening?" she asks.
"Yes, of course, Sweetheart, I (her trusted listener) am always listening to you.
"What did I say, Mommy?"
"Well... I... You... Um... Err..."
I frantically search my memory but her words are not available. I think to myself, "I was just listening. My ears were open... What is the problem? Why can't I tell her what she said?" I am embarrassed. I search for an appropriate parental response, wanting to suggest I've really got this handled, but find myself falling deeper into the abyss of insincerity. Her story is nowhere in my sight, but I want to minimize my failing so I emphasize, instead, brief impressions of what I think she said. I show a vague, yet earnest effort, hoping this will satisfy. But Jen, the wise girl she is... knew what she knew.
"You didn't listen, Mommy".
I want to argue the point and hide from this moment, yet
her hand holds securely to mine. She does not pull away. Her love is unconditional and when I realize this, I feel ashamed to have let her down. A silence sets in between us...
"You were pretending to listen Mommy."
The light of her simple conclusion illuminates the moment. I appreciate the chance she takes in sharing her honest experience.
"I'm so sorry, Jen. I thought I was paying attention... but I can't really put into words what you said."
No response. My heart is sinking. We walk further in silence. I judge myself and feel despair.
"Mommy," she says, "I want you to listen... like my diary. "
"How does a diary listen?" I ask.
She considers her response. "I write down what I have to say and when I'm done I close my diary. Later, I come back and what I said is still there, the same as I said it. I love my diary because it doesn't change anything. It always keeps my words the way I wrote them. I want you to listen like that, Mommy. So I know you can say what I said, when I ask you again. Okay?"
In her example, Jen expressed a principle of listening and in that moment, I was given another chance. I promised my daughter that day I'd find a way to listen and remember what she said. I knew this would take more then a promise.
I had blocks to listening from daydreaming to defensiveness. Like many parents of my generation and our parents before us, we believed children were to be seen and not heard while the adults thought they were entitled to react, blow up, withdrawal, stonewall, criticize, judge and blame us for anything they didn't like hearing. This kind of wounding doesn't leave marks on the body, but it does leave scars on the heart.
There was another part for me to understand. How to listen without an agenda and stop waiting for my turn to prove a point. I was the parent and therefore in charge, but I mistakenly thought my daughter should see things my way. My early education taught me that sending a message was far more valuable than receiving one, and being right far more important than being curious. However, in my job as a therapist, I saw countless couples and families in trouble because nobody had the skills to bridge the gap between their differences and misunderstandings.
By the time Jen was a young teen, our family had been through so much change, including the end of my marriage to her father. Often angry and frustrated, forced to live her own private truth inside herself, Jen was pulling away more and more. I'd try with my best skills to keep connection open, but when she sensed I was listening with an agenda, she would immediately close down. With all my years of training, nothing was helping me get through to her.
I wanted my daughter to trust that I intended to understand her - but how? And was the truth after all, that I mostly wanted her to accept me however I behaved?
I needed a model to practice. An infrastructure to learn in steps that would help me stay with her inner story without getting distracted by the story going on inside my own head. Then came my answer: Imago Relationship Therapy. Developed by Harville Hendrix, PhD, Imago teaches a technique that promises to repair relationship wounds by demonstrating active listening and emotional safety.
The training itself was offered over 5 weeks throughout the year. On the first day, we arrived presenting our professional selves. We were ministers, clinical social workers, psychologists, life coaches and psychiatrists. But to our surprise, we were all told that in order for us to really learn the method, we would have to put down our professional facades and allow access to our most difficult personal material.
Imago teaches a three step process to listening; mirroring, validating and empathizing. In turn, the model encourages interdependency, with families no longer parent centered or child centered but instead, relationship centered.
For the first time, I got to learn what it was like to be listened to in a way that felt fully satisfying. My thoughts and feelings mirrored back to me with a true sense of understanding and empathy. Then I got to practice doing the same in return.
