Having Conflict? Great!
Do you keep having the same old argument?
We mean it. That's great! Because as Marriage Mediators, when we see conflict, what we see is your relationship trying to advance to the next level.
Inside every conflict is an opportunity for intimacy. Conflict is like an unopened gift. Instead of opening the gifts, to explore what's inside, half the couples in America walk away, divorcing the very person who brought these precious gifts into their lives.
This is the real tragedy of the unbelievable divorce rate in our country. As each couple argues their way toward divorce, the very thing that seems to block their connection, the ongoing disagreements, can actually be the key to a greater intimacy than most couples have ever imagined. We've spent the last 10 years working exclusively with couples while developing a completely new form of mediation that we call the Teamwork Mediation Method (TMM). This form of mediation can help couples learn how to unlock the untapped intimacy hidden beneath their conflicts.
To understand how conflict could possibly lead to deeper intimacy,
you need to understand how relationships work from the perspective
of a Teamwork Mediator. We see marriage as a three-stage process:
" The Infatuation Stage,
" The Difference Stage, and
" The Mature Relationship.
In this session, we'll examine how these three distinct stages of your relationship were designed to make sure your relationship was deeply satisfying for both of you, and how by missing a few key skills they are actually responsible for all those same old arguments you keep having instead.
The Intimacy Stage: The Real-Life Sampler.
Everybody knows about the Infatuation Stage, though most people assume the reason it feels so good is because of the newness and the physical attraction. While that certainly is part of the story, what characterizes this stage for us, as mediators, is that both of you experienced your deepest needs being consistently met by each other and that is what made the decision to commit so irresistible.
People tend to devalue this stage because it eventually ends, and since they don't know how to revive it (something we'll be teaching you a little later on), they assume it was just a fantasy. But you don't have those feelings with just anybody. We believe the Infatuation Stage is a real-life sampler of the potential of this particular relationship. You get to actually experience everything you can have with this person, what their real-life capacity is to meet your needs, and without you even having to ask! This sampler is a chance to actually feel what you and this particular person can create when the two of you are giving generously of your gifts, and receiving as openly as you can.
This is one of the reasons we have confidence that you are likely with the right person. You sampled the actual potential of the relationship and as a result of that informed (though admittedly chemically enhanced) decision, you proceeded with the relationship.
We realize it seems as though you picked this person by making
a thoughtful, conscious choice based on their skills, or their background
or money; or maybe based on feelings of love; or perhaps because
of the way he or she wanted to raise their children or because of
their religious beliefs, their moral values or their lifestyle.
Although some, or even most, of these factors may have been important
in your choice of a partner, it is our contention that the main
reason people select the person they eventually decide to marry
is actually based on the two key factors:
1. The satisfaction of having your needs met by this other person (especially the ones you went without when you were alone) and
2. The satisfaction that you feel in meeting the needs they went without when they were alone.
Relationships are about Your Needs.
The understanding that relationships are about needs is a major difference between Teamwork Mediation and couples counseling or therapy. This focus on needs is unique to mediation and as you'll see, it not only explains the "how" and "why" of your relationship challenges, it also introduces one universal solution that couples can implement themselves to resolve all those "same old arguments". So instead of needing a therapist to guide you through each issue, the Teamwork Mediation Method will help you identify the needs underlying all of your issues.
Before progressing to the second stage of relationships, it's important to have a better understanding of how your needs impact your relationships. First, you are attracted to other people when they satisfy your needs. This is true for all of our relationships: work, friends and family. Second, we tend to pick life partners who enjoy meeting our needs because they are specialists in meeting the needs we don't tend to meet for ourselves.
For example, if you're a neatnik, you'll likely to be attracted
to someone who loves your neatness (at first), but who doesn't tend
to be very neat themselves. They in turn are probably the kind of
person who focuses on spontaneity, which is not likely to be a strong
suit of yours. It's also important to understand that this selection
of someone unlike yourself is a largely unconscious process for
most of us, which makes it all the more mysterious, more powerful
and more exciting. It's equally important to understand that your
psyche does this to make sure that you get to experience the full
range of satisfaction that's available to you in this life.
Even though each of us is born with the capacity to feel the delight and satisfaction of the full range of Universal Human Needs , we tend to specialize in only a partial subset of that range. We do this for many reasons: gender, class, personal strengths, childhood traumas, etc. For simplicity sake, let's say you specialized on about half of the full set of needs. When you were alone (or if you married someone just like you), then the other half of life's delights would be difficult, if not impossible, for you to achieve. Your conscious mind might settle for such a deal, but your deeper psyche wants more for you, and so it is always on the lookout for some way to make sure you get everything you deserve. In our experience, it seems like life often achieves this by carefully selecting your significant other for you.
