Have you ever noticed there are some lessons you seem destined to have to learn again and again?
What I’m about to lay out for you is a lesson I recently re-learned (for the umpteenth time).
I’ve found it to be the secret to (almost) instant healing and productivity in any relationship.
Clients, colleagues, parents, children, siblings, friends, spouses, business partners… it applies to all of them.
The one kicker?
You really do have to care – genuinely care – about the relationship.
So long as you do, this should work as well for you as I’ve seen it work for me and so many others time and time again.
While this lesson is no walk in the park to learn (evidently it requires lots of repetition), I know from experience it’s one of the most life- and business-altering lessons there is.
Every time I re-learn this relationship lesson and rediscover this “secret formula”, I notice three things:
1. It brings colossal amounts of relief and clarity, which means…
2. Creativity and productivity flood back in almost immediately.
3. And, coincidentally (or not), many people around me – close friends, clients, staff, colleagues and family members – also seem to be struggling because they, too, need the exact solutions that only this particular lesson can offer. So I often find myself sharing my recent rediscovery with all of them, and ALL OF THEM find major relief and reconnection.
I guess what I’m saying is…
It works and it’s kind of a big deal.
It’s saved my own marriage more than once – so don’t take it lightly.
Some background context. Here goes:
My husband and I are business partners.
*Translation: Our marriage? Harder than the average.
On top of that, we
fight joke a lot about how there are “two chiefs and no Indians” in this partnership.
I’d be lying if I said we hadn’t come close to “the big D” before. But (thank goodness), luckily for us, our
stubbornness passionate particularity (thanks Ash & Andrew for that description) also shows up in the form of being unwilling to be unwilling when it comes to each other – meaning, we’ve learned that we really are worth fighting for, even if we are royal pains in the asses for each other more than we’d like to admit.
People say “never say never”. But I’d pretty much wager my life that we’ll never give up on us.
That feels damn good to say because I couldn’t say that 5-6 years ago.
But now, having learned “the secret relationship saving lesson”… I can.
Here’s the secret.
- you want to ring the person’s neck,
- they’re behaving completely irrationally (in your eyes),
- you don’t think they deserve your support at all, and
- every bone in your body wants to show them how WRONG they are…
You must be willing to DEMONSTRATE a desire to be on the same team as them… and figure this out together.
Here’s what that looks like:
1. Tell the person you’re going to shut up and hear them out fully… then do it. Let them vent. Open your ears and receive their fears, complaints, concerns, struggles, needs, desires – even their projections – without defense. They’re just words. Listen to them. (What are you afraid of, your ears lighting on fire?)
2. Tell them you’re going to write their words down… then do it. Make a bullet-point-style list of all the things they feel strongly about. Doing so shows them that it’s all worth acknowledging, considering, and respecting. After all, as cliché as it may be, it’s true that no feelings and perspectives are wrong, they just ARE – and they are very REAL for the person experiencing them. To say otherwise would be to disrespect or devalue another human being, and we all know how awful it feels to be on the receiving end of that. It’s neither kind nor helpful.
3. Once they feel seen and heard, chances are they’ll be willing to see and hear YOU in return. Maybe it won’t happen immediately, but it will soon enough. And when it does, you’ll share YOUR fears, concerns, needs, desires, etc. until you feel complete. Maybe they’ll want to write them down for you while you speak. If they don’t, then you’ll need to do it for yourself, again just making a bullet-point-style list.
4. Once everyone’s GUTS have been expressed, heard, and documented on the two lists, empathy will naturally rise, the internal heaviness and tension will begin to dissipate, and guards will come down just enough for a request to be made – a request which will be YOUR job to make AND to help fulfill – meaning:
a. The next words out of your mouth should be: “Even though it may seem like it, I really don’t want to be on your opposite team. I want to find a solution that we can both feel good about, and I want to work with you, not against you, to see if that’s possible.” Then you could add: “It seems to me that what we’re up against is really just a mixed bag of unmet needs and desires. It also seems we both feel like the other’s needs and desires are being valued over our own, which is where the hurt and conflict come in. I’d like to try my best to see all the needs and desires, yours and mine, as valid and worth considering… because I think if I do, we’ll both feel more like we’re on the same team and be more willing to work together to resolve this. I REALLY want to find solutions for both of us and I’m willing to try. How about you?”