With these new skills of safe listening, there is an absence of attack and withdrawal, blaming or meanness. This opens to a new paradigm of emotional safety in relationships where all parts are respectfully welcome and self expression is progressively liberated.
As I continued with my study, I learned the value of building bridges between the world of myself and another human being. To honor each other with a dedicated visit to the other person's thoughts and feelings without judging or blaming them for being different than our own.
I learned to apply curiosity with phrases like "tell me more" and "what is it like to be in relationship with me,"while holding space for the other person's response. And by imagining I was a visitor to their 'inner world', I didn't have to battle the old belief that there is only room for one truth.
As a parent, I discovered humility in realizing my child has her own story first, an inner life she must protect. I've become more curious about her human being-ness and the experience of life unique to her as she travels through different stages of personal development. With my practiced skills, I've learned to listen, reflect and validate her point of view in a way that has helped her feel more understood and less alone.
There is a high honor in allowing children their self expression. It seems a simple thing but it is not when we so easily block them with fear of our judgment, ridicule, blame or withholding. The ability to liberate our children emotionally while being responsible parents is a truly powerful skill and a proven pathway to significant family healing.
Learning how to be Jen's diary has been the best gift, not only to our mother/daughter relationship, but in all of my significant personal connections. I am a better friend, counselor, relative and wife. I am also better at letting people know when I do not feel heard or understood, gently teaching the model to others as a way to bring liberation to our emotional baggage and a deeper sense of closeness.
Today, I proudly teach Imago listening skills to parents, teachers, doctors, clergymen, husbands, wives, students and children. It is an honor to help facilitate a deeper bond between people who deeply care for one another but don't know how to feel heard or understood.
If you are interested in deepening one or more of your relationships by learning how to be a better listener, I encourage you set up a session. Together, we can practice safe listening skills that will provide you with tools for long lasting, emotionally healthy relationships.
Safety is perhaps the single most important ingredient in predicting the success of any given relationship. For happiness and true satisfaction to occur in a relationship, both partners need to experience that they are free t authentically be themselves, and that who they are is genuinely accepted by their partner, if not truly and deeply valued.
There are two primary components of safety. One concerns the attitude that you hold toward your partner, and the other has to do with the behavior that you demonstrate with your partner that deepens their experience of safety.
The attitude that promotes safety is one in which you affirm and believe that your partner fully and completely has the right to be him/herself, and that you deeply want that for him/her. This is true even at those times when you may disagree with a particular opinion that s/he may hold or disagree with a particular action that s/he may want or need to take. While this attitude allows you to have different opinions than your partner has, and allows you to make requests that your partner consider alternative actions, it grants your partner the sovereignty to do it or think it their way without reprisals from you and without your withdrawing your love from them or shaming, blaming or threatening them in any way.
The foremost behavior that deepens your partner's experience of safety within the relationship is that of active listening. The way that listening succeeds in any given dialogue is to understand and practice the principal of first seeking to understand the other person before seeking to be understood. This principal is outlined as habit #5 in Stephen Covey's The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.
The most common mistake that couples make in most conversations is to proceed with going forward with their agenda of what they want the other person to know before they fully and deeply understand what their dialog partner is wanting them to know. This is the conversational equivalent of two people trying to go through a revolving door at the same time; things get very jammed up very quickly.
Successful listening involves knowing and practicing the art of one person communicating a thought or a feeling at a time, with the other partner setting him/herself up to be understanding or receiving what is being sent over before sending a message of his/her own. This is very much like a game of catch, where you must first receive the all before you can throw it back. The analogy is similar to baseball where the pitcher pitches and the catcher receives, or like in football where the quarterback throws and the receiver catches.
Harville Hendrix has a model of this procedure which he calls the couples dialogue that he explains ad speaks to in his books. Keeping the Love you Find, and Getting the Love You Want. John Gray in Men are From Mars, Women are from Venus, and in Mars and Venus Together Forever, speaks to the tremendous importance that listening plays in the creation of a successful relationship.