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In Good Times As In Bad

It’s easy to be good to your partner when things are going well. When we’re happy, isn’t it easy to treat everyone around you well? Our partner is (hopefully) the closest person to us in the world. So he or she knows when something is wrong even before we tell them. They know our patterns, our customary behaviors, so they are perhaps best able to spot an anomaly.

Because of that closeness and familiarity, however, our partner is the person we are most likely to vent our frustrations onto. We sometimes call this “displaced aggression”. Think about it, your boss gives you a tough talking-to, you lose a major account, your car needs an expensive repair, the air conditioner or heater just went out, etc. Not knowing you personally, we can’t say for sure what could go wrong in your own world, but just imagine: It could be the worst day ever.

You can’t take it out on your boss, or most authority figures around us, now can we? In most cases, we wager not. So you return to the sanctity of your own home, and your partner greets you with a smile. Though instead of giving him or her the opportunity to talk with you, to help you cope, or to at least lend a sympathetic ear, you unload on them. You take all the frustration you feel toward your boss, the mechanic, the cop who pulled you over, the customer who dropped you, and so forth, and you direct all that energy toward your partner – who is ironically only wanting to help.

This is a common occurrence for many people, and if it sounds familiar, you have an opportunity before you. We challenge you to learn something new, to recognize the impact you have, through your words, your actions, your entire interaction with someone else, and to find the opportunity for intimacy in the challenges couples face. Clearly, this is one of those situations where it works best when both people have a high level of commitment. However, you might be surprised to learn just how readily people can be seduced into a more powerful state of mind, indeed, a more intimate state, by someone willing to leverage their energy, their power, their seductiveness, to lead them.

Recently we worked with a client complaining of this very scenario – her husband was frequently irritable and when something went wrong with his work day, it was her fault. As soon as they both got home from work, he took out his anger and frustration on her and the kids. She asked, “If I want him to act differently, why are you saying that I have to change?” This is a common complaint, so it wasn’t the first time we heard it, nor will it likely be the last. If you have not acted with power and precision before, it might seem strange that as part of a system, when we change, the rest of the system must as well – if only to maintain equilibrium.

We lead by doing, by example. Like hypnosis, you go first, then your subject follows. Sure, you may have to develop a skill, but then, that’s why we’re here, now isn’t it?

As with other articles on this site, we want to restrict the length, so we won’t delve too deeply into how in the first part. First, we will focus on why you would want to do this and what impact it will have. Then in Part II, we will look at techniques – though we may offer a taste just to get you started. Actually, Keli wrote a really great article about a powerful strategy for doing just this (“5 Steps for Stopping a Fight and Reconnecting Instantly” in the May, 2013 archive). If you haven’t read it until today, you’ve been missing out.

Imagine the above scenario  – you have had one of the worst days ever. You get home and your partner is already there, cheerfully unaware that you have superimposed a target on his or her chest. He or she is doing that irritating thing that always gets on your nerves, but tonight, that’s increased by a factor of ten.

Reading you, your partner says something that immediately stops you in your tracks. You suddenly don’t feel the same way and begin to feel waves of appreciation, of love, for this amazing person who’s stuck with you through the challenges as well as the parties (and of course, sometimes parties can become a challenge, and vice versa!).

Your whole perception has changed.

How did that happen?

Maybe more importantly, now that the two of your have begun sorting out your days in a spirit of love and appreciation, what sort of trouble can the two of you get into? Does it sound enticing yet? Or at least more fun than one of the other possible outcomes?

We suggest that the above turn of events is not only possible, but really easy once you make it a habit. Like anything new, it may seem a little awkward at first, but with some practice, can really lead to a beautiful shift in your relationship. Choose your own metaphor here: You might think of it as interior redecorating, or a reengineering, or an overhaul, of your mind. One that leads to more pleasure and happiness.

And it all begins with your making  a decision – that the life of your relationship is more important than the moment of frustration. And deserves to be treated accordingly. As do YOU!

