Issue 61 –
SOME DOWN-TO-EARTH SUGGESTIONS
KEEPING YOUR RELATIONSHIP ALIVE
The following is an abridged version of an excerpt from our latest book,
THE FIRESIDE CHATS with Hal & Sidra Stone .
The FIRESIDE CHATS is a record of a four-day gathering during which we informally talked about our professional – and personal – lives. This particular section is about relationship. The senior facilitators at this gathering – who already knew about our work with Bonding Patterns – had asked us to speak more personally about what we did to enhance our own relationship and this is a portion of what we shared with them…
Hal : We were thinking about yesterday ‘ s conversation and the question of really what do we actually do in our relationship that makes it work? We talked some about more general things and then decided to sit down and pay attention to the things that we actually do; the things we take for granted.
Suggestion #1: Respect Each Other
Sidra : But right now, why don’t we start with some of the thoughts Hal and I had last night about relationship maintenance. I stopped to look at the things we do, and as we were talking, we realized that some of them are actually very Victorian. They seem old fashioned, but they’re part of what we grew up with.
One of the basic things, one of the bedrocks that we have in our relationship and have always had, is a certain amount of respect for each other. We deeply respect each other as human beings. We realize we have an awful lot of very big differences, very big, but there’s that basic respect for one another and we don’t go beyond that. We don’t talk to each other disrespectfully. If even a sharp tone comes in, we’ll stop that with each other right away.
We also monitor ourselves, checking that there’s no sense of denigration or mockery, no belittling of the other person. Even if we’re sharing something we’re angry about, completely disagree with, or we feel passionately about, we’re mindful of where it comes from. It doesn’t come from above, or a place of superiority. It comes from an “I don’t like this ” or “ I don’t agree with that ” or “I don’t feel good about that. ” Or, it might come from, “ “I’m sorry, but you see it this way and I see it that way. ” ” But the exchange is always equal. We hold each other as respectful equals.
Hal : I just want to add that the ability to do that wasn’t there in the beginning. Well, it was there on a theoretical level, but we had to go through some nasty times before it was an inherent part of our relationship like it is now.
I remember early in our relationship, after we had married, when we got into more negative bonding patterns. (Smiles) I don’t know if any of you ever noticed that; how you seem to get into more negative bonding patterns after you get married. Of course, maybe it was unique to us. We might have been the only ones that happened to. Anyhow, sometimes I had this really strong Judgmental Father in me, who took the form of my older brother. It felt like he was talking at times, not me. I could feel him talking for me, as an introject in me.
One time, after we’d been married only about three weeks, we were sitting in the living room and he, the part of me that’s my like my older brother, started to go after Sidra. And she did something that’s still with me today. I mention this because that’s why the respect thing works. If you don’t have the boundary, the respect isn’t possible. What Sidra did was to just stop me. She looked at me and quietly said, “Don’t ever do that again! ”
Now, I ‘ m not saying I never was judgmental again, but she drew the line. She absolutely drew the line with that one sentence. I’ve done the same thing with her. If her Matriarch starts to come out in some really nasty way, I will also draw a line. So, fundamental respect in a relationship springs from both people having enough respect for themselves that they don’t allow disrespect.
Sidra : Yes, you have to make it absolutely clear that you won’t take it. It’s up to you. And you need to know when the other person is crossing a line. It’s important to recognize when the tone, or the self that’s speaking in it, changes.
Hal : It’s amazing, really. We’ve seen couples that have done years and years and years of other kinds of work on their relationship. But the disrespectful things they still say to each other are astounding.
Sidra : It’s not just the content, either. It’s really not the content at all. It’s that arrogant, superior position from which you put the other person down. Neither of us will take it from the other person and neither of us comes from that place most of the time. There’s simply a basic respect that we maintain, if we’re not in a self. I feel that’s incredibly important, because what gets communicated in that disrespectful energy really goes in. It really sinks in and it stays there.
It can be as simple as, “Would you please put the spoon on the outside of the knife when you set the table, instead of on the inside? ” or something like that. It’s simple, but if it’s said in a cruel or demeaning way, the arrogance and judgment put the other person down. Come to think of it, contempt is the word for it. If there’s an attitude of disdain or contempt in any relationship, I think it’s very hard for the relationship to survive.