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Using our Relationship for Personal Growth
Relationships are a key element in many people’s lives. As John Donne so poignantly said in the late 1500s: “No man is an island.” These words are still true today. Until recently, however, many people had not learned how to have a successful relationship and still feel whole within themselves. Relationships are challenging because they involve two different people with different needs, desires and opinions. When people’s needs and desires do not match, there is usually disagreement, frustration and disillusionment. During these times we question our relationships and think we would be better off alone. So what can be done to create a more satisfying relationship?
With conscious intention and effort, we can use it to heal our relationships and transform our lives. This new paradigm, or model, for relationships involves three steps: 1) taking responsibility for our actions and reactions; 2) experiencing our emotions deeply; and 3) express yourself clearly and honestly while having equal sympathy for your partner’s feelings. When we learn to do this, our relationships can reach a deeper level of understanding and become a vehicle for our personal growth and fulfillment.
The first step in a new paradigm, taking responsibility for our actions and reactions, can be an unfamiliar and sometimes scary experience. It involves looking at how we are contributing to or creating a messy situation, rather than automatically blaming our partner for the misunderstanding. When we are able to lower our defenses and accept responsibility, both parties breathe a sigh of relief and the door to honest communication opens. For many people, taking responsibility for their actions and reactions is the hardest part of working on a risky relationship. Men may feel they are losing power or abdicating their throne. Women can feel like they are giving in or weak and submissive. In both cases, it usually feels like a loss of some kind, either of personal power or of a part of oneself. Although difficult at first, this step can lead to a much greater understanding of our reactive behavior patterns and dramatically accelerate our personal growth.
The second step in this model is experiencing our emotions deeply. This step involves taking deep breaths to remove ourselves from the immediate situation and reflect on what is happening within us. We may be aware of some bodily sensations such as someone in the neck, chest or stomach area. Emotions such as sadness, hurt, or anger may surface. Thoughts or memories may come into our awareness. Learning to focus inward will take practice because most of us spend little time focusing on ourselves and how we really feel. As with all steps in this new paradigm, we must be patient with ourselves and appreciate each small step we take.
Feeling deeply can also prove challenging because our current emotions are often influenced by what happened in our past. For example, if we’ve had a relationship in the past that made us feel criticized or disliked, chances are good that our new relationship will bring those feelings as well. Love tends to bring to the surface any past hurts that need to be healed. This is one reason why the new paradigm for relationships is so powerful. Instead of blindly repeating old ways, we can use our relationships to work on ourselves—to notice patterns of thought and behavior that we constantly relive and begin to explore them within the safety of the relationship. The key is to take the time to remove yourself from the situation and realize what’s really going on inside. It gives us time to calmly reflect so we can act instead of react.
The third step in this new model is to express ourselves clearly and honestly while having the same empathy, or appreciation, for our partner’s feelings. This stage involves telling our partner the truth about how we feel. It is important to avoid the tendency to fall back on old relationships, such as blaming your partner, fainting, acting out drama based on old hurts, or entering into power struggles. To communicate clearly we need to move beyond blame and judgment and tell the truth about our experience. We need to decide that being happy in our relationship is more important than being right. The only way to do this is to be completely honest with ourselves and our partner.
Equally important in this third step is having empathy for our partner’s feelings. This involves giving our partner a chance to express how they feel and then making a sincere effort to understand them. In other words, we have to put ourselves in their place and experience what they are feeling. This kind of exchange is the beginning of authentic communication and the birth of an entirely new kind of relationship. Both parties begin to feel empowered and loved. When a couple reaches a depth of feeling and understanding, their power increases in all areas of their lives.
Practicing the three steps of the new paradigm—taking responsibility for our actions and reactions, feeling our emotions deeply, and expressing ourselves fully—will make a big difference in our relationships, both with our partner and in the outside world. Our communication will be clearer and more honest, we will gain greater respect for ourselves and others, and we will experience a greater sense of personal power, love and joy in our lives.
Copyright © 2001 Relationship Specialists, Inc. All rights reserved.
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