Do you believe that if you just figure out the "right" thing to say to your partner or others, then he or she will finally understand and change?
Have you ever thought to yourself, "If I had just said the 'right' thing, THEN things would have been different"?
I thought this for years regarding all the important people in my life -- primarily my parents, my husband and my children. I would explain and defend, trying to find the exact right words so they would hear me and understand me, believing that if only they really understood, then they would be caring with me. Then they would stop doing the things that were hurtful to me.
At that time, many years ago, what I didn't understand was this: If they were not open to hearing and understanding, then no matter what I said or how perfectly I said it, it would make no difference at all. I didn't understand that their intention toward me was often to control me with their blame and judgment, and my intention toward them was to control them with my explanations and defensiveness.
Today, I had a phone session with Phillip, who recently broke up with Helena, his girlfriend of six months, because he felt controlled by her attacks and demands on him. She was not happy about this and wanted to discuss it with him. However, when he told her he felt attacked and demanded of, she attacked him for his feelings and demanded more information -- and he immediately went into explaining and defending, which was addictive behavior for him. He was very aware of how she was trying to control him, but not at all aware of how he was trying to control her.
When I pointed this out to him, his response was, "But maybe if she understands, she will stop attacking me."
"Phillip, did she give any indication at all that she was interested in understanding? Were her questions interrogating attacks, or were they genuine inquiries?"
"Well, I felt interrogated."
"So what made you believe that she was interested in hearing you and understanding you?"
"I guess I was just hoping."
"How did you feel when she started to interrogate you?"
"I felt tense."
"And you've learned to explain and defend as a way to manage your tension?"
"Yes. I always did that as child with my parents."
"If you had accepted that she was not open to hearing you, what would you have done?"
"I would have not continued the conversation."
"Right. But you didn't want to accept that you are helpless over whether she is open or closed, so you tried to have control over getting her to open."
"Yes. That's what I've always done. That's exactly what I did in my marriage that led to divorce. And now I'm doing the same thing again."
"Right, Phillip -- and I'm so glad you are seeing this. When you shift your intent from controlling others to loving yourself and taking responsibility for your own feelings, then you will start to respond totally differently. Is this something you want to practice?"
Accepting our lack of control over how others see and treat us is a major challenge for many people. It's important to realize that others often treat us the way we treat ourselves. If we ignore our own feelings, not taking loving care of ourselves, then others are likely to ignore our feelings as well. This is what was happening with Phillip. When he ignored the tension he felt when Helena attacked and interrogated him, the message he gave her was that his feelings and needs didn't matter.
One of the major skills we all need to develop to create successful, loving relationships is to stay tuned in to intent. Are we open to learning or are we closed and trying to control? Is the other open to learning or are they closed and trying to control? We have to accept the fact that we will not be heard and understood by someone who is caught up in the intent to control us, rather than hearing and understanding us. And we have to accept our helplessness over others' intent.
You will save yourself much heartache when you learn to compassionately hear and understand yourself, rather than trying to have control over getting someone else to hear and understand you.
Margaret Paul, Ph.D. is a relationship expert, best-selling author, and co-creator of the powerful Inner Bonding® healing process, recommended by actress Lindsay Wagner and singer Alanis Morissette, and featured on Oprah. To begin learning how to love and connect with yourself so that you can connect with others, take advantage of our free Inner Bonding eCourse, receive Free Help, and take our 12-Week eCourse, "The Intimate Relationship Toolbox" - the first two weeks are free!
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