by Dr. Richard Bolstad and Margot Hamblett
Much NLP training clearly promotes such a separation psychology, by encouraging the development of individual goals and missions, and ignoring the value of collective goals and missions. If we are modelling success, we could benefit from noticing that much of humanity’s success is collective, not individual. There are things that successful couples learn how to do, that successful individuals cannot. The enhanced memory discovered by Daniel Wegner is just one small example of that.
A Model For Enhancing LIFELONG Partnership
Over the last three years we have studied a number of what we would consider highly satisfying lifelong partnerships. Some of the strategies used by these people in their relationship have already been identified by social psychologists. These include (Franzoi, 1996, p. 373-377)
* Creating psychological equity. Equity is the feeling that you and your partner are both getting about as much “happiness” as each other.
* Using a partner-enhancing attributional style. This is similar to the style happy people use to explain their own behaviour. Partners positive behaviours are assumed to be a result of their good personality, while their negative behaviours are assumed to be a result of situational problems such as having a bad day.
* Shifting from first to second position in conflicts. This involves the ability to state one’s own concern clearly (“I would like it if…”) and to listen and restate the partner’s concern clearly (“So you would like it if…”).
* Using partnership preserving methods to deal with frustration and dissatisfaction. These methods include both active tactics such as talking over things, and passive tactics such as waiting for problems to “blow over”.
We have also noticed some other important strategies that successful couples share. In our experience there are eight key factors which have supported successful life-long couples in their relationships. They are:
Long term vision
Freedom to ask
Effective conflict resolution
Live and let live approach
Outframing of other relationships
The decision to have a life-long relationship is without a doubt one of the most far reaching decisions you could ever make. It will have more repercussions than choosing to buy a house, or deciding on a career, or even choosing to have a child. In the next 25 years, you will probably change houses again, develop an entirely new career, and your child will grow up. If your life-long relationship really is such, it will still be there, and it will have contributed to each of these other decisions.
There are two ways to get into a life-long partnership. One is to search for someone else who wants to be a life-mate. The other is to develop an existing relationship into a long term one. In either case, at some point you need to openly discuss the concept of life-time partnership. Just hoping that what you’ve got will last is not an adequate beginning. Staying together requires more than just agreeing that it’s a good idea. It requires changing both your metaprograms to sort for what will work for you as a couple. This is what we have come to call in NLP the fourth perceptual position (viewing the world from the perspective of “us” instead of “me” or “you” or “others”). Each partner still sorts for what works for them individually, and they do so within the context of what works for the complete relationship.
In the separation psychology that is popular in our culture, thinking of “us” and “we” is considered co-dependent. Fritz Perls was the founder of Gestalt Therapy, one of the major influences on the “personal growth” movement. In his “Gestalt Prayer”, he says “You do your thing and I do mine. I am not in this world to live up to your expectations. And you are not in this world to live up to mine. You are you and I am I, And if by chance we find each other, it’s beautiful. If not, it can’t be helped.” (Perls, 1969, p 4) What’s missing here is any notion of the value of a shared experience in itself. If I’m thinking of “us” have I really lost myself?
An analogy illustrates how the fourth perceptual position can be used effectively. Let’s say you have some food that you really like; something like chocolate. Eating chocolate is a perfectly valid choice, but you don’t eat chocolate all day every day. Why? Because it uses up too much money, it gives you a tummy ache, it just doesn’t feel good anymore. You accept that eating chocolate is only one of the desires that you are taking into consideration. And what if you discover that eating chocolate has become life-threatening? If you find that this desire endangers your actual survival, it is most likely that you will stop for good, and find some other way to get the satisfaction that chocolate once gave you. Is this “betraying” your real need for chocolate? Is it ignoring your “right” to chocolate? No; it’s simply making a choice based on your highest criteria (values).
In the same way, if you decide that a life-long relationship is one of your highest values, then you accept that your individual wishes are just some of the desires that you are taking into consideration. And what if you discover that one of your individual desires (such as a desire to have sex with someone you just met, or a desire to take up employment in Antarctica) endangers the actual survival of your life-long partnership? It is most likely that in this situation you will stop acting on that desire, and find some other way to get the satisfaction it seemed to promise. Is this betraying your true path in life? Is it ignoring your right to respond sexually? No; it’s simply making a choice based on your highest criteria (values).
Creating a life-long partnership means creating a shared vision of where you want to be in ten years, in twenty years, in forty years, and in your old age. That vision then becomes a way of evaluating whether your actions are worth taking. Hugh and Gayle Prather say “Learning to love is essentially the process of moving past the smaller likes and dislikes into a vast pre-existing ocean of rapport…. Naturally this does not mean that a couple must do everything together or that they can’t have separate activities that they enjoy. Rather, these should always be pursuits that are within the goodwill of both partners.” (Prather and Prather, 1995, p 51).
How does this work in practice. Here are some examples. The two of us decided ten years ago that our vision of the future included us training together. At that time, Richard had been more well known as a trainer, and he received some individual invitations to teach in countries outside New Zealand. He wrote back in each case explaining that we taught as a team. If they were interested in having the two of us, we were available. We made the decision as part of our life-long partnership. Acting alone would not have made sense.
Another example of our conscious use of “we” has been in response to NLP and related training that becomes available from time to time. We have realised that it is not always easy for both of us to leave our business or family at the same time, and go to a training we want to experience. Instead, we have shared out such opportunities, checking who most wants to go and having that person report back in detail about the training later. The experience, for example, of having Richard come back and share Tad James’ Quantum Linguistics, or Margot come back and share Michael Yapko’s hypnotherapy has not only pooled our learning. It has also given us some of our most exciting times together, giving us the experience of enriching each other’s lives.
©Richard Bolstad and Margot Hamblett, 1997. Transformations International Consulting & Training Ltd.
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