Today, we’ll focus on the key fundamentals of a great relationship and coaching which can help you achieve it. Last month I spoke of using the word coaching, rather than therapy, for what I do in the office. Therapy often has the negative connotation that there is something wrong with a person. Whereas, with coaching, the connotation is that what is going on isn’t working as well as one would like.
I was always a “basics” kind of person when I coached. In football, if my guys could block and tackle well, we would win games. Likewise in hockey, skating, passing, checking, and shooting were fundamental skills that again allowed us to do well.
Fundamentals of A Great Relationship
I believe there are four fundamental skills that go into making a great relationship. These are safety, the Space Between, the Safe Conversation process, and the Imago system. If you can do those well, you have a much better chance to have the kind of relationship you want.
Safety in a Great Relationship
Although it sounds simple, safety is a key component. If I don’t feel safe, I will defend myself. That goes back 500 million years. We all have a part of our brain that is akin to the brains of all animals – birds, fish, mammals, and reptiles. We call it the reptilian or lizard brain and its basic function is to keep us alive. But think of how relationships are often depicted in our culture today – in movies, on TV, in those magazines at the checkout counter and in real life, but think about it from your old brain point of view.
If I attack you, or yell at you, or don’t talk, or shut down or make fun of you, what are you going to do except defend yourself. We see it everywhere and all I am saying, it doesn’t work. Couples have to learn how to communicate with each other in a safe way. PERIOD.
The Space Between
Typically we think of a relationship as two people – you and you. I encourage my couples to think of their relationship as the two of them plus the Space Between them. It is a real energy field, isn’t it? And you can tell when there is tension in the Space Between. It is either tension free or it is not. There is no middle ground.
From a quantum perspective, everything in our vast universe is mainly energy and it is all in relationship; it is all connected. Atom to atom, molecule to molecule, planet to planet, galaxy to galaxy. Your relationship is a microcosm of the vast macrocosm. You want connection, but if you keep putting negativity into the Space Between, the negativity causes a disconnect. The flip side of the coin is to refill the Space Between with positives – appreciations and affirmations on a daily basis. Couples need to commit to zero negativity in the Space Between. PERIOD
The Safe Conversation Process
Because couples are two totally different human beings, differences will show up in their relationship and they need to be able to talk to each other in a safe way about them. The Safe Conversation process allows couples to talk to each other, about anything, but in a safe way. The Safe Conversation process consists of mirroring, validation and empathy. It takes things out of the power struggle, which tends to be – I am right and you are wrong, and allows couples to see their differences in a safe manner.
After more than 30 years working with couples, if I can keep them in the Safe Conversation process, they will sort things out. And what I like about it is, it is not like a cookie cutter. What might work for a couple, might not work for my wife and me but if we keep talking we will figure out what works for us. Couples need to learn to talk to each other in a safe way. PERIOD
Imago Relationship Therapy
Lastly, the key insight of Imago Relationship Therapy is that couples tend to be partnered with someone who can’t meet their critical needs at the start of the relationship. As children, we form an image (Imago is the Latin word for image) of the person “who loves us, who takes care of us, who meets our needs”. But because your parents weren’t perfect, as we are not perfect, inevitably that image has both the positive but also the negative traits of our original caretakers. In other words, we are all bent out of shape a bit, because all of our needs as children were not met 100%. Within the Imago system, we tend to partner with someone who also can’t meet those same needs that weren’t met well as children.
In the romantic love stage of a relationship, it is the positive traits of our partner that stand out. Inevitably, the negative traits do show up, which leads into the power struggle stage of any relationship. As long as it remains unconscious there will be conflict. Knowing who you are partnered with gives couples the chance to grow into areas that were stunted growing up – but one has to be conscious. Don’t be surprised when your partner asks for your weak suit; now you have to talk about it. PERIOD
So there you have it. It is not rocket science. Instead, it is four pretty key skills that if you can understand and master, you will have a much better chance to have the relationship you truly want.