One of my friends keeps talking about leaving his wife. The two of them are great together when they’re good. But they stink when they’re bad, because each of them makes it all about the other.
He spends a lot of time in stage three of relationships, which is about hidden agendas and power struggles. Over the years, small annoyances became big issues for him, and now he feels resentful. He knows what his wife can’t tolerate and has a well-stocked black bag of emotional missiles to throw at her.
He could instead perceive his wife as a mirror, giving him a reflection of himself. What would that mean?
Every time he sees her best – she’s kind, smart, creative, funny, a wonderful mother and a devoted wife – he could acknowledge that these great qualities are active in him, which is how he drew the best out of her. And every time he sees her worst, he could acknowledge that it’s also active in him and she’s just mirroring it.
But instead of remembering that his problems originate with him and not with other people, he wishes she would be different. Wishing that she would change doesn’t work, because he feeds what he protests and it grows stronger.
Focusing on what’s working – how they’re great together when they’re good – could turn the situation around.
A good thing doesn’t last without nurturing.
A healthy relationship doesn’t necessarily equate with knowing each other well. Unless we make an effort to keep things fresh and enlivened, it’s easy to slip into the fourth stage of resignation and automaticity.
Taking the quality of our relationships for granted, just because we know each other’s personalities and routines, won’t help us reach stage five, where true love wins. So what can help?
Marathon Talking is a technique for strengthening any type of relationship. Two people set themselves apart from their normal routines and responsibilities, and they take turns talking for 48 hours. One talks for 24 hours while the other listens, and then they switch places.
It sounds extreme. It is. And it works! Most people experience greater understanding, acceptance and trust, and they gain a new perspective.
I’ve done four marathons over the years, including one with my first husband after our divorce, and one with my husband, Ron, before our wedding.
Ron thought it would be a good idea to bring photos of his past girlfriends to share. Not a good idea! He made me laugh a lot though, and the experience gave us a point of reference for how to relate well on a daily basis.
How it works.
The speaking partner can share whatever he or she wants: life stories, memories, turning points, fears, hopes, goals. The topic doesn’t matter because, about five or six hours in, when it seems as though everything has been said, a kind of magic happens where both individuals stop struggling to be accepted and understood.
At that point, the speaker experiences a new freedom to say anything without fear of judgment or rejection – and so stops censoring his or her thoughts and words.
The listener experiences a new receptivity – no longer thinking, “It’s all about me.” – and begins to sense the speaker’s thoughts and feelings.
For this to happen, the listening partner must listen without reacting – no comments or gestures that express interpretation or judgment – and without applying meaning based on his or her personal beliefs.
By grasping the speaker’s reasons for saying what he or she says, the listener can truly understand what’s said, which means listening to the speaker’s intentions without being sidetracked by the words.
The listener can ask neutral open questions, but only for the purpose of keeping the other person talking, and not for the purpose of leading him or her in a desired direction.
“How did that make you feel? What did you think about it? What did you do then?”
To ensure success, the setting needs to be neutral, away from everyday environments and routines, without any distractions, including other people, pets, jobs, televisions, phones, computers, newspapers, chores, responsibilities and commitments. That means food has to be delivered, or at least simplified, so that food-prep doesn’t detour the process. Isolated walks are possible, and so are short naps when necessary.
It sounds like a lot of work, and perhaps impossible to manage. Actually, it’s a gift. To listen devotedly to someone for 24 hours, and then to share lovingly and unreservedly for 24 hours. The result is 48 hours of exclusive, positive attention and caring.
During a marathon, a new kind of communication takes place, where people begin relating from their hearts instead of their heads. And it’s a rare opportunity for both individuals to understand who the other person truly is.
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