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Turn Feeling Stuck In A Conversation Into Feeling Collaboration And Progress

By Posted in - Blog January 20th, 2015 0 Comments

We have all heard it before. “Be curious.” “Have a beginners mind.” “See with new eyes.” Yet, throughout our day-to-day lives we are so often easily swayed to our habitual thinking patterns.

Habitual Thinking

This morning, my husband told me about a podcast that he was listening to called Life is Marthon. The host, Bruce Van Horn, reported that on average, humans have about 50,000 thoughts a day, and out of those 50,000 thoughts, 45,000 are REPEAT thoughts. Which means 90% of our thinking is repetitive (He also added that 70% of the thoughts are usually negative.). When I heard this, I actually wasn’t surprised because I am a psychologist and coach, and I have an understanding of human thinking patterns. However, this statistic does seem alarming. If 90% of our thoughts are repeat thoughts, how do we make room for new experiences and thinking?

Habitual Thinking and Relationships

Many times, couples are so stuck in their beliefs and thinking patterns that they cannot or are not willing to entertain other possibilities. They are so convinced about their position, their story about the dynamic that plays out between them. They will spend most of their time and energy collecting and building evidence to support their position.

Another form of this habitual thinking is when we have been together with our partner for so many years, it is so easy to think that we know how they are feeling, to anticipate and think that we know what their perspective will be, what they want, etc. I am totally guilty of this as well. Truth is…we are often wrong.

Often times, a belief gets created from a combination of one’s perception of what they are observing from their partner and the way their partner is expressing themselves. A LOT can get misunderstood during an interaction. Not to mention the fear and emotion that can get triggered by these interactions. It is understandable that couples get stuck in these defensive and painful patterns. Within this dynamic, it can be very difficult for people to genuinely try something new with their partners. It is easy to think that by holding tighter it will get us further along. However, it rarely ever works out that way. We often just seem to have the same argument over and over and over again.

Difficulty in Thinking Differently

When couples come into my office they have usually exhausted all their known possibilities, and they feel defeated and disillusioned. In a positive scenario, they are willing to get help. Other times couples come into my office and they already have decided to end the relationship. Attending a session is their last attempt to resolve things. However, they do not have hope or belief that things can get better, and they usually think that at least this will be a way to feel better knowing “they did everything they could to make it work.” As you can imagine, this scenario doesn’t make for good learning and progress.

In the best case scenarios, couples come into my office and are interested and willing to work on their relationship actively. I am doing my job, helping them feel safe to speak honestly and vulnerably. I am offering them valuable feedback and insight. They are learning and understanding each other in new ways. They are receiving information, tools, and resources to handle situations more effectively, and they are making progress. Even with this best case scenario, it can be extremely difficult to suspend opinion and belief, to be curious, to not know, to ask, and to wonder. If you think about it, as adults, we have had many, many, many years of relating in certain and habitual ways. It can take time to undo those old habits, and learn a new ways of relating. This is true for anything we learn that is new. In another post, I will explain some of the science behind this process.

Not Knowing

Our mind wants to understand and figure things out. Figuring things out helps us organize and make sense of our world. However, if we are so focused on being right or arguing about “reality”, then we get into power struggles and feel pitted against each other. When we are too firm about our perspective, we can also cut off the dialogue, exchange, and learning. When we reserve space to not know, we have the opportunity to be curious and share opinions, thinking, and experiences with each other. I can’t tell you how many times I have witnessed couples learning something new about how each other that help them feel more compassion and closeness together. Many times we don’t really know how our partner has been affected or impacted by something, unless we ask. Mutual sharing helps us continue to know each other and grow together.

Being Right, It doesn’t Matter

Over the last several months, I have been working with a couple. The are both very bright, intelligent, and successful individuals. They have a young child and are both professionals in their respective fields. During our sessions, they are very eager and open to learning, and they are willing to look at different ways of approaching their challenges together. Their willingness to try something new is a huge benefit to them and their ability to improve their relationship dynamics.

Last night, I had a beautiful opportunity to coach them through a disagreement. It was even more special because they got to a place to learning and understanding each more. This was new for them, as they have shared with me, they often can’t get past arguing about the sequence of events or “the reality” of what happened. In this particular circumstance, they both had a different perception of how the interaction played out (i.e. who said what and when). It was wonderful because, it was happening real time, and I was there to witness. Even though I knew who was “right,” I coached them to stay in the process of taking turns listening and understanding each other. Even though one person’s perspective wasn’t totally accurate, it was real to them and it had significance. It represented something meaningful to them. In the end, it didn’t matter who was right. They got to a beautiful place of learning something valuable and important about one another, and they naturally started to move towards working on a mutually beneficial solution.

A New Opportunity Over and Over Again

Dr Jessica Higgins Loving

© Pedro Ribeiro Simões │Flickr

I love the practice of staying curious. It always challenges me to stay in the learning. Even though many people would consider me to be an expert and highly trained, I still have to walk my talk. I am just the same as anyone else, in that I have my own challenges that help me grow. Over and over again, I learn something new that opens my heart and allows me to feel closer and more connected to my partner, if I reserve some part of me to be open to new information.

An Invitation

If you will, take fifteen minutes to be curious today with someone you love. Let them lead and stay with them as they open up to revealing a part of their inner world to you. ❤
If you would like to share your experience with me, I would love to hear. Please feel free to leave me a voice message or send me an email.

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