Let's suppose that one of the needs that you selected to handle by yourself is the need to plan and to keep things orderly, because that fits your temperament, gender, race, upbringing, and so on. As you get all the benefits from these needs, such as always paying your bills on time, being on time for all your appointments, and always knowing where your next meal is coming from, you tend to lose focus on other universal needs,like spontaneity, creativity and fun -smelling the roses, so to speak. Based on your way of thinking, you're even likely to devalue these other qualities. "What's the point?" you might ask.
Strangely, however, you may notice that you're repeatedly attracted to people who not only don't plan, but who are wildly spontaneous and freewheeling. If you were to think about it, such attractions probably wouldn't make any sense to you. But when you're with this type of person, it feels great, fun, exciting, special, and desirable.
Remember, your psyche is designed to desire the satisfaction of all the universal needs, not just the half you've focused on. So when you invited that special someone in, what you're really doing is benefiting from other aspects of the full range of human experiences.
There was a "Seinfeld" episode in which Jerry fell in love with a woman because she ordered cold cereal for dinner in a restaurant, which was something he'd never seen anyone but himself do. The next day, he tells his friend George: "I've finally found what I've been looking for all along: me!" But by week's end, the two of them are so bored with each other they don't even bother to break up.
Relationships are about Difference.
Differences are part of the bedrock of intimate relationships. To a large extent they're what attracted you to each other: not just any difference, but the particular set of differences that the two of you need to complete yourselves.
So far, we've only talked about needs from one perspective: looking at what made you fall for someone else. But you can probably see that the same thing made that person fall for you. Not only do you end up picking someone who knows how to meet exactly the set of needs you habitually leave unmet, but they return your affection in large part because the needs that you excel in, are exactly the ones they've been letting languish. The mathematical symmetry of it boggles the mind! We almost certainly couldn't do this consciously, and try as we may, we can't avoid doing it unconsciously!
If you quit your first marriage believing that the problem was your (conscious) choice of the other person, then it makes sense that you should be able to take what you learned, and choose better. But this doesn't explain why second marriages fail 75% of the time and in an average of only two years, and more third marriages fail and in less time than that! So, clearly something else is going on here. If we are correct, then the thing which stalled your first marriage was your inability to benefit from the differences that drew you to one another. Therefore the next person you "choose" may look really different, but they will quickly stir up the same issues in you. That's why second marriages end so quickly. People see the pattern repeating sooner and say to themselves: "Oh no, I'm not doing that again!" and leave because they still believe the problem was that they just picked the "wrong" person.
To give you an example of just how unconscious this process is, we had a client who was a scientist, very linear and reasoned in all his decisions. His first marriage had ended in a nightmare of a divorce. He not only decided he would never marry again, he made a decision which he thought would guarantee he wouldn't have any chance of meeting anyone - he took a job working on an oil rig in the North Sea above the Arctic Circle. There would only be 35 people on this whole little continent, which would be socked in with ice for 10 months out of the year. It turns out, however, one of the 34 other people was a woman, a nurse, who also was fed up with relationships, and joined the crew with the same idea of isolating herself from the dating scene. As you've probably guessed, they fell in love, and were married shortly after returning to the mainland. In less than a year came to us for help because the exact same patterns of conflict that they each had tried to avoid from their previous relationships had found them in the middle of a frozen sea a thousand miles from home. It turns out you can freeze out most of humanity, but you can't freeze out your Universal Human Needs!
In our case, Elise loves beauty and form. I'm more of a function guy. For the first two years of our marriage, we argued over which one was more important. Once we'd become mediators, and had learned about needs through NVC, we stopped arguing, and starting learning from each other. Now we live in a beautiful 100-year-old house (form), which has all its systems in fine working order (function). Instead of "either/or" the Teamwork Mediation Method helps couples find the "both/and" solution.
We want to emphasize this: the cause of your conflicts is not that you picked the wrong person, or that there is something wrong with your partner. The discomfort you're feeling is because they are so different from you. Ironically, these are the very differences that you chose precisely because you need these differences to fully experience life.
Therefore, if difference is the reason you chose this particular person, and that has now become the reason for your difficulties, you can understand why the ongoing attempts to solve each "problem" at the surface of every argument becomes futile. Your relationship doesn't have a problem, what it has is unrealized potential. This is why couples counseling so often fails. There is too much emphasis on why you were fighting about the remote, the toothpaste, your relatives, spending, surfing the web, etc. but no discussion of the needs behind these arguments. Statistically, only one third of couples who do one year of counseling report any positive result, and two thirds of them report that this change is lost within a year. Teamwork Mediation takes only six weeks, on average, and the effects are lasting, not only because you resolved your conflicts instead of a therapist, but more importantly because you got to the root cause: difference.