5. Once you’ve made the request, you have to help meet it by entering into “same team” problem solving mode yourself. There are three parts to this:
a. Part 1 is to be as objective, respectful, and compassionate as you can and try to hold in mind that “everything is figure-out-able” so long as you remain on the same team with the other person.
b. Part 2 is to review the list together and tease it all apart. Sort all the fears, concerns, needs, desires, etc. into two initial categories; WANTS and DON’T WANTS.
i. From there, turn the DON’T WANTS into WANTS by replacing them with their (positive) opposites. For instance, if you DON’T WANT to be yelled at and condescended, you could replace that with a WANT to be spoken to calmly and with respect. Or if you DON’T WANT to be on totally different pages financially, you could replace that with a WANT to be on the same page, working TOGETHER to cultivate healthy habits, goals, and boundaries around saving and spending money.
c. Part 3 is to take the 2 lists (which would now only include WANTS) and further sort them into NEEDS and DESIRES. Here’s the breakdown on that:
i. Needs have to do with safety, security and an immediate sense of well being, whereas…
ii. Desires have to do with ego gratification.
iii. Now don’t get me wrong. Ego gratification can be really FUN and AWESOME. It just can’t be the ONLY thing we’re after, or we’ll end up feeling disconnected from our own hearts. Furthermore, needs and desires are equally important; it’s just that needs definitely need tending to first, before desires, or we’ll find ourselves on unstable footing (feeling reactive, scattered, unclear, ungrounded, unsettled or untrusting).
iv. Desires can and should be pursued and met if they are genuinely life-enhancing, and the best way to tell if they’re life-enhancing or not is to ask the question: “Will pursuing this desire (buying this new purse, for instance) put me at risk of not meeting a deeper need (paying my bills on time)?”
v. Tending to needs – for example: paying bills, getting adequate nourishment, exercise, and rest, giving and receiving love and acknowledgment, taking time to nurture oneself, setting and pursuing realistic goals that feel deeply important – all of this cultivates maturity, security, emotional self-assurance, and level-headedness, which actually increases creativity and decreases stress because we feel safer, more awake, more trustworthy, and all-around STRONGER.
vi. With needs being tended to, we are also clearer, more strategic, and more resourceful in pursuing and meeting desires in a healthy way.
While this practice of first acknowledging all feelings and perspectives, and second boiling it all down to, and differentiating between, needs and desires isn’t likely going to solve all your problems overnight, what it WILL do is:
Put you back on the same team with this person who you love very much, and who, for all intensive purposes, has temporarily been the ENEMY.
I’ve personally found that after you’ve really taken the time to listen to one another, consider what’s important to each other, and your lists are all sorted, there’s nothing more that you need to do, per se, but simply,
“Remain on the same team and same page” regarding your COLLECTIVE needs and desires.
If you’re like all the others I’ve shared this process with, you’ll naturally notice how many of the same needs and desires you actually share… and tend to those right away (needs first, desires second).
Doing that will make all the other items on the list feel like they can wait… for now.
They’ve been noted, and now it’s as if you don’t have to fight for them because you know you’re loved and that they’ll get tended to in due time. They kinda slip into the background in terms of importance because, well, apparently…
Now there’s something way more important worth fighting for: your relationship.
Trust is being rebuilt and both you and the other person can feel that you have someone in your corner. And there’s just nothing quite like that feeling, is there?
Would love to hear your thoughts on all of this. Also, stay tuned because I’ll do a sequel to this post in a few days and tell the story of one of my own most recent re-learnings of this lesson.