Love and respect will pull the elephant in the room through a keyhole – relationship and marriage therapy
© Jorgan Harris. jorganharris.co.za
An elephant is an animal. A large animal. A huge animal. An elephant is a huge animal that sometimes stands right in the middle of the room, leaving you in one corner and your partner in another corner, blocking communication between you and your partner with his huge body. We sometimes pretend that the elephant is not there and sometimes we hope that the elephant will go away by itself. But the elephant just does not go away. In our effort to avoid conflict, we deny the elephant and the elephant then remains standing between you and your partner.
The purpose of this article is to help you to realise that your success to make any relationship or marriage work, is all about communication. If you learn to communicate properly, you have a 96% chance to save your relationship or marriage. If you cannot communicate on the other hand, you have only a 4% chance to save your relationship or marriage and the elephant will keep on standing between you and your partner.
During marital or relationship problems, there is a search for the cause of the elephant. The person responsible for bringing the elephant into the room, is the one in the wrong and if they correct their behaviour, the problem will be gone. They therefore expect the therapist to determine who is right and who is wrong and when the “wrong” person changes, the problem is solved. Thus, the therapist is made the judge. It just does not work like this, for reasons you will see below.
The point is that elephants can appear in any relationship. How or why the elephant appears or whose fault it is, is not important. It is nobody’s fault as elephants sometimes just appears.
Elephants are always there, but how you deal with them, may be the solution to the elephant. Marriage therapy is all about communication.
If you cannot communicate, your relationship or your marriage will not work, regardless of whether you have the same interests, values, norms, culture, background, religion or anything else you share.
Please read my article on Encounter Centred couples Therapy (EcCT) on my website: jorganharris.co.za.
When you want to solve problems in a marriage or relationship, effective communication has to take place. For this to happen, the following assumptions must be kept in mind:
2.1 People are created perfectly
You and the other person are created with all the talents necessary for your purposes on earth. Maybe you know the famous Desiderata: “You are a child of the universe. No less than the trees or the stars. You have a right to be here. Whether or not it is clear to you, the universe is still unfolding in a way that is natural and as it should be”.
Everyone has endless resources and talents. Some are just hidden under a bushel. Sometimes you just have to lift the bushel, to see what is hidden there. You may discover things about yourself or the other person that you never even thought possible.
There is no such thing as a stupid or a bad person. After all, it’s all about possibilities. When you start to think about what is possible, that is when that bushel starts to be raised.
Just as you are not wrong in your view of things, so the other person is also not wrong in his or her views. You are both created perfect, just with different views. The problem lies in your interaction with each other.
The key principle to follow here:
There is nothing wrong with the other person. It is essential to respect his or her views, even though it does not make sense to you. It makes sense to the other person just as your views make sense to you, even though it is not making sense to the other person.
2.2 You are in control of your life
First realise that you are in control of your own life and that you always have choices. The other person is not in control of your life and he or she can never be the cause of your feelings. How you feel about anything, is always your choice.
What happened to you and how you feel, is no-one else’s fault. You are in control of your life and things only happen if you allow it. To blame someone else is to put that person in charge of your life. How you feel is not the other person’s fault. You choose to feel the way you feel.
Blaming someone else is to put that person in charge of your life. It is always your choice.
The core principle that applies here is:
The other person can never be the cause of your feelings. You choose your own feelings and you are always in control of your life by the choices you make. You CHOOSE to feel the way you feel or you can CHOOSE to feel differently.
2.3 Respect for the other person’s view
The two of you have different views on matters and even if you do not agree with the other person’s view of things, is it a matter of respecting that view, whether you make sense of it in your own view of reality or not, as is his or her absolute reality as a perfect person created with all the resources necessary for his or her task in this world.
Truth is at the end of the day only the truth that is your truth. As you expect the other person to respect your truth, so you should respect his or her truth uncon-ditionally.
When you treat the other person with absolute respect, many insights will open up for you. When you treat people with respect, you will always get the respect returned to you.
In conflict, you should always ask yourself: Where is the other person coming from? Is there a reason why that person is acting in a certain way?
Even if you believe firmly that your view of reality is the true and only correct view, it remains merely your opinion. This also applies to the other person in his or her own world view.
To prove the other wrong will get you nowhere. It’s not about who is right and who is wrong. Both are right in their view of reality.
The core principle that applies here:
There is no universal truth. Your truth is your truth and the other person’s truth is his or her truth. When you show respect for the other person’s truth, you create for yourself so many more choices on how to solve the problem.
