Communication: Q1. How are you communicating?
We have all been influenced by situations and events beyond our control. The whole environment of childhood has a long-term effect. Sometimes a single event, perhaps just a passing remark heard at a vulnerable time, can have a profound effect.
The way our parents behave is the template for how we will behave towards our partners in the future. When we see how our parents treat each other, it sets the standard for how we expect to behave and to be treated. When they are loving, that sets a template for how we are loving.
Even though some people try to be completely different from their parents, it is as though our parents’ behaviour is a training video. Often we imitate the role of our favourite parent. If that doesn’t work out, we say to ourselves, ‘I am never going to date someone like that again,’ but our next most likely move is to imitate the role of the other parent and become the other side of the relationship.
This system will free you from that unconscious repetition. You will no longer be driven by patterns that you never chose. You can keep all the good parts of what you have inherited and the rest can just fall away.
The next time you are communicating with someone, do the following:
Watch their posture and copy it to some degree.
Watch how they gesticulate, and make similar movements. If they wave their arms when they are talking, you can copy to some extent with a little movement with one of your fingers.
Listen to the tone and volume of their voice and try to make your own similar.
Listen to the speed at which they speak and make your speed similar.
Practise this gently but often until you find it happens more and more easily, and your relationships are more relaxed and closer.
Action: Q2. What are you doing?
Richard Branson has a simple method of making important decisions. He looks at the situation and assesses the upside and the downside. He ranks 0 as minimum and 10 as maximum. If the upside significantly outweighs the downside he knows he should go ahead. The same principle can be applied to dating. If you want to ask someone out on a date, there is an upside and a downside. The downside is that they could turn you down. That may cause you to feel bad for an hour or two, even a whole day. So that is bad, but not horrendous, so let’s give it a 3 or even a 2. On the other hand, the upside is that he or she could say yes, in which case you could have a good evening, start a relationship, or even end up getting married, so that could be worth an 8 or a 9. Compare the two and you get 2/3 versus 8/9. In this situation, it is clearly worth asking for a date. Whenever your assessment gives you a very low downside and a very high upside, that is a signal to take strong and massive action.
If you are confused and frustrated in your relationship, go through your memories and find the times when you were most confused and frustrated. It could be just one incident, or it could be lots of them. You can do this exercise as many times as you want until you get the clarity you need.
Choose one incident where you were confused and frustrated and replay it in your mind from start to finish. Imagine there is a screen in front of you and you are watching and listening to a video that someone has made of your life. Watch what happened and hear who said what.
Now replay exactly the same incidents but with the sound turned off. You can’t hear any words that anyone is saying, you can just see what they are doing. Look at those two people on the screen and pay attention to the behaviour.
Notice how it feels as you watch the actions without words.
Now, acting as if you didn’t know anything other than what you can see, make a commentary explaining as simply as possible what the people appear to be doing.
Now decide what advice you would give yourself in this situation.
Follow your own advice.
Self-care: Q3. How do you look after yourself?
A few years ago a very large piece of research with a sample of 24,000 people showed that the married people were, on average, happier than the non-married people. That sounds like a great advert for marriage, but in fact that was not the final conclusion.
The research was longitudinal. That means it wasn’t a one-off survey but it followed the same people over a period of many years. The researchers looked back at the data about the happily married people in the years before they got married. They discovered that those people were also happier than other people before they were married. The revised conclusion was therefore quite different. The data shows that people who are happy before marriage are most likely to be happy when they are married. In other words, already being happy in yourself is the best predictor of a happy marriage.
Imagine there is a cinema screen in front of you and now, on that screen, watch a movie of the ultimate you. See yourself doing all the things that you do or would like to do really, really well.
Watch that movie of you working, socializing, handling challenging situations or difficult people really well. Watch the way you stand and smile with natural authentic confidence.
Now watch yourself approaching and talking to the most attractive people you can imagine. Enjoy watching a movie of you talking to famous people and feeling as comfortable and relaxed as you do with your very best friends. See yourself cool and happy and having a great time.
Now when that movie looks really great and you feel really good about yourself in that movie, float over and into the you in the movie, see through the eyes of your ultimate self, hear through the ears and feel how good you feel living life like this.
Generosity: Q4. What are you giving?
Most love songs are about the beginning of love, and some are about the end. There are not so many songs about being happily married or doing the school run because it doesn’t seem so exciting. Songs work better when they are about yearning or loss.
Love songs are about how much the singer loves and desires the man or woman they fancy. They are all about yearning and flirting and desiring and seducing, or losing, missing and regret. They sing about wanting a person, their love, the beauty and their body.
When we are looking for love, we are scanning the world for a person who attracts us. We are driven by our desire. We are focused on the things we hope to possess. We are looking for the joys of seduction, of flirting and making love. We want someone beautiful and sensitive, someone with a good sense of humour and a sense of adventure in bed.
We can all dream about a lover, even when there is no prospective lover in sight, and we all have a mental shopping list of the qualities we believe would be most wonderful and romantic. Every dating site profile has a list of qualities; what we are looking for and what we are like.
You can still enjoy all the beauty and fun that you see in your partner, but now your relationship is asking you to give. As challenges show up, you have to give energy, attention and compassion and learn to live with stuff you don’t understand yet.
Therefore, you have to look in two directions and keep asking yourself:
‘Am I being loving and fair to my partner?’
‘Am I being loving and fair to myself?’
These questions don’t have a single answer. You have to keep asking them and keep answering them every day. None of us are perfect, and we can easily veer towards being a bit selfish or giving too much. ‘Too much’ or ‘too little’ cannot be measured or prescribed in advance. We know what they are by what we feel.