So you can see how a deep understanding of needs is key to having a successful marriage. This includes: how to identify your needs and your partner's needs, how to communicate them, and how to negotiate your differences. Now, you can probably also see how not knowing about needs, especially about the difference between your needs and those of your partner will block your ability to build intimacy.
This desire on the part of your psyche to make sure you benefit
from ALL of the Universal Human Needs is the real drive behind the
popular notion that "opposites attract." But, while the
psyche wants you to benefit from these differences, it is those
same differences that also become the cause of your conflicts and
marital difficulties, which brings us back to the stages of a relationship.
The Difference Stage: A.K.A. The Conflict Stage
Our official name for Stage Two is "The Difference Stage." Unfortunately, it is more commonly experienced as the "Conflict Stage" since conflicts are caused by misunderstood differences. Of course, this doesn't have to be the case.
Conflicts are caused by Misunderstood Differences.
Ideally, Stage Two of your relationship would be spent coming to understand what it was about the two of you that caused the Infatuation Stage to be so great. However, most couples are too busy fighting to focus on, or recognize, that the positives of the Infatuation Stage are trying to assert themselves through your conflicts!
The fights in Stage Two seem to keep raising the questions: "Did you pick the right person?" How could you have invited someone so different into your life? What were you thinking? But for the reasons outlined above, we've found that couples (even couples who are fighting like cats and dogs - especially couples who are fighting) have consistently done an amazing job of finding their (needs-based) complementary match (what Harville Hendrix calls your Imago match ).
What's most amazing is that while you managed to select someone who has shown they can meet your most deep and hidden needs because of their difference, your conscious mind continues to believe that these qualities are the very ones you will have to train out of your partner.
The excitement and satisfaction from those differences (which you selected!) changes when those same differences show up again when the two of you are under more stress. As a result, the very differences that at first were so endearing and drew you to one another become the igniting force behind conflict. Instead of satisfying each other's needs, couples in Stage Two attack their partners for those very same differences, as if this gift that the other person brings is now their worst short-coming.
This shift in perception: from gift to problem; is the turning point in a relationship. It is what causes you to question your choice of partner. It repeatedly turns those little moments of potential intimacy into the same old argument. It does this because the differences are real; they are not going to go away. And changing partners won't help, because you need these exact differences to complete yourself. That's why second and third marriages fail so quickly - because you keep selecting the same (beneficial) differences and then keep trying to kill them off in each successive partner.
What the Teamwork Method teaches is how to shift your perception again, this time so you can see for the first time what is really going on.
To our eyes, as marriage mediators, differences are the whole point of being in relationship. They're the gap across which we touch each other, get to know each other, heal each other and most importantly, benefit from each other. When a difference shows up, if you handle that moment correctly, you create intimacy. If you treat it as a problem (either of the relationship or of your partner), you create conflict.
To make relationships work you need to learn how to deal with differences
constructively, which just isn't taught in this culture. The good
news for you is that you're holding a book which teaches exactly
Judgment is the Relationship Buster.
Stage Two ends when couples stop responding to their differences by judging each other and arguing as a result. Judgment is the relationship buster. It's unfortunate that it's also the most likely way for people to respond to the frustrations that often result from differences (when they're not handled skillfully). One of the major benefits of the Teamwork Method will be learning how to translate judgments into satisfying conversations that feel respectful and positive to both parties.
This usually happens around the third or fourth session. One client "gets it" first. Both people have been listening to the theory, and dabbling in the skills, but the accumulated knowledge seems to hit one partner all at once: "Oh, this isn't my enemy, it's my wife/husband who loves me!" And from that point on, everything they say or do comes from a completely different, more open-minded, and open-hearted place.
Research shows that compassion and judgment come from different parts of the brain. If you show a person a picture which elicits compassion (of puppies, for instance) one part of the brain lights up. If you then show them a picture that sets off their judgment, a different part of the brain is activated. What's scary is that if you then show them a picture that in the past activated their compassion, the judgmental part of the brain continues to dominate.
And there you have the "same old argument." It becomes
a vicious cycle. One party gets scared because they don't get their
needs met (in the particular way they were expecting), and so they
judge their partner. This scares the partner, who feels attacked
(rightly so). As a result, that partner attacks back, which reinforces
the first person's fear that their partner really doesn't understand
or care what their needs are. The first person then ups the ante.