2.4 The way you look at things, is not reality
The way you see things, is your reality and not necessarily the other’s reality. We all look at different kinds of maps of the landscape and we interpret the landscape – the reality according to our cards of reality. Some look at a road map, some at a weather map and others at a geographical map of the same reality. We all see the same world through the frame of our respective maps. How we view reality, causes us to develop our belief systems; therefore, our ideas about reality becomes reality itself for us. However, it remains the same landscape. We see everything through different maps, different interpretations and no interpretation is wrong.
The universal truth that applies here:
You are not wrong and the other person is not wrong either. You are looking at different maps of the same landscape. It will just help you to understand the landscape of the other person’s map of reality so much better.
2.5 The intention behind all actions is always positive
People are always making decisions at a particular time which are the best decisions for them with the resources they have available to them at that time. This means that the behaviour revealed by the person at that time, must be separated from the person. The behaviour of the person is not the nature of the person. Negative behaviour does not mean that a person is bad. Even if a person behaves in a negative way, you and the other person essentially remain good human beings. This is when you can spot the positive intention behind the other person’s behaviour (or your own behaviour). When you can do this, it will open a myriad of possibilities for you. You may then see the other person’s intention in a positive light. This is creating many possibilities for you to solve a problem in the most creative of ways.
In psychology, we will even go as far as to say that the person, who committed a murder, had a positive intention. The behaviour was not good but the intention behind it was good. The behaviour is just bad because the person exercised a lack of choices. Maybe they thought the world would be a better place if the other person was no longer there, but there are many more choices to make the world a better place.
The core principle that applies here:
There is a positive intention behind the other person’s seemingly negative behaviour. What is the other person trying to solve and why are they not able to make better choices in order solve the problem?
2.6 The person with the most creativity is in charge
If you continue to do what you do, you will continue to get what you get. You cannot do the same thing every time and expect a completely different outcome. If you want a different outcome, you have to be creative and do something different.
People, including you, are incredibly creative. You can, when a solution strategy is not working, be creative enough to think of a different strategy. You were created with all the resources to find a solution. There are always options.
Thomas Edison is reputed to have made as many as 2000 attempts to discover a light-bulb. After so many failures, he had become the scorn of the town. When people asked him after failure number 1 500 how it felt to have had 1500 failures, he said: “Well folks, I have learned a 1500 ways how not to make a bulb.” Today we have the light bulb!
If you do something to solve a problem and it is not working, you then need to simply be more creative and do something else until the problem is resolved, even if it means you need 2000 attempts.
If you tell the other person something he or she did not hear or understand, the responsibility lies with you to make your choices and to say it in a different way, until he or she has received the message.
You are always in control as you always have choices.
The key principle applied in this case:
If you do something that does not work, you need to exercise your choice to try something else to solve the problem. You can keep on trying with your creativity to find something else until you finally find something that really works.
2.7 Stop labelling yourself and others
This idea brings us to a very important concept. And this concept is called “labelling”. When you give a name to something, you’re likely to limit your options and limit your possible outcomes. Are you busy limiting your options and creativity? You are putting the other person in a box and you call him as a “loser” or a “weakling” or whatever. This means, for you, that person’s is just like he or she has been labelled and that he or she cannot change; nothing can be done to or for this person. In essence, you are really just limiting yourself and your creativity to another map of reality.
The key principle applied here:
When you put a label around someone’s neck, is where the conversation ends. You have put that person or yourself in a rigid box and now neither of you two can get out of it.
2.8 Meet the other person where he or she is
Have you ever spoken to someone while you are not feeling well and the person’s response is something like: “Do not worry, everything’s great.” You feel anger towards this person, regardless of his or her positive intention to make you feel better. You feel that the person is unsympathetic and does not understand what you are feeling. When you start to look at the other person’s map of reality, you will probably notice that it was his or her positive intention to make you feel better.
The other person would probably not have wanted a solution to his or her problem but simply wanted to have the person show them some empathy. You were seen to have acted disrespectfully towards the other person by offering a solution according to your map’s reality. You should leave the other person to find his or her own solution.
If you have respect for the other person’s map of the world and they tell you that they are not feeling well, you meet them by saying that you can see that he or she is not feeling well. When you do this, you can lead the other person to the solution and they will appreciate the response much more.
The core principle that applies here:
The most important aspect in any relationship is the feeling of “understanding”. Of course, it will also help you understand where the other person is coming from and be able to say: “I hear what you are saying. You sound angry … but maybe you’re just scared”.
For more practical tips about communication, please read my article about Assertiveness on my website: jorganharris.co.za.