Disagreement: Q5. How do you disagree?
When you fall in love with someone wonderful it is hard to imagine disagreeing with them. It is easy to get on with people when we agree with them. Your beloved is so kind, so thoughtful, so clever and so on that disagreement could never happen. Until it does. The strength of a relationship is forged when we find out how to get on during disagreements with our partners. And sooner or later you will disagree with your partner.
It doesn’t really matter what you disagree about, what matters is how you disagree.
are finally with someone who understands you. Naturally it is disappointing when you find yourself in conflict with your partner, but it is an inevitable part of a relationship. Nobody’s perfect and, although we all like to imagine otherwise, you will both have different points of view. Sooner or later, you will see things differently in a way that you find frustrating or annoying. Those times are all opportunities for learning, although we don’t necessarily feel that at the time.
Here’s a guide to moving an argument on:
Step One Recognize and acknowledge with your partner that this argument is very similar to many previous arguments and ask your partner to pause with you in the middle of the argument.
Step Two Suggest that somewhere in the relationship there is some uncomfortable fact, thought or element which you are both avoiding mentioning.
Step Three Suggest that behind this painful fact, thought or element there is an unmet need.
Step Four Invite your partner to speak and then listen to them without interrupting, commenting or judging.
Step Five Acknowledge whatever comes up. If something is said that opens the discussion towards a solution, keep talking. If nothing comes up, use this idea to brainstorm between you:
‘If we were to talk about this next week and we were able to take one real, observable step towards solving this conflict, what would have to be different about our talk next week?’
Step Six Be patient. Let Step Five carry on for as long or as short as the energy of the conversation allows and then let it go.
Learning: Q6. What are you learning?
The answer to this question is the most personal part of this system. We all have challenges to face and opportunities to learn, but for each of us the lessons to learn are specific to the unique challenges of our own history. When we choose an intimate relationship, we have an opportunity to learn about our partners, and about life. It is also a special opportunity to learn more about ourselves.
When you first meet someone you like, it is natural to be kind and helpful and generous and to show them your best side. As two individuals move into a long-term relationship, they show each other more and more of their natural, everyday behaviour. On the one hand, the relationship is a chance to up your game and show your best side more often. On the other hand, it is a challenge to get to know and love the less-than-best side of your partner.
Two of the great benefits of a relationship are first that we get to know our partners better and better, and secondly that we get to know ourselves better.
All the ideas and feelings and history that you bring affect you both, but they do not determine your relationship. They are your raw material. As you spend time together, different elements of yourself come to the surface and the work of your relationship is meeting all these parts of each other, whether known or unknown, with compassion, energy and honesty. All this stuff is the buried treasure of your relationship. As time passes, you will find more and more of it and find out more about yourselves and each other.
Vision of the Future: Q7. How are you seeing your future?
Relationships begin in many different ways. More people meet at work than anywhere else, but relationships can start online, in bars, through friends, on trains and planes and buses. Some people fall in love instantly, others take their time to decide. Some people fall into bed first and then gradually get to know and like and love each other. Not all relationships are high-energy dramatic romances. Some of them start quietly and grow slowly until gradually the couple feels more and more comfortable with each other. Some of us are surprised by love. Some people are happy enough dating and spending time with a boyfriend or girlfriend and only realize later, perhaps after a crisis of some sort, that they have grown to love each other.
When you first meet your partner, whether you are brought together by falling in love or by fancying them like crazy or by a casual hook-up, you don’t know them very well, but your imagination automatically fills in the gaps. The more you like them, the more work your imagination does. You imagine hanging out all weekend, going to a festival together or going on holiday. You think, ‘My friends will love this person,’ you might visualize beautiful scenes of domestic bliss or hours of mind-blowing sex.
We don’t think, ‘Oh, he/she is really attractive but I know nothing about them.’ We think, ‘Oh she/he is really gorgeous and my mum will love them, and we will have such a great time hiking in the Scottish mountains and paddling on the beach with our kids.’ But in reality, we don’t know if they even like hiking, or beaches, or kids.
It is completely normal to project fantasies on to our new partners. It happens automatically and it is inspiring and energizing. These fantasies come from the imagination and the memory banks of our unconscious. In other words, this is the future as seen from the past. We all inherit expectations and fantasies about the future that have been installed in us by the ideas and behaviour of the people around us in our childhood. We did not choose them. Some are idealistic, some are not good enough. We inherit ideas about how people should behave in a relationship, about what good people do and about how to raise a family. We can inherit much more specific ideas too, such as what people do on holiday, which political party is best or what is the right kind of food to eat.
When we fantasize the future of a relationship, our imagination takes all of these inherited ideas and throws them forward into the future. The whole process is completely automatic and, in my experience, there are two ways we can respond to it. The first is to see this projection as a template: ‘This is what a relationship should look like, so we must do our best to get as close as we can to this pattern.’ For a large part of our history it seems that this was the option many people took. Men followed the pattern of their father’s behaviour and religion and often employment, and expected that women would behave as their mothers had behaved. Nowadays, few people expect to conform so exactly to the religious or working patterns of their parents’ lives, but there are still often some less obvious expectations that emotional patterns will be replicated. The most common problem with this attitude is when the two partners have different and incompatible templates. If, for example, he expects her to earn a salary comparable to his and she expects him to provide all the money, a serious disagreement will arise.
The second attitude to the imaginative activity we inherit is to see it not as a template, but as raw material. All the ideas and projects are seen as possibilities, inspiration, and open to change and development. The great advantage of this approach is that there is all the room you need to include the fantasies and projections of both partners. When everything is an option, there is room for as many options as you can imagine, and then you get to choose together what to reject, what to use and what to develop.