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It is often said that in order to have a happy intimate relationship, we need to compromise. The other person gives up some, I give up some and that way we reach a point where you have two people who are giving up. With this article I’ll show you that there is a much better way.
Meet Janet and Mark (I changed the names to guarantee privacy). I work with Janet, as she is the one to realize that their relationship is fast steering towards the rocks. Janet and Mark have a business together.
Janet finds some of the things that Mark does, in his everyday dealings, very difficult to accept, and she is building up more and more resentment towards him as he seems, in her words: “not to care”.
Janet and I decide to work on one specific thing that Mark does and that she finds really, really hard to deal with.
According to Janet, Mark leaves his tools, such as screwdrivers, hammer, wrenches, etc...right in front of the entrance of their business, causing visual clutter and, sometimes, as screwdrivers have a tendency to roll, they create a situation where guests need to jump over them.
Janet tells me she has addressed this issue with Mark several times, with no change.
Over the weeks that we work together, we are able to clarify a few things:
First, that when Janet sees the tools by the entrance to the business, she gets disturbed because some of her basic human needs are not met, specifically:
beauty (she perceives them as ugly at the entrance)
harmony (similar to the above)
cooperation (Mark leaving tools there even after she addressed it with him)
consideration (this and all following needs, similar to the above)
to be heard
safety (clients could trip over them)
Secondly, that because of lots of similar events in their relationship, in which messages seem to get lost in the ether, her level of resentment has reached historical levels and that, if we want to put it on a time-scale, she is at 1 minute to twelve, in terms of quitting the relationship. On the other hand, she deeply cares about him and the relationship and is really, really desperate to find a way to communicate with him, as she realizes that she is not managing.
Thirdly, related closely to point number two, we are able to identify that her way of communicating is mostly based on threats. Even when she doesn’t use the actual words, she is still falling into the retaliatory formula: “if you don’t do this, I will do that”. Clearly, when we address anyone in this way, we get a protective reaction from them as they feel threatened, and their fight-flight-freeze mechanisms kick in.
With these three points, we were able to get quite some work done over a period of four weeks. We started by addressing point three: use of communication.
Janet was able to see that if she wanted to make headway, she needed to approach Mark with different communication skills. In particular, she needed to be able to develop different listening skills so that she would be able to relate to his basic human needs. Why is this important? Because when we meet at the level of basic human needs we are meeting on a level playing field, where the potential for human connection is extremely high. This level playing field is often referred to as empathy.
So, over the weeks we spent together, Janet was able to approach Mark with “big ears”, with the ability to actually, fully hear what he was saying about the tools being where he left them.
She was able to establish that this strategy that he chose was really used to fulfill his basic human needs for:
ease (having them close to him when he needs them)
self-expression (this and the ones below, related to the basic human needs for autonomy)
So can you notice how a very interesting thing is happening here? We have an almost mathematical equation being born here: we have narrowed things down to a few common denominators, a few basic human needs; basic human need that we all share and that we can relate to:
Janet has mostly needs for beauty and inclusion as most prominent ones, while Mark has needs for peace and autonomy as strong ones, in this moment of his life.
When we finally came to this point, it was easy to create some common working strategies between Jane and Mark. During one of the Skype get-togethers that Jane and I had, we started an exercise in creative thinking; in other words, we started creating a list of practical ways (strategies) that she could suggest to Mark, to fulfill the needs of both.
We started off the list with about 10 strategies and narrowed it down to about 2 or 3.
Now we were facing the moment of truth. Would Mark take to any of the strategies that Jane was about to suggest?
I was really keeping my fingers crossed and feeling intrepid, till our next meeting.
A week passed and we got back on tele-conferencing. I was waiting with excitement for news. Jane told me that, over the weeks that we had worked together, she had started to act quite differently with Mark. In a way,she was better able to see his “humanity” and to accept the points that she, until recently, had chosen to see as “flaws”.
By the same token, she was able to try and guess what his basic human needs were, after we built up a bit of “needs fluency” for her. In so doing, she was able to connect to him in a completely different way, coming from a point of love and care most of the time, without labeling Mark as “slob” or “lazy”. Furthermore, by doing this work, by exercising her mind in this way, she was able to come up with a strategy that worked for both:
I hope that this article has shown you how easy it is to connect, when there is will by at least one person to create deep and meaningful engagement, without the need to compromise by anyone.
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