Overcoming Avoidance With Intentional Dialogue
In our culture people sometimes have one foot in divorce. “If this relationship doesn’t work, I’m out of here.” But where is the stability in this attitude? In a conscious relationship we need to commit to this person, to the relationship, and to the process: the process being the use of intentional dialogue. Instead of avoiding interaction, we learn to communicate in a safe manner.
What Is Your Avoidance?
A drill I ask people to complete, is to examine the ways they avoid each other – what we call EXITS. An exit is an emotion acted out. Sometimes the exits are very intentional, but often they are unconscious. I don’t say, “I don’t want to spend time with you right now”, but instead I may use passive avoidance by staying at work late, or spending more time with the kids, or watching TV or going shopping or whatever.
An example of an intentional exit came early in my career. The fellow was a golfer; however he was not playing just nine holes but rather thirty six. It was pretty clear he was avoiding his spouse. Eventually they split up.
Sometimes though, exits are functional. In Windsor, for instance, people often work opposite shifts. If one partner is working days, and the other afternoons, there is not a lot of time available to them so their work situation can function as an exit, as an avoidance. If that is the case then I encourage them to at least bring this reality to consciousness so they can intentionally figure out ways to spend time together to deal with any issues that crop up as well as just to have time together. For a number of years, my partner worked in Toronto and I worked in Windsor and we both acknowledged that one benefit of our distance was that it forced us to become very intentional about the time we did have together. If your partner is there all the time it can be easy to take one another for granted.
Acknowledging The Exits
The drill consists of each partner drawing up two lists. The first consists of writing down how they see themselves avoiding their partner, whether it is to avoid intimacy or because they are upset. The second, is to identify how they experience their partner avoiding them. They then exchange the information and commit to closing down their exits, starting with the easiest one. I don’t expect them, or want them to try to close down all the exits immediately.
But eventually, in a conscious partnership, we need to close all the exits so that the energy that belongs in the relationship stays in the relationship. It doesn’t mean I can’t stay at work, or spend time with the kids or watch TV, it means I am not doing these activities to avoid my partner. Remember we said anything negative or potentially negative is by appointment only. So rather than avoid (or exit) I ask for an appointment and I stay in the process using intentional dialogue to sort it out. I commit to my partner, my relationship and this process.