What does it take to love well? Does it happen naturally? Are some people just better at it than others? Is it intuitive? Or… does it take skills we can learn and practice? These questions have been asked for decades. The research community is finally able to give us a glimpse of what it takes to have and maintain healthy relationships when it comes to friendship, family relationships, romance and even collegial relationships.
One of the most surprising topics in the scientific literature, for me, has been learning that the No. 1 cause of relational dissolution is the inability to work through conflict. All of us have conflict no matter how agreeable we think we are. How do we handle conflict and resolve it in a healthy, satisfying manner?
Drs. Scott Stanley and Howard Markman at the University of Denver, Center for Marital and Family Studies, have developed an award-winning technique to work through conflict.
There are rules for the speaker, rules for the listener and rules for both involved. The way this works is for two people to create a time without distractions. They need to face each other. Drs. Stanley and Markman called this posture “Knees to Knees.” One person who has the floor (a small paper tile) speaks to one issue with “I messages” which sounds like, “I felt disrespected when you put me down in front of the boss yesterday in the sales meeting.” This is called an “X-Y-Z Statement” (X= I felt, Y= What was felt, Z= When this happened). The other person is then supposed to paraphrase back what the person said. It is helpful to start with, “What I hear you saying is…” Only after the person who conveyed the initial X-Y-Z statement articulates what their partner paraphrased is correct, does he or she pass the floor tile to the second person to speak. The second person does not use this time to justify, acknowledge, defend or explain their behavior. What they are to do is hear the feeling and convey it back. This is a “hear it” issue not a “fix it” issue. Once both parties in the dyad are heard, then the problem-solving and negotiated settlement can begin.
The couples and colleagues we work with at the Center for Relationship Education tell us that initially this exercise is awkward and feels uncomfortable. Very true. It is also true that when we pick up a golf club or a tennis racket for the first time, it is equally awkward and uncomfortable. What it takes is skill and practice. After this skill is utilized and practiced, couples tell us this exercise of hearing the heart of another with reflective listening and empathy is powerful, moving and healing. One woman who had been married for over 20 years was moved to tears as she told our facilitators that after doing the exercise, it was the first time in her married life that she truly felt heard and understood. Hearing, listening, and responding to the heart of another restores and repairs relationships.
For more information contact: firstname.lastname@example.org or myrelationshipcenter.org.
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