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Perceptual Filters and our Maps of the World

Picture yourself looking out at a familiar site, something you can easily imagine. This is something you can recall in your mind’s eye and see with great detail. Get a good look at it in your imagination, see the colors, the landscape, the angles, shapes… Get a clear image of it.

Next, imagine that you are putting on a pair of sunglasses, and looking at the same scene. Notice how it impacts how you see things. For the most part, things will be very similar, though of course darker. Then again, have you ever tried on a pair of sunglasses where the tint was different from the common gray? Perhaps yellow, where it cut the glare very well, though didn’t darken the image. Though without question, that yellow tint would change the ultimate image you see, right?

Moreover, the expression “rose colored glasses” is an apt example as well. If you are wearing such glasses, you see everything literally as more “rosy” than it really is. Everything takes on that pink or rose hue. Again, though you may still see the primary details of the image, they are unquestionably changed. You will see things differently than if you had just removed those rose colored (or yellow, gray, etc.) glasses.

Our challenge is that the glasses are just one example of a perceptual filter, albeit a fairly literal one. There are many things that influence what we perceive and how we perceive it. Our past experiences, things our parents taught us, things we learned in school, on the job, from friends, and lessons we learned from life along the way up to this point, all have contributed to a set of beliefs, values, and attitudes that greatly influence and filter our perceptions. These make up what we call our “Map of the World”. A map is a representation of a more complex system. Just as you might use a roadmap to navigate a complex roads system leading from your house to a museum, our personal maps help us to make sense of and navigate the world around us. Without a Map of the World in our heads, we might have to treat every experience as unique, and we might require a fair amount of time to make sense of it. Life would essentially be continually interrupted as we struggled to find meaning for each new thing we encountered.

An example would be a street map that lacked half the street names. Maybe it also is missing a high percentage of the actual streets you encounter. You might still consult the map if it’s all you’ve got, but suddenly your trip is going to take longer as you try to fill in the blanks, make sense of what you perceive that just isn’t on your map.

Therefore what many of us do is simply ignore what isn’t on our maps, as though it’s not there at all. For some people this works, as their world doesn’t require much detail or interactivity. Though just as with a pair of sunglasses far too dark for a dimly lit room, a limited map can in that way limit what we perceive. In effect, it is limiting what we choose to allow ourselves to perceive.

Other people will choose to fill in those gaps in the map. We may spot a detail in the roadway that for us is significant, a landmark, maybe. We may jot it down on the page so that next time, this now more detailed map can help us navigate more quickly and accurately.

Why do some people instead ignore new information just because it doesn’t match their existing map? Because human beings do not like to be proven wrong, for one reason. Once we have decided that “The color ‘red’ means ‘anger'”, we don’t like having to adjust that belief later on. Rather, we will apply that as a filter to what we perceive going forward. That is, when we encounter the color red, we will look at our meaning for it on our Map of the World and feel anger. Without any further thought, making it quick and efficient to navigate to anger, we can get there from the simple color “red”.

This leads to an important consideration – what about those times when we want to add a landmark, increase the detail on our map, and improve its overall usefulness? It may require a willingness to change what we thought previously. If the map clearly doesn’t match the perceived reality, we may have to accept that our map just wasn’t complete, at the very least, and possibly, was absolutely wrong.

But as we do this, we refine our maps, making them more realistic and useful.

Beware of phrases like, “that’s the way I was taught”, and “that’s what Mother/Father always told me”, or “I’ve always known this to be true”. Such phrases don’t of course always preface a fallacy, or old information that needs to be updated. Though they often do. Just actively participate in your mapmaking, consider your beliefs and be willing to adjust things that just don’t serve you.

Some beliefs, for instance, make sense at one point in our lives, then they outlive their usefulness. That’s the time to update our maps!

The hope is that when you perceive something potentially very significant in your world, something that may impact your relationships with your partner, your children, your boss, and anyone else, that you have actively tested, valid maps with which you can navigate through, and filter, the world around you.

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