A Deeper Look at Relationship Skills.
I saw Marci this morning. She came to talk with me about her marriage of 33 years. Her relationship is in deep trouble. I’ll save some of the complications for another time but today my focus is on what I call “relationship skills.”
What I see in general and specifically in Marci’s marriage, is that we don’t know how to relate to each other. I can hear you saying, “What are you talking about? We relate all the time.” Yes, it’s true that we talk all the time but we don’t always “relate.” That takes special attention. Webster defines the word “relate” as interacting with another person in a satisfying way.
Okay, so what exactly is relating? Since “relating” is a complicated process we won’t touch on all the components today but we can get a good start. We can begin with this idea: When you relate, you must bring all of you to the table. So, what’s all of you?
- The most primary thing we bring is respect. The word “respect” actually means valuing and prizing and esteeming another person in a continuing way. So, when Marci had concerns about certain alarming behaviors she saw in her husband, Paul, she had a right to ask about them. Instead of bringing respect to the conversation Paul not only didn’t show respect but blamed Marci for being a “nag.” Not a good sign since we’re 33 years into this pattern of communication.
- Good listening involves many qualities but we’ll settle for talking about two here: (a) being open and genuine. Marci wanted to tell him about her hurt feelings the last couple of times they were out together. She hoped he’d care enough and be interested enough to listen. But no, that didn’t happen.
- If we hope to “relate” well, we need to bring (b) energy to our listening. That is, put some energy into trying to understand what the other person is meaning. And then, even better, try to understand how that other person is feeling. Then we might actually be respecting and esteeming her/him. Paul brought mostly silence to their “talk.” He really didn’t want to talk with Marci and being silent was his way of “staying out of it.” When Marci persisted, she got criticism, disapproval and, eventually, blame. The respect and positive listening were nowhere to be found. And, neither was any kind of intimacy.
Here’s a favorite quote of mine that fits in here; it’s from the play “To Kill a Mockingbird.”
“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his/her point of view,
until you climb into his/her skin and walk around in it.”
The same idea was presented many years ago by the famous psychiatrist, Alfred Adler. He said that when we don’t understand another person’s behaviors, we should pretend to “try on his/her skin and live in it for a bit. Then we would understand.”
Paul either doesn’t know anything about the relating skills we’re talking about here or he knows but chooses not to use them. I vote for “doesn’t know.” Marci said that their relating has gone this way for a very long time. Why tackle it now? There’s a possible third person in the picture and that’s threatening the marriage in a very serious way. Time to do something about their really unhealthy “talk.”
But, it’s so sad to think that it’s taken this long to do something about it. Both Marci and Paul have experienced so much unnecessary pain. It’s really too bad.
So, if you’re in the Paul position in your own relationship, are you bringing what you should to the “talk table?” If not, become more open to offering respect and good listening ; try these skills out. If you’re in the Marci position in your relationship, you can ask your partner assertively and respectfully to give you respect and good listening. If all you get is defensiveness, respect yourself enough to leave and try again another time.
Warmest wishes until next time,
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