Speaking of breaking free of the criticizing habit, a step discussed in Part 2, it’s a lot easier to achieve when you also shift your focus to wanting to understand what both you and your partner want, and then actively supporting each other to realize your yearnings etc. – at minimum with the energy you bring. These two remaining steps are the subject of this post.
Step 4: Know What You Each Want — and Why
This step consists of two parts: understanding what you want and why, and what your partner wants and their reasons.
Knowing what you want makes it more likely you will be heard and understood, and come to a resolution you desire.
Understanding your why’s, when it comes to goals, is what helps you sustain momentum from start to finish. No small matter, your reasons connect you to inner core emotion-drives to matter. It’s more often not about the kids, money, sex, communication, and so on; it’s about fulfilling certain unstoppable inner yearnings each partner brings to the equation to meaningfully connect, to matter in relation to life, self and the other.
Knowing what you want, and why, makes it easier to say and express what you want, and more likely to stay focused on what is most relevant in your discussion.
It’s not enough to have one-sided clarity, however.
In a couple relationship, it won’t work to only or mostly know your wants and why’s. This is often the cause of much disconnect because … a key part is missing. Like it or not, the realization of (most of) your goals is connected to the realization of your partner’s. The operating principle for healthy intimacy to grow in a couple relationship (and most adult relationships for that matter):
Your partner’s wants and why’s must fully matter to you as well as your own; otherwise, the relationship will remain off balance.
This double-sided clarity allows you to work on both sides of your relationship simultaneously, to avoid going around in circles, to steer away from energy-wasting ruthless (or subtle) competitions, and the like.
This rule may not apply to all your goals, however, it definitely applies to issues in which you’ve both fallen stuck in toxic reactive interactions for years … or decades. If you do not break these toxic reactions to one another, the principle that operates is:
The longer your response patterns remain unbroken, the greater the chance your brain will form ingrained, subconscious habits.
Partners can and do get addicted to “keeping” the problems or issues “alive”! Once a pattern is subconsciously repeated, it can trick us into thinking it is “our” personality, who we are, etc. A toxic pattern can feel so familiar in fact that “new” responses — even healthy ones that would promote healing – may feel uncomfortable, and get quickly rejected as “it’s not me.” (Keep in mind, you’re both wired to keep reaching to feel good about your self and life (i.e., happiness, joy), and thus, absent healthy ways of knowing how to feel good in moments of stress, boredom, etc., your body-mind will subconsciously opt for old tried-and-true “cheap-feel-good” options, which are often a waste of time and energy at best, if not harmful, destructive.
What if what one of you wants is harmful, i.e., “wants” drugs or to stay out all night? Another rule applies here:
What is healthy for you is ultimately healthy for your partner and relationship; correspondingly, what is unhealthy for you is ultimately unhealthy for your partner and relationship.
The point is that, whenever you attempt to resolve an issue, and one or both of you feel short-changed, you are likely to get triggered, in which case, to discuss anything is likely a waste of your energy. When you think of it, aren’t you each following a script, rehashing the same worn dialogue again and again?
How do you show one another that your wants fully matter? Literally, you must energize yourself inside to want your partner to realize what they most aspire in relation to self and other, to be happy, to matter, to feel valued, and so on.
Without this focus, you are each at risk of getting triggered, or triggering one another, and does it really matter who got triggered first? If you’re stuck in patterns where you can “predict” what the other will say or do, stop and think with your frontal cortex. While it may be true that what your partner is doing is not working, that’s not the part you have 100% power to change. Each partner must own their partner to make this work. The sooner you own your part, the sooner you access your power to make optimal choices, i.e., to put the habit of criticizing to rest! After all don’t you already:
- “See” and “know” how ineffective it is when your partner uses blame-, shame-, or guilt-inducing comments, or gets stuck on making negative forecasts, focuses on “lack” etc?
- See and know how unloving or unloved you “feel” inside when your partner seems to be competing for “who” is right, better, superior, etc.
Ask yourself, do you really want the prize of “who’s more hurt, wronged, etc.” on your mantel?
Punitive tactics may work is a wrestling match; however they are guaranteed to help both partners fail in getting the secure, vibrant and passionate friendship they want with one another.
So, before discussing a sensitive issue, ask yourself: What do you really, really want, and why? Whenever possible, it also helps to write down what you want in advance in order to talk and say what you want in ways that most guarantee your partner “can” hear you.
And then ask whether one of your wants is for your partner to have what they really, really want? If so, then consciously (actively) seek to know and understand what they want, their reasons. Rest assured that when your energy conveys the sincerity of your commitment and your desire to be an authentic presence in their life, they will feel the difference.
