The 4 Stages of Learning and Relationships – Part 2

“The greatest obstacle to discovery is not ignorance, it is the illusion of knowledge.”
Daniel J. Boorstin, PhD – Author, Historian, Attorney

Unlike learning to drive a car, which you were not born knowing how to do, relationship success seems like it should just come naturally. After all, you were born into relationship and were raised in relationships. You’ve been in relationships of one kind or another your entire life. What could be more natural?

Unfortunately, what comes naturally to many people is not always the wisest choice. For most of us our relationships school was watching how the grownups did it. We modeled our parents for good or ill and our childhood modeling is a force to be reckoned with if we choose to learn to consciously create our own version of happily ever after.

Some of you may not know we still have a private practice. We’ve had a private practice for 30 years and it’s still one of the most satisfying parts of our professional life together. We work with young couples just starting out in life who want to learn what it takes to create a fulfilling relationship. And we work with couples in trouble who have tried everything, and yet the same old problems keep recycling themselves with slight variations.

John and Alice got married right out of college almost twenty years ago. When they came to us Alice was in her early forties and John a few years older. They had three children, two still at home and the oldest was leaving for college.

When they contacted us for help they complained that the romance and feeling connected had long since gone out of their marriage. They had been to a couple of therapists which hadn’t worked out as well as they had hoped. “All we did was keep talking about the same stuff over and over again. And it never really went anywhere.” They had gotten just enough insight to move from the “ignorance is bliss stage” to the “Yikes! I’m not very good at this stage.”

The four stages of learning apply to creating relationships, just as they do to learning to be consistently good at just about anything.

John and Alice were stuck between stages one and two, Unconscious Incompetence and Conscious Incompetence. They would get a burst of enthusiasm to “improve their relationship” and then after they started practicing some new things they would feel frustrated and lose interest, or so it seemed.

What was actually causing the frustration was an unacknowledged judgment that they “shouldn’t” have to be learning at all – they should already know how to do it “right.” They loved each other – why was there any problem?

It’s a mindset they had absorbed from their culture without noticing, and it was getting in the way of being deeply honest with themselves and declaring themselves “beginners” at relationships.

Once they moved beyond that prideful place and allowed themselves to become learners with a beginner’s mind, they felt freer to make mistakes in their practice and then learn from those mistakes. That’s what happens in stage two; you make mistakes because you are growing beyond your comfort zone. You are supposed to make mistakes in stage two. If you aren’t making mistakes you aren’t doing it right.

They developed a new patience with one another and stopped judging themselves for not being as far along as they thought they “should” be. It was a tender moment that day they stopped judging their relationship and decided to love it AND help one another learn.

They decided to make it an adventure rather then something to get through. They had a new determination to practice their new skills regularly and find some new ways of solving old problems.

Pretty soon after that, the silent resignation they had been living with disappeared and they were “lit up from the inside,” as they put it. Of course, it was deeply gratifying for us to watch them let their love for one another take them down a new path of invigorating discovery.

They were actually having a good time with it. Their sessions with us were filled with a new and refreshing good natured humor, the kind that comes from not taking things too seriously. We all laughed a lot and they grew to stage three – Conscious Competence.

The spark of romance was back. The energy of discovery and fun was doing its magic and a renewed vitality was becoming the norm.

And so, they all lived happily ever after, right? You bet, as a matter of fact! Even while the ink was still drying as they kept applying their new skills to rewriting the old script.

There aren’t enough stories of what happily ever after really looks like. We all grew up thinking our love was supposed to be enough. But truly great relationships in these busy and demanding times require extraordinary means.

Essentially, what we really helped John and Alice to do was to create a new future on a path different from the one they had been on their entire lives. They hadn’t known they could do that . . . and then they learned.

Questions to ponder for comment: 

  1. What was new for you in this post?
  2. What was validated for you in this post?
  3. How can you use what you learned in this post?
  4. Do you have any questions about this post?


Click Here to Leave a Comment Below

Leave a Comment: