Most relationships don’t work. The divorce rate is between 40 and 50%, but the actual success rate in a relationship is much lower than that.
People can live together for forty years but haven’t made love for thirty years and they say, “Oh well we’re still together”, but that’s not exactly, necessarily anyway a successful relationship. You can be together and still just be strangers in the night. Sometimes the loneliest place on earth is the marital bed.
So, what are the things that stop a relationship from working? What are the ways that you can avoid those traps? What are the things that you can do to put yourself into the top 20 percent of people who actually do succeed and do have the relationship of your dreams? What are the top killers of a relationship?
And the sad thing is, they are killers, and they destroy what would otherwise be wonderful relationships. The relationship dies, not because it wasn’t viable: not because we didn’t fall in love; not because we’re not matched and are not meant to be together. Very often it’s simply because we never learned how to drive. We wrapped a beautiful car around a tree, not because the car was no good but because we didn’t know the rules, didn’t follow the rules and didn’t know how to drive. Changing the car was never going to solve the problem if we don’t know how to drive.
So, the first thing that kills a relationship is that it’s not safe for both people to talk, not safe to speak and to be heard. And one of the common things that Patricia my wife and I have heard over the 42 years when we’ve been working together with couples is “We argue, We argue a Lot”, “Communications broke down”. “We go round and round in circles, the same old issues” Or we avoid the elephant in the room and tip toe around each other, and avoid treading on eggshells”
And what are the issues? They’re pretty basic really. Most couple argue over communication, they argue about money and spending, they argue about parenting, how the kids should be parented, they argue about sex, and those things that are really in our face. It becomes very obvious if we’re disagreeing on spending. When the credit card statements come in or the bank statements come in, it’s in our face, sooner or later. It’s under our noses. We argue over sex, sexual expression, caring, because it’s pretty obvious, if that’s not working for us. And parenting issues: the kids are under our noses. It becomes very obvious, you know, that’s not something we can put under the carpet, the kids are there, issues are there, and if we don’t have that right, well, nothing works, really.
So, it’s not safe in those situations, for both parties to speak and to be heard. Making it safe: hat’s our most important task. We say that we know why relationships bust, we often hear it, “Oh well we separated because communication broke down, we stopped talking”.
So what can we do about it? Our first task is to make it safe for both of us, both parties to speak and to be heard. Now, that’s simple, but not easy.
For a start, let’s look at heterosexual relationships. Obviously, we’re different anatomically. But also the male and female brains are different. We think, feel and communicate differently. Females have more information processing rods in their eyes, than males. The female also has an intuition gene that males don’t have. Males, their muscles are often stronger and voices deeper, and of course, at the end of the day, we are different, so the challenge is, how can we actually do the dance of talking with each other in a way that works, in a way that gets us the results that we want? And as we live together, there comes a point where it’s pretty obvious that it’s not safe enough for her to speak and be heard, and for him to speak and be heard. So what can we do about that?
The first thing is, we need some sort of a system. There’s nothing mysterious about this, let’s call it a traffic light system. So, he says to her or she says to him, “I’d like to talk safe”, this is something I want to talk about, something that happened last night, or whatever. It’s been on my mind. “I’d like to talk safe, is now a good time?”
And if it is a good time, and he hasn’t got a report to do, or he’s not running out the door, or he’s not about to go to sleep, exhausted. If it is a good time, right here, right now, he says, yes sure.
In using a traffic light system, all it means is this: the moment he says yes, it means that he knows that he’s got a red light against him, and she’s got the green light. And when he says yes, it’s safe for you to talk right now, he’s in effect saying this, You’ve got the green light, I’m not going to interrupt, I’m not going to run a red light, I’m not going to tell you that you’re wrong, that you shouldn’t be feeling that. I’m not going to send you my disapproval in various sorts of body language, non-verbal messages. I’m not going to offer you solutions. I don’t have to agree with what you’re saying, I don’t have to like what you’re saying, all I need to do is mirror or repeat what you’re saying.
And when your partner is done, now your job is to simply give a quick summary in a thumb nail sketch. “So, what you’re saying is, da da da da da da…, in a nutshell, is that right?
Then after that, the third step is you need to validate what your partner said. “I’ve listened to what you’ve said and you make sense to me”. Now that doesn’t mean you agree or disagree. What you’re simply doing validating that what your partner is saying is coherent. For example: “I’ve listened to what you said, and YOU MAKE SENSE TO ME. Because of course if I said I’d be home at six, and my phone was switched off, and I was still not home till midnight, you make sense to me that you would ring the police”.
And then, the fourth step, is simply to say, for example: “And I imagine that you might have felt frantic, anxious, and powerless”
And that’s the end of part 1 of that dialogue. Dialogue simply means there’s two of us in this conversation. And that’s the first step: the four stages of that first step.
Now the traffic lights change. Your partner, whom you’ve been listening to, has a red light against her or him, and now it’s your turn to talk.
So, you go ahead and you say what you need to say, and the same rules apply. Your partner listens without sending anything of her own or his own. And we repeat the process. And that’s basically a simple dialogue process. It’s evidence based. It’s simple, and it works.
Now, you might say, well hang on, it can’t be that simple. Well it actually is. It is simple but not easy. It’s not easy because it doesn’t come naturally to do that. We’ve got three brains within our brain. The most primitive brain is like the brain of the snake or the brain of a reptile. When you tread on it, it bites you and what happens under pressure, is the reptilian brains are activated and we keep biting each other.
So, we’re not saying it’s easy. It is a skill set. It works if you apply it and if you apply it, you’ll be amazed what happens to the quality of your relationship. It’s a very effective way of getting what you want most. Couples often say: “I want what we had before, years ago. I want to get back what we’ve lost”. This is one important step in the process of getting it back.
And when you learn it you’ll take a huge step towards getting back what you lost. You just watch what happens to your relationship with your partner and with with your kids, no matter how old they are. When you begin to mirror and use this very simple method that you can master, you’ll see very satisfying results all round.
One of the most basic often unspoken questions in relationships with your partner and/ or with your kids is this: is there room for the two of us in this relationship or is it all about you? And I can’t emphasize how important it is to really making room for the other person’s reality in relationship, by making it safe to speak. Because when people are not listened to, when kids are not listened to, we have no idea of the damage that we’re doing to the relationship. And in the case of kids in their early developmental years, the damage can be considerable. Kids can stop communicating what is happening to them for a very early age, because we don’t listen.
Anyway, this first step that we’ve just outlined, of making it safe for both parties in the relationship to speak and truly be heard, is the first of the three-step process of helping you get the love you want and build strong nurturing relationships that last, with the most important people in your life. At Life focus, this is our passion and privilege and in Blogs that follow, we’ll be outlining the other two.