And before you know it, you are both "walking on eggshells,"
a phrase we hear all the time.
The Spell is Broken.
So it is pretty miraculous when that first person awakens from the nightmare and finds their love right there next to them on the couch. What's most fascinating is that usually for one or two sessions, the other party doesn't notice that their partner has "gotten it." They go on having the same old arguments, alone. Their partner is loving them again, understanding, taking responsibility for their contributions, offering exactly what the person who is still arguing has been asking for all along. But they just don't notice, yet. The judgmental part of the brain keeps lighting up and prevailing long after they are being presented with compassion and love. Eventually both of you come out from behind the judgments you've been caught inside of and suddenly the room seems so quiet and peaceful. The sun is shining again.
It always reminds me of the Japanese soldiers who were stationed individually on little islands in the Pacific. Some of them weren't found for years so they never got word that World War II was over. So they fought their own private wars, isolated and alone. It often requires my pointing it out, before the partner who lags behind stops and takes notice. "Hey, the war is over!" Sometimes it still takes a few sessions before they realize that their partner has really gotten it. And then they look up, and there, unprotected and vulnerable, is the person they married.
It also reminds me of a story a therapist told me years ago, about a king who has his sorcerer teach him an incantation which makes him invisible so he can't be hurt in battle. He's given a second incantation to make him visible again. At first he makes himself invisible only when he's in battle, but then he realizes that he can find out about plots against him at home so he uses it more and more in the castle, until eventually he uses it all the time. After a while, the kingdom notices they have no king, and they begin the process to replace him. He panics when he realizes that he has forgotten the words to remove the spell.
Judgment is like that spell. The image that your partner is wrong for you or trying to hurt you is very convincing. It seems very real. As a result, it doesn't matter how much they protest that they aren't doing whatever it is that you are accusing them of doing. That just convinces you how bad they are - they won't even take responsibility for their evil doings!
People use judgment to "protect" themselves, but then they end up stuck in it. The first few sessions show our couples how much they are giving up, by using harsh judgments in such a tender place as a marriage. But once they start getting their needs met consistently, the spell is lifted and they can move into Stage Three of their relationship.
The Mature Relationship: Our Goal for You
Stage Three is when the relationship you thought you were getting in Stage One finally materializes. Remember, you picked this person because they delight in meeting those needs of yours that you tended to let languish when you were alone. You've already experienced how good they are at satisfying you. You lost touch with that aspect of the relationship during the Difference Stage when you forgot how nice it is to have them be there for those needs you're not especially go at meeting yourself. Now, in the Mature Relationship Stage, you know how to ask as your needs arise! As your internal world changes and flows with events, instead of having to hope your partner notices, the Teamwork Method has helped you identify what you are needing, and taught you how to express it in a way that feels inviting to your partner because it takes their needs into account as well.
And equally important, you've learned to translate your judgments, of your partner and of yourself, into simple statements about what is true about you - because that's all needs are - the simple truth about you. That's why Stage Three often begins with what I call the "quiet, truthful conversation." It usually begins with one person telling their deepest darkest secret: "Listen, the truth is " and then describing some part of themselves that they have judgment about. They've kept this part a secret because they believed that if anybody knew about it, they would never be loved again: "I'm basically a really insecure person," or "I am kind of lazy," or "I'm a clean-aholic," or whatever. And the response is almost always the same: "Yeah, I've always known that about you. I find it endearing. I love that about you."
Then the couple begins unwrapping all of the holiday gifts, which the habitual arguments had kept hidden:
The couple who came to us ready to divorce over whether to put their sick dog down, now realize that they both love not only the dog, but each other. He wasn't being cruel trying to keep the dog alive, as she had believed, he was just terrified of being alone, and he believed that when the dog died, she would leave him.
The businesswoman who spent all of her free time judging her artist husband's "useless, unemployed friends" because they were such a bad influence on him admits that she is jealous of how happy those friends make him, and how scared she is that she has become a drudge.
The wife who complained constantly to her overworked husband that he never helped with the housework admits she misses working and hates the suburbs, and he breathes a sigh of relief that the powerful woman he married is back.
And on and on.
The vicious cycle of complaint and judgment slows, and the same old arguing finally stops. And then the relationship begins to spin in the opposite direction, and the beneficial cycle begins.
In Stage Three, the Mature Relationship, instead of seeing your relationship as broken and your partner as the problem, the whole topic shifts back to the point of the relationship in the first place: fun and pleasure, love and support, cooperation and the teamwork.
And that's why we call it: Teamwork Mediation!
And that's why we call it: Teamwork Mediation!
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