An important caveat: True, we do not always get what we want. That’s not only a reality in life, it is a lesson of sorts, conceivably as essential aspect of learning to balance our giving and receiving. Ultimately it’s not about perfectly getting what we want per se; it’s about the process, the journey as relationship beings, the healing that takes place as we learn to shift what we want in order to grow wiser, heal and transform ourselves and relationships in the process as we become ever better versions of ourselves by learning how to treat self and other with dignity along the way (whether we get what we want or not).
Step 5: Support Your Partner to Get What They Want
This last step is about your role in actively supporting your partner to get what they want, as well as what you want. If wanting to know — and understand one another’s wants and why is critical, expressing the sincerity of your love through actions seals the deal. The rule that operates here is that:
Your actions are the most authentic expression of what you most want and yearn to realize.
In other words, when you or your partner really, really want the other to have what they want, your actions will express this. Simultaneously, regular actions that let them know you want them to realize their wants and needs
Energizing yourself here means to see that your choice to consciously act to support your partner is a gift , ultimately, a practice of doing the “right” thing … just because. Love expressed as conscious actions in the highest interest of your partner, ultimately, are in your highest interest. Your ability to do the “right” thing even when you do not “feel” like it deepens and matures your capacity to love your self as well as the other.
Taking action seals the deal, which is why it is the last (but also ongoing) step.
What specific actions do you each desire the other to take that would increase your sense of safety and love in the relationship? How would this add meaning to your life? What do you want the other to understand? How do you want the other to respond to your communication?
How would having what you each want fulfill you both emotionally (see emotion-drives list) in the situation, for example, feeling heard, understood, valued?
Speaking of actions, one essential action to be willing to take is to make clear, action-inspiring requests. In couple relationships, often, this comes “easy” for one of the partner’s, and not so easy for the other. (If this sounds like you, it means both of you need to stretch and change or modify your approach. For the former, for example, their approach may sound more like complaints or ultimatums; for the latter, their approach talks them out of making requests as they “see” them as criticisms or “trying to change” others.)
Both partners must learn to “reimage” the other, and to “see” requests as essential, powerful, infinitely more effective replacements for criticism.
To create the life experiences that meet your deepest yearnings means you must develop the ability to ask for what you want, and to listen to understand your partner’s. Knowing what you don’t want is also important, however, the human brain doesn’t process negatives as effectively. That’s because your words create images in your mind, and these images create an emotional reality of sorts. If your goal is to not argue defensively, for example, that’s great. Shift your focus, however, to what you want instead. Why? Your words put emotion-activating images in your mind. Use the workspace of your imagination wisely.
When you focus on what you want (rather than what you don’t want), you are in better position to suggest strategies to better meet your needs. Connecting to your core needs, or emotion-drives, also helps you clarify your action-requests, making them easier for your partner to see and make the connection.
Realizing your potential is a living, breathing process that ebbs and flows. The most vital moment at any time in life is always the present one.
- If you are not present as a witness to your inner world of emotions and feelings, wants and yearnings, hurts and doubts, etc., you cannot be present to your partner. They will feel the distance and disconnect. It’s as if you are not there.
- If you do not own your happiness, seek to actively grow, to learn what works and what does not (wisdom), to take action accordingly, then you risk approaching your partner with discouraging tactics of criticism, blame, doubts, etc., triggers their deepest fears and doubts. It’s as if you are not there.
- If you allow your thoughts or self-talk to keep you worrying about the future or wallowing about past failures or regrets, you cannot be present moment as an observer of your self and your relationship with your partner. It’s as if you are not there.
- If you do not know what your partner wants and their reasons, you are at risk of making energy-deflating assumptions or treating your partner as an extension of your self. It’s as if you are not there.
- If you do not take actions to consciously support you and your partner to realize what you want, you are at risk of getting stuck in fear-based patterns that activate old emotion-command circuitry in your brain (so old, it takes you back to patterns formed when you were 3 or 5 years old!). Again, it is as if you’re not there.
Realizing your potential as individuals and a couple is less an “outcome” and more an intention to live life fully, to learn, to grow in wisdom and understanding, to realize the amazing built in capabilities you have to stretch your capacity for compassion for your self and your partner.
What does that mean exactly and what is true potential? One thing your potential isn’t is a fixed, static outcome written in stone. Flexibility is a characteristic of creative energy (power); whereas inflexibility is characteristic of destructive power.
Potential can be described as a growing desire to bring into your life and relationship more love, more authenticity, more integrity, more acceptance, more humility, more gratitude, more sense of wellbeing. This is living with the intention for you and your partner to love one another by living to keep reaching for your highest, true potential as individuals and partners.
Set an intention to become more and more aware of how you choose to use your power in present moments; your awareness of power to know, understand and take action is life-shaping.
Practice these 5 steps and you’ll begin to notice, more and more, the life shaping power you have to infuse life and love-activating energy into your couple relationship.