The Holiday’s Mixed Bag – New Solutions to the Stress of the Season: Part 2
The Learning Conversation – Taking the Path to Healing
Healing the past with family members is one of the most challenging relationship issues that exist, because there is so much at stake. In our book, Straight From The Heart, we say that truth is love’s doorway. In other words, when we are honest and open about our true thoughts and feelings, it creates a safe environment in which love and affinity can flourish.
One of the things we have found in our work over the years is that very often the things that people cannot or will not talk about end up destroying the affinity and capacity for emotional depth in a relationship. People go through the motions of relating but without any authentic deep connection. They love each other in concept more than in real experience.
It is important not only to be honest in your relationships, but also to be the kind of person with whom it is safe to be honest. If you get angry and upset whenever someone tells you something you don’t like to hear, pretty soon people get the message that it is not safe to be honest with you.
Speaking your truth and listening to the truth of others is not always an easy thing to do. It is not always easy to know how to deal with an unpleasant truth you might hear, or to deal with another’s reaction to a differing truth of yours. For this reason, among others, that so many people decide it is better to hold back and tell people what they think they want to hear. The only problem with that is that it doesn’t allow wither of you to get vital information that could foster trust, intimacy, creativity or healing in the relationship.
Creating a Learning Conversation – In our book, You’re Never Upset for the Reason You Think, we offer this conversation wheel to guide the learning conversation.
As relationship coaches for thirty-five years we have seen that most upsets occur because of misperceptions and miscommunications. Upsets happen because people are using different and conflicting information on which to base their opinions and interpretations.
People usually do the best they can with the knowledge they have. But both people probably have different perceptions, feelings, identity concerns, beliefs, attitudes, and histories that have contributed to the interpretations that generate upsets.
Unless you share this information with one another, you will rarely be able to get on the same page with each other. It will always feel “off” in some way when you try to relate. And over time you simply settle for less closeness than you used to share with them.
In the learning conversation, you sort through the differences and use the information to learn about one another, exploring how you have both participated in a way that produced the upset. You use this information to avoid a similar upset in the future and to build a deeper level of understanding and trust in your relationship. It is crucial for you to be as interested in hearing from them as you are in telling your side of things.
It is always helpful to voice your intention for the dialogue, because your intention greatly determines the quality of your exchange. If your intention is to make them wrong or punish them for what you feel they “did to you,” they are going to feel that, no matter what else you might say. Make sure you truly intend to generate a learning conversation; don’t just pay it lip service.
If you can transform blame into personal responsibility you have a chance to realize the higher purpose in all your relationships, which is to learn, heal the past and evolve into the best version of yourself possible. To do this you need to generate mutual learning conversations rather than just getting stuff off your own chest.
In our view, the four most important pieces in a learning conversation are personal responsibility, individual perceptions, feelings and identity concerns.
The Personal Responsibility Conversation is extremely important in transmuting the fear of being blamed into safety and understanding. Until people truly see how they are responsible for a part of the upset, the best they can hope for is just paying lip service to a misguided concept of personal responsibility.
Too often people preface a blaming conversation with the words, “I know I have responsibility in this but…” and then they insert all the blame they still feel they have a right to. Most of the time they don’t even realize they are blaming the other. They think they are just telling the truth about their feelings. Personal responsibility is more than a concept it is a skill set. A set of skills most people haven’t learned.
The Perception Conversation has to do with sorting through one another’s different views on the same issue. It is important to avoid arguing about whose truth is more valid than the other. Let it be okay that you remember things differently. Simply be curious about how they see it without playing a right/wrong game. Try being a loving witness to their experience rather than comparing their truth to your own. Allow theirs to be different from yours. And don’t argue about the different versions. Endeavor to understand that there are different versions that lead to different interpretations of the same event.
The Feelings Conversation is delicate and potentially volatile. If someone’s deep feelings haven’t been dealt with internally, they tend to leak out into the learning conversation in a variety of ways, sarcasm, guilt tripping, defensiveness, judgments, shutting down, withdrawing and misperceptions and even an escalation into argument. We cannot emphasize enough the importance of dealing with feelings openly in safe and appropriate ways, where everyone has some competence in the skill of personal responsibility.
Creating a safe climate for all parties to engage in the feelings conversation is an art well worth learning. There are specific dos and don’ts that make this emotional minefield much easier to navigate.
The Identity Conversation highlights how the issue and the way it is being dealt with impacts the self concept of each participant. The question, “What does this mean about me?” is lurking just below the conscious level of awareness, and both your minds are tending to leap to all kinds of conclusions. Often, both parties are concerned that their sense of self will be painfully impacted. Try to be sensitive to how the upset may be affecting others sense of self in ways they may be unaware of.
During the healing dialogue, both your interpretations will probably change as your understanding of the other deepens. It is ideal if you can both interpret the upset as an opportunity to grow, seeing that now you understand each other better and will probably have a better relationship because of it.