She Thinks I'm Real Advice for Couples | Empathy | Feeling

She Thinks I’m Real! Advice for Couples Jack Kornfield “...

is one of the leading Buddhist teachers in America. A practitioner for over 40 years, he is one of the key teachers to introduce mindfulness and vipassana meditation to the West. His approach emphasizes compassion, loving kindness and the profound path of mindful presence” (http://jackkornfield.org/). He tells a story about a family going out for dinner at a restaurant. It goes something like this (I’m paraphrasing quite liberally here with apologies): A family goes out to a restaurant for a meal. The family includes Dad, Mom, 9 year old daughter and a 7 year old son. The waitress takes the orders of all the family members coming to the 7 year old last. She asks the young boy what he wants and he responds enthusiastically that he’d like a hot dog and a Coke. His mom interrupts to say, “He’ll have the meat loaf, mashed potatoes and carrots.” After a brief pause, the waitress turns her attention back to the 7 year old and asks, “Do you want french fries and mustard and ketchup with your hot dog?” He says, “I’ll have ketchup and fries.” The waitress says, “OK” and walks away to enter the orders. The family members sit quietly with the parents, no doubt, thinking, “What just happened here?” The 7 year old is the first to break the silence when he says, “Wow, she thinks I’m real!” The point of the story is respect; for those young and old, strong and weak, husbands and wives, employees and bosses, friends and enemies. You get the idea, it’s respect for others, all others. Seeing others and treating them with respect involves, at the deepest level, a willingness to believe that they are “real,” that they have their own ideas, beliefs, feelings, preferences and ways of “making sense” in this world. Respecting another also conveys to him or her that it’s worth my time and effort to get to know you and understand you, whether in brief encounters, like the waitress in the story, or in lasting, loving relationships. In my experience when I ask people what they really want in their relationships, they usually get to some version of “to be truly known.” When I pursue this further, people usually indicate that to be “known and understood” means that at the deepest level “you understand how I feel.” It is, of course, important that others understand what we think, what our values and opinions are, what we believe and so on. In our most important relationships, though, in order for us to feel securely connected to and understood by the other, to know that they really “get us,” we need to experience that they know what we feel. www.JohnWeiks.com www.RelationshipAdviceCafe.com

She Thinks I’m Real! Advice for Couples There are a number of factors that are helpful in conveying, “I think you’re real,” to your partner or spouse. 1. Commitment – this is the foundation of a healthy relationship. It is the “glue” that holds us together when feelings run hot, or cold, and the urge to do something rash is powerful. This concept includes qualities such as dedication, devotion, allegiance, loyalty, faithfulness, fidelity. We rely on our commitment to ourselves, for example, when we “pause, take a deep breath, and think” before we act. We draw strength from our commitment to another when we chose to bring up an issue with them even when it makes us uncomfortable, anxious, angry or when we’ve been hurt by the action or inaction of the other. It is the basis for being able to “work things out” or resolve problems. Our commitment to another holds us together through difficult times so that trust can deepen and safety and security in the relationship can be strengthened. It is very helpful to examine our commitments on a regular basis to find out if anything is getting in the way or weakening them. We can then take appropriate action to renew our commitment before things reach a “crisis” level. 2. Empathy – is often thought of as the capacity to recognize and share, at least partially, the feelings being experienced by another. We demonstrate empathy when we convey to another that, “I understand something of your experience in the way you experience it.” We need to have at least some empathy for another before we are able to feel compassion or sympathy for her or him. Karen Armstrong’s book, Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life, is an excellent resource, among many, to practice developing empathy and compassion in our primary relationships as well as throughout our lives. 3. Honesty – in relationships. One very important expression of honesty is conveying our belief in each other’s capabilities while “seeing” and addressing the real shortcomings we each have. So often shame and/or the fear of being rejected gets in the way of simply admitting that I make mistakes. Usually that’s all they are–little or big mistakes, not earth-shattering or relationship-ending catastrophes. Shame can exaggerate a mistake into a huge, devastating “screw-up” or distort a partner’s criticism of a specific behavior into a “condemning judgement” of our total self. www.JohnWeiks.com www.RelationshipAdviceCafe.com

She Thinks I’m Real! Advice for Couples Honesty includes a willingness to admit, “I don’t know everything,” and to consider our partner’s respectful assessment of our behavior at least as seriously as our own. Said another way, honesty involves the admission that our partner’s evaluation of our behavior in the moment might be more accurate than our feelings about our own behavior. It comes back to trusting the other to see us as “real.” 4. Equality – the ability to see each other as different, but complementary. I sometimes hear partners arguing their point of view or opinion as if life itself were on the line. Beneath this emotional intensity often lies a basic desire we all have, frequently expressed as–I just want her or him to “hear” and “understand” me. Taking the other’s ideas and feelings seriously is one critical way to show your partner that he or she is an equal in the relationship. Once his or her “position” is secure, it is often much easier for partners to identify and understand why their position is held with such emotional passion and fervor. I am often struck by the fact that once a couple “get’s” each other’s feelings about issues, they often have a much easier time resolving many of the practical difficulties troubling them. 5. Meaning-making – is the most fundamental of human activities. Being human is the activity of making sense of or “composing” our experiences in the world, particularly our experiences with others. Aldous Huxley said, “Experience is not what happens to you, it is what you do with what happens to you.” The most fundamental and important thing we do with what happens to us is to organize it in our own minds, to compose our own sense of meaning about our experiences. For example, one partner may suggest something, thinking that they’re being helpful, but the other may hear it or feel it as a criticism. On another occasion, depending on their mood, he or she may feel or respond to the same suggestion as if their partner is trying to control them. When we rely too heavily on our interpretations rather than clarify with our partner, we can set the stage for painful misunderstandings and conflict. We’ve probably all experienced times when we were unable to “compose meaning,” to make sense of something that happened in our relationship.

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She Thinks I’m Real! Advice for Couples For example, something our partner did or did not do can sometimes be so disorienting that I can’t quite “get my head around it.” We often experience these instances as the loss of our own composure, a decidedly unpleasant experience for most of us and one that prompts us to try to regain our composure as quickly as possible. When these instances occur in our primary love relationships it is vital that we: 1. Acknowledge that we often interpret, assume or guess what the other means and are mistaken on a regular basis. 2. Learn to ask our significant other what they mean rather than assume we know. 3. Respond to our partner’s questions as honest attempts to regain composure, connection and certainty. 4. See each other as “real.” Summary Taking time to reflect on and practice these ways of showing our partner, “I think you are real,” is a gift to her or him that keeps on giving. Nurturing this approach toward our partner or spouse can help keep our relationship vibrant and satisfying. It can also help us withstand the inevitable ups and downs that occur in any relationship. About the author Dr. John Weiks is a licensed psychologist with a private practice in Grand Rapids, MI. He has over 35 years of experience treating individuals, couples and doing groups. In addition, he provides consultation for other mental health professionals and has done numerous trainings both locally and nationally. To learn more about Dr. Weiks, visit his website: www.johnweiks.com To contact him, send an email to: jcweiks [at] mac.com (replace [at] with @) For more free tips on relationship advice, visit http://www.relationshipadvicecafe.com

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