How one simple practice can help build strong relationships

I have been married to the same woman for over 15 years and we have known each other for longer than that.  Over that time we have gone through the roller-coaster of relationship many times: spring, summer, autumn and winter.  There have been times when we have created and bathed in a delightful relationship.  There have been times when the relationship has been simply ok.  And there have been times when it has been so painful that I have wondered how I got myself into the relationship and into that position.

Recently, I have noticed that my relationship, my relating, with my wife has gone up dramatically.  And all because we have incorporated a practice into our lives.  Because it works so well I want to share that with you.   Here is how this practice works:

  • Twice a week, every week, we spend time together and talk about our experience of our relationship.  What is working, what is not working, what can be improved.
  • We are clear that the purpose of these sessions is to build the relationship and not to simply vent. And so any sharing has to be mindful.  Yes, I can share what my wife did (Teh behaviour that occurred), how it landed for me and how it has left me feeling.  No, I do not give myself permission (nor does my wife) to  label, criticise or condemn her.  Why?
  • Because we have agreed that we will listen to each other as persons of worth – each of us being up for building a loving relationship and going about it as best as we can.  And so any behaviour that does not contribute to that is open for discussion but not the worth, the dignity, the motivation of the other.
  • We start by checking in and compliments.  Checking in is simply getting present to where you are at in the relationship. Specifically, are there any issues, grudges, resentment, anger that stands between me and my wife.  Once I have shared this then I get present to what specifically my wife has done that has made my life easier, better or simply enjoyable.  Then I share that with my wife and thank her.   Then she does the same.
  • Next, we take turns to share whatever stands between us – the irritations, the disappointments, the upset, the grudges, the frustrations etc.  And we do that using non-violent language.  In the process, I may find that I have done something that has landed badly for my wife and I had simply been unaware of it.  For example, I may have made a casual remark that hurt my wife’s feelings.  When that happens I tend to be genuinely remorseful and apologise.  That tends to be enough for my wife because she gets that it is genuine.  On the other hand it may be that I am asked to do something that my wife needs me to do.  Or to stop doing something.  We discuss, we understand, we make requests, we come to an agreement.
  • During our talk, our sharing, we have agreed to focus on specific events and behaviour that happened between the last time we talked and this time.  That means that we tend to be talking about stuff that happened in the last three days.  I find that really works for me because I am dealing with specific behaviour rather than generalities and grudges that were born, weeks, months, years ago and have not yet been killed off.

Do each and everyone of these sessions go smoothly?  No.  We have worked out that it is better to rearrange if you are feeling down or simply juggling with so much stuff that you are not in the state of mind to be the kind of person you need to be to honour these sessions and make them work as intended.  Have these sessions helped us to understand each other, to empathise?  Yes.  Have these sessions helped more love enter into our lives?  Absolutely.  Do we listen to each other differently every day?  Yes and that makes all the difference.  It is amazing what can grow when you listen to each other as persons of worth up for and playing the game of lets build a great relationship, a great life.

Here is a link to an interesting talk on TED.  It is all about walking in the shoes of the other and how that builds understanding.  I suspect that is what we are doing through these sessions.

Author: Maz Iqbal

Experienced management consultant working at the intersection of strategy, customer, and technology. Combine a tendency to think strategically with a penchant for getting my hands dirty at the coalface of implementation.

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