I found an article I wrote a while back and after re-reading it I decided to publish it here. The reason I want to share this is because of how many times I have seen a couple come in to see me for marital counseling and their individual positions are essentially that the other person needs to change first.
This is a true, personal account and I hope you will benefit from my vulnerability. Also, in case you are wondering Amie and I have implemented what I discuss here and things are much better! I hope that you will share this with those you know who might benefit from this.
Date: About a year ago
I feel like the past few months have given me some profound—but rarely comfortable—learning experiences which relate to better loving those I love most. The primary lesson I’m beginning to formulate is one that has been known to others for centuries. Mahatma Gandhi’s description of the phenomena is one of my favorites, he said, “you must be the change you wish to see in the world.”
In other words, Luke you must be the change you seek in your relationships, prior to others changing first.
About a month and a half ago Amie (my wife) and I found ourselves arguing a lot more about stupid things than we had previously. It seemed like all we had to do was be in the same room and a fight would ensue. I especially remember the contention between us—and subsequently in our family—in the car driving to a religious event that was supposed to be one of our family’s happiest times. However, instead of feelings and expressions of love, we felt frustration, anger, and bitterness.
We were caught in a cycle of self-judgment, criticism, self-protective non-verbal stances, and verbal self-justifications and excuses. With each argument the cycle gained velocity and we soon found ourselves being controlled by the cycle we had mutually created.
What had happened to the love in our relationship?
It would have been easy to say what I hear a lot of “young love” couples say. It goes something like, “I guess we just don’t love each other anymore.” What a tragedy that would have been! So how did we stop the cycle? What are the lessons to be gleaned?
Truth be told, we haven’t stopped the cycle. In fact, yesterday we got into the biggest argument we have been in for weeks—and that’s one of the take-a-ways here.
We haven’t really argued about anything for a few weeks! Sure the cycle is not broken, but instead of taking a few minutes to repeat itself it now takes two weeks! Friends I call that progress, and it’s the recipe for change that sticks. It’s not an instantaneous 180-degree shift of perspectives, behaviors, and feelings, its incremental degrees of change. A degree each day keeps the Couple Therapist away.
Here is the second but most important lesson I learned. Be the change you seek. Once I recognized that we were caught in this cycle I was able to figure out how I was propelling it forward. Actually, to be completely transparent here, it took me a while to determine how I was contributing to the cycle. Why? Because to recognize the contributions I make to the problem means that I’m wrong more often then I want to admit.
This was/is the first and I think the most difficult step for me to take.
So how did I do this?
I think that prayer had a lot to do with it and I’m sure I’ll write about that sometime, but before I do that I would like to write about the power of listening.
Yup, listening. Here is what I noticed about our communications.
I would say something and she would say something back to me. Because I didn’t think she was actually listening to me I would repeat what I had said in a different way, and she would then say something back. I am a persistent person, so because I still didn’t think that she really understood what I was saying, I assumed that she couldn’t really hear me (not really) so I would raise the volume a little bit. Eventually, I would repeat my statement, and follow it up with accusing her of not listening.
This cycle was infuriating! She would ask me a question about what I thought we should do about our daughter’s gymnastic lessons and by me simply trying to respond to her question we would become engulfed in this destructive cycle.
So here is what I did. I stopped answering her questions until I knew it was safe to do so. I just listened. I was no longer simply listening to Amie’s words, or looking for flaws in her logic, or a more efficient way of doing things. Instead I really, really listened to her. You could say that I decided to really try to be empathetic.
The literal translation of empathy (from its German origin) is to “feel into” and for the first time in months I was really feeling what it was like to be Amie, to truly understand her experience instead of identifying what was right or wrong.
My responses to her questions or statements changed. They changed because I better understood the situation, and was more mindful of her as a person. My statements and acts became more loving towards her because I was able to better understand her.
And guess what else happened?
She started listening to me.
We have heard them countless times, “Treat others how you want to be treated”, the notion of “karma”, and “be the change you seek”. These words of yesteryears’ sages are as relevant and truthful today as they ever have been.
In summary, the primary lesson is that if I want to receive uplifting, positive, and invigorating interactions, you and I would do well to give them first.
I assume I’m not the only one who has experienced something like this. What ways have you found that help you and your loved one(s) get out of the funk (destructive cycle) and back into love?
Be Well—Get Well—Stay Well!
Luke Einerson, LAMFT, AFC
Doctoral Candidate Certified Herbalist
Luke owns a counseling clinic in Rexburg, Idaho and enjoys working with couples, and cases of anxiety and depression. He is also a clinical herbalist and uses herbs to help people gain and retain personal and interpersonal wellness. Luke is currently accepting new clients and can be contacted here.