When it comes to the success of your relationship, how much are you standing in your own way? How do you get really clear on your part in the dynamic? And how do you work some magic in the way that you communicate, to connect no matter how challenging the moment? Joining us this week is Dr. David Burns, a Stanford emeritus professor who is also the author of Feeling Good - one of the most popular self-help books (dealing with depression) of all time. He is one of the chief popularizers of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), and has recently been developing TEAM therapy, which addresses some of CBT’s shortcomings. David Burns is also the author of Feeling Good Together, which applies his practical approach to relationships: how to thrive, as well as how to turn a troubled relationship around.
Changing the question: When it comes to relationship difficulty and challenges, many of us are quick to point fingers at THEM. We believe it is the fault of the other person, and we spend a lot of energy blaming them. The question that will lead to hope and growth is not “will the other person ever change?” but rather, “am I willing to change?”. By looking at our own behaviors and beliefs we are able to regain a sense of power, and gain access to our ability to effect change. By changing ourselves we can’t NOT change those around us! By coming from a radically different place ourselves we find we can transform the entire relationship dynamic.
Outcome resistance: While interpersonal transformation is possible with new perspectives and new skills, nothing will in fact help if there is a core resistance to the possibility of change. Before diving deeply into the hows of changing your relationship dynamics, you must first ask yourself “Do I want a better relationship with this person?” Allow the answer to surprise you. There are actually many possible motives and factors that could be competing with your authentic desire for expanded joy and intimacy (sometimes we’d rather blame, be right, even hate).
Process resistance: If in asking the above question you find that you do indeed want to become closer with your partner (or whomever you are in conflict with), the next question is whether you are willing to give up blame and look instead at your own role in the dynamics? In your heart of hearts, who do you think is more to blame for the quality of your relationship? You or the other person? The prognosis for your relationship if you are in a victim mentality are close to zero - this stance is dangerous and debilitating. That said, are you willing to begin to look at yourself as part of the cause? And are you then willing to engage, from this place, in a process to help transition your relationship from a place of hostility into a place of love? If you find that you are unwilling to make this shift towards responsibility, or do not feel you are interested or able to engage in making changes on your own, you may be experiencing process resistance. This resistance is important to listen to and must be addressed before expecting yourself or your partner to change any further.
Exploring resistance exercise: To do this exercise, take one sheet of paper and create two columns, on one side list all of the advantages of remaining resistant and on the other list all of the disadvantages. For example, the advantages of continuing to feel as though it is THEIR fault may sound something like: I don’t have to feel guilty, if I can continue to blame them I don’t have to feel any pain, I get support from others when I complain and play victim, it is satisfying to scapegoat others, I feel morally superior, I don’t have to change, it helps me feel like there is nothing wrong with me, it lets me be angry all of the time, it justifies my passive aggressive or revenge type behavior. The disadvantages of resisting responsibility, on the other hand, may sound something like: keeps me feeling powerless, maintains painful status quo, being angry all the time is exhausting, I don’t feel centered in my best self, I feel disconnected from my compassion, there is a sense of stagnation, I don’t experience any growth or room for learning, I am constantly stressed, I experience anxiety and depression and loss of intimacy, this just feels unhealthy. When you finish your lists add up the total notes you made in each column and reflect on the balance you see. In what ways has your resistance to looking at your own role in your relationship been helping you, and in what ways has it been harming you? And what, now that you see all of this written in front of you, are you feeling ready and open to?
Looking at your own role: Nearly all relationship problems are encapsulated in any single thirty second exchange shared between two people at odds with one another. To explore this, take a moment of conflict you experienced recently and write down exactly what the other person said, and then what you said next. What you said next determines the entire outcome and if you look closely with humility you will see just how your response/reaction triggered the exact problem that you have been complaining about. This realization can be incredibly painful and humiliating as we spend so much of our energy focused on what the other person said or didn’t say and so convinced that it is all their fault! Although painful, this realization is also our key into the potential for transformation!
Free yourself from victimhood: When we see ourselves as victims we do not see the impact of our behavior on the other person, and we stay blind. If you have the courage to look, and to examine the role you play in conflict and tension you will become empowered. By freeing yourself of victimhood through noting the ways you are the one who is creating the very problem you are suffering with, you begin to see how you also have the power to transform the relationship by thinking about it and communicating in a radically new way. From here change can occur quickly, and even, at times, easily.
Try keep a relationship journal: As mentioned above, we can learn a lot about our role in our relationships by checking out the ways we do or don’t respond and react to our partners during conflict. To do this in a methodic way, follow these steps:
1) identify and write down something that someone else said that triggered you
2) write down your response in the moment
3) assess whether your response was an example of good or poor communication (see below)
4) enlightenment step: ask yourself “what was the impact on the other person of my responding the way I did?”
5) revise what you could have said using the techniques listed below
EAR- Good communication requires patience, presence, and skills. EAR stands for empathy, assertiveness, and respect. It is communication that incorporates EAR that creates feelings of mutual acknowledgement and safety and leads to repair and connection versus escalation and disconnection.
5 secret techniques of effective communication (no particular order):
- Disarming technique- This technique is about finding truth in what the other person says, no matter what. It is based on the law of opposites which posits that if you defend yourself from criticism that feels unfair you prove that it is valid. This paradox however can work in reverse! If instead of defending and negating an irrational criticism you choose to genuinely agree with something they said then you help prove it isn’t the case and the other person will quickly stop believing. Escalations occur when people feel unheard or misunderstood and by finding truth in what someone is saying, and you do it with respect and humility, it becomes music to their ears and can be incredibly soothing.
- Thought and feeling empathy- Though empathy is when you repeat the words that someone else says in order to help show them you heard their message. Feeling empathy is when you acknowledge how the person is probably feeling given what you hear they are saying to you.
- Inquiry- Inquiry is the process of asking gentle probing questions to get more information about what other person is thinking or feeling.
- Assertiveness- Assertiveness is the skill of communicating your subjective experience through “I feel” statements. This requires expressing your feelings in a direct, yet gentle and non-threatening way.
- Stroking- This is the skill of conveying warmth and respect even in the heat of a moment. Show, say, or do something that expresses to your partner that you are there in an open and loving way.
You are the god of your own experience: We are creating our interpersonal realities in every moment of every day. We are not the victims of our experiences, but rather the god who is creating our own reality. The enlightenment step described above, in which you ask yourself how your reactions are impacting your relationship dynamics can lead some to mystical and spiritual insights. This turning towards ourselves as the cause is a practice. It isn’t easy! Be patience with yourself while you are learning to grow in this new way!
Be sure to check out David Burns’ website for loads of free resources, a blog, a podcast, the workshop schedule, and so much more!
Read his book Feeling Good Together
Also read David Burns’ book Feeling Good
www.neilsattin.com/feelinggood Visit to download the show guide, or text “PASSION” to 33444 and follow the instructions to download the show guide to this episode with David Burns
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