“If you do what you always did, you’ll get what you always got.” – Anon
“All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make the better.”
– Ralph Waldo Emerson
“If it doesn’t work, don’t do it. It if works do it more. If it might work, give it a try.” – Anon
“It is common sense to take a method and try it. If it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something.” – Franklin D. Roosevelt
OK, you get the message – this post is about trying different things. Particularly it’s about doing what works, not what doesn’t. Simple, but effective. Obvious, but almost universally overlooked. Do what works for you! There’s an exercise lower down that page, Moments I’d Like More Of, that I can’t recommend too highly. Not only will it help your relationship a lot. It will immunise you from having to read those silly lists on the internet of “Ten things to improve your relationship.” You already know this, you just need to trust yourself and do those things more. [More like this: index page to relationship posts] A lot of my posts recently have been about our inward world: about meditation, inner treasures, the trust to heal childhood wounds fearlessly. Well, a bird uses two wings to fly. And in personal development work, this inner, emotional work is one wing. The other wing is large or tiny practical steps in everyday life. I say large-or-tiny because some days it’s the big changes that call us – saying “I love you”, opening your heart in vulnerability – and some days small ones – cleaning your room, throwing out old clothes. If it’s new and good, it counts.
Relationships in particular benefit from step-by-step changes. Relationships are what the therapy trade terms “a system”, which is a grand word meaning at the simplest that if Bob says something nice to Alice she is more likely to say something nice back, and so on up in a virtuous spiral; if he says something nasty, a downward spiral beckons.
Mostly in relationship conflicts we choose what to do or say based on things like:
- “OK, I’ve heard you, now YOU hear ME!!!!!”, or
- “This is painful, but it needs to be said” or
- “What he/she doesn’t GET, but I’ll make VERY plain, is that …” or
- “My God will I SO let her/him know how much that hurts!!!” or
- we think to ourselves “I couldn’t say that, that’s too much the unknown” and shrink back in fear
Often we know it won’t work, but being right is so alluring we do it anyway. Or the addiction to what is safe and known, even though it isn’t working, beats trying something new. Whatever! – addiction to repeating what doesn’t work is head-banging. Stop it. Drop it.
Instead ask yourself this. “What I’m about to say or do, [or yet again avoid] will it work? Have I done it before, [ or avoided it before] and did that work then? Did it get a result I wanted?” If it doesn’t work, don’t do it. If avoiding it doesn’t work, don’t avoid it. Do anything different, just don’t do what you already know doesn’t work.
You first need to get clear with yourself: “What is the result that I hope for from this communication? What do I hope, wish, need or long for the other person to say or do in reply? How do I want to feel afterwards? What is the endgame of opening my mouth in this moment?” Then ask yourself: do I get that result? If you do, the action or communication works. If you don’t, it doesn’t work, so DON’T DO IT! Do not blame your partner’s stupidity, ignorance, malice, lack of understanding or all-round asshole-ness. Try something different.
I’ve had couples look aghast and say “Nothing we do or say works – in that case we just won’t be able to speak!” OK, fine. Don’t speak. There is no possible value in headbanging, repeating over and over things that don’t work. Of course the silence will be hard and scary, but it is new, different and so fertile with possibilities.
This does not mean dropping your valid needs. It means dropping actions which don’t work to get those needs met, and doing different things that do work or might work.
Moments I’d Like More Of: a very useful conversation with your partner about what works
Sometimes it is the moment for heart to heart communion. Sometimes it’s the moment for being fearlessly honest. But sometimes best of all is to be practical, and talk about small or big concrete actions that actually work in real life.
- What moments in your life work? On your own, with your partner? Large, small, recent, long ago? What moments in the relationship would you say “that works”?
- Set aside a time you won’t be interrupted.
- Take equal time. Don’t interrupt each other. Either have chunks of time of say 5 or ten minutes where first you speak and the other listens, then the other speaks and you listen. Or, take turns, you say something that works for you, he/she says something that works, then you again, alternately.
- No advice. You talk about what works for you, your partner about what works for them.
- You first want concrete specific definite memories of moments when something did already happen or got said that worked for you. There’s a range of examples in the list below.
- It needs to be described clearly and specifically so each of you knows what to do more of.
- Include both things as a couple, and your own individual actions that don’t involve your partner. For example “It works for me if I meditate, or run, every day.” Include things that worked with previous partners, if it works for you to include those.
- Include sex and making love – if including them works for you.
- Look at everything that works in any context. Don’t worry if it works to solve your current conflict. Just, “for me, that worked, more would be good.”
- You can include qualities you love or enjoy in the other or you feel gratitude for. But for the purpose of this particular exercise, be sure you mainly explain actual actions and behaviours that worked and have already happened.
- You can also include new actions you’d like to request. But only after you’ve both mentioned a good number of things that have actually happened that worked for you.
- Tiny, tiny things are good! One grass seed can make a whole meadow green.