Paying Attention Bill McDonald’s
September 2020 - Volume 20, No. 9
“Maybe You’re Right.”
When working with couples,I sometimes find myself playing the role of a fight coach. I step in at a point where either or both of the combatants have lost their ability to prevail, except at the forced acquiescence or voluntary surrender of the other party. You know, ‘In order for me to win, you must lose.’
As a ‘coach’ my work is not to have one party win over the other, but as a referee to see at best that the rules of the game are followed - which may be stated that there be no “essential damage”, physical or emotional, suffered. But the fights of many couples are not the agreed and structured contentions of a sport. Police are often called when the contention reaches “blood sport” level.
As a counselor, my interventions are usually within a voluntary setting, where each party has, as a couple or individual, has agreed to work with me.
On the Defense
A common scenario involves the woman offering her man a ‘complaint’ - which he will usually hear as a ‘judgment’ - hence his felt need to defend, or at least to refuse to respond/listen. His intent is to make her “wrong.”(Switch male / female here and the same pattern easily emerges)
In response, I’ll advise him to “never defend.”I’ll offer my own experiences of wanting to defend, or explain or justify - my hands go palm up, my shoulders want to go up, and my voice tone goes up as well. Then I’ll share a wiser internal voice telling me to stop doing any of those things.Stop even before you think about stopping, and say to yourself - “nothing of value will happen.”And that’s true! You will have entered the territory of right vs wrong, and no matter what the facts of the matter are, your strategy is to not stop until you’ve made (proven) her wrong. And no matter what she wants to share with you, she experiences you as making her wrong, of not listening, of making her ‘less.’ That’s not an excellent strategy for problem solving. (Nor for much else of value in a relationship.)
And as a man, I’ll often advise that women are very often ‘right’ - it’s just that they sound wrong. It’s a good rule of thumb that when she speaks, underneath she’ll be speaking on behalf of hope for relationship.
Toward a wider field of vision
One of my favorite places to sit and write is my laptop computer chair in my living room.Across from me on the opposite wall is a major part of my library - about 13’ in length and 6’ in height. Those are my books, many of which have become my friends over many years - and a number of whom are still waiting to be read. From the vantage of my writing chair, the whole breadth of vision seems to measure out as a 73° field of vision. Now if I focus in only a 5° field of vision, that may include only 8 books, right across the room from me. (Yes, I measured and counted.)
When under stress or in pain, or anxiety, or a felt need to defend (or justify or explain myself) my field of vision easily becomes narrower - as may also be true of a person with whom I’m contending. The chances of any overlap of vision are probably negligible, possible nil. Yes, I’ve been there numerous times in my relationship life, and hundreds of times in my counseling experience.
Four Magic Words
What I’ve more recently discovered is a wonderful spell-breaking phrase: “Maybe I’m wrong.” Since I’ve been suggesting it to clients (whether as a single or a couple), word comes back that somehow argument immediately ceases. The magic ingredient is the word “maybe.” Make sure to include it. There’s no admission of wrongness, there’s no need for defending. Instead there’s an invitation to a broader and essentially non-competitive frame of reference.“Maybe….”
(And under no circumstances ever insert the word ”I” or “I’m”.)
In past writings, I’ve quoted the 12th century Persian poet Rumi’s, famous lines:
Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing
There is a meadow
I’ll meet you there.
As with most of his writing, truth be told, he’s writing for lovers.Of course.
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