Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Relationship trouble = a disturbance in attention

Here’s a sweet and useful clue in relationships: any problem can be seen and solved as a disturbance in attention. Let’s run thru touch, truth and fun and give examples. A couple is quarrelling. They are yelling at each other and doing the usual accusative stuff. Tim in yelling at Tania that she’s a bitch and that she never listens to him. Tania is yelling at Tim that he is an asshole and all he ever thinks about is himself. Clearly this can go on and on. It’s never happened to us, but we have heard of it happening to others.

Tim can and does bring up his lists of indictments: times that Tania has been a bitch, times she hasn’t listened, and Tania has her laundry list of all the proofs that Tim is an grade A asshole and jerk and doesn’t care about her. Furthermore, they can both cite friends who agree with their accusatory assessment of the other. Each has “his side” and “her side” and buddies who aggress that their side is Right. Full battle plus reinforcements.

So what? They are Right and keep fighting. They are Right and stay miserable. They are so busy trying to win ( which is to say, get the other to agree to taking on the role of Being Wrong), that they have completely forgotten that love was why they came together. Here it is in a nutshell: their attention is on being right rather than being happy.

So, let’s have touch, truth and fun to the rescue. As shifts in attention. Starting with touch, they shift out of words and battering rams, and go to silence. They agree to shut up for ten minutes. Shift attention to touch. They sit facing each other. They hold hands for four minutes with their eyes closed. Then Tim strokes Tania’s hand and arm with his fingertips for two minutes. Then Tania strokes Tim’s arm and hand for two minutes. Then they open their eyes and touch and caress each others hands and arms at the same time. That’s just ten minutes, but you can imagine what a shift that would make.

But wait, wait Tania and Tim, no rushing off to bed, yet, the way couples love to do once the fury begins to abate. Let’s get the verbal stuff partially cleared. So, this is the next shift. They take turns saying the truth that is bothering them, rather than the accusation that they hide behind. This takes some practice, but let’s assume they know this practice of coming back to truth from within. So, Tim says, “When you spend most of the evening talking to your friends on the phone, I feel as if you don’t care about me.” Tania listens. Doesn’t defend herself. Just repeats back: “When I spend a lot of time on the phone, you feel bad.” Then she asks if she’s heard it. Tim says, almost, but the feeling is as if she doesn’t care about him. Tania repeats that back and gets it right this time. This feels good for Tim. This could be good for Tania, she listened without going into defense and attack mode.

Then Tania says one thing bothering her, from her point of view rather than accusation. “When you go out drinking, I’m afraid you’ll become an alcoholic like my father.” Tim repeats back, “You think I drink too much is that right?” Tania: I do think that, but what I said was, ‘When you drink too much, I’m afraid you’ll become an alcoholic like my father.’” This time, Tim gets it when he repeats back, and he can kind of see her point of view. Since he’s not busy defending himself right away, he can start to listen. And then it’s her turn to say one true thing, from the inner rather than accusing point of view.

Now, for fun. They could jump in bed, and that’s fun, but this is another kind of fun. It’s not even the basketball or ping pong kind of fun. It’s the humor we get and the relief when we realize that we’ve got warts on our own face, and that we are just like the one we are accusing. It comes from the old saying, “When one fingers points in blame, three fingers point back,” and it comes from the four section of the Byron Katie work, Judge your neighbor, write it down, ask four questions, turn it around. This turn around is where life can get really fun. This is when relationships are the workshop giving you everything you need. The rest of the Byron Katie work, we’ll cover later, but for now: it works like this: My Dad should be nicer to me, turns around to I should be nicer to my Dad, and I should be nicer to me.

So with Tania and Tim, it goes like this. When Tim says, “You should listen to me better,” he turns it around and realizes that both “I should listen to Tania better,” and “I should listen to myself better” are as true or truer than his accusation. Tania looks at how she’s a jerk when she’s screaming at Tim that he’s a jerk. Both of them come to relief and humor when they see that they are the one they have been so opposed to. Tim finds ways he abandons Tania and himself. Tania finds ways she gets drunk on her words and ideas and accusations when she starts laying into Tim about his drinking. And so on.

Now, they can laugh at themselves. And go play some more in the bed, if that’s what they want next.

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