Becoming skilled in any endeavor requires the building of skills necessary for competence and mastery.
The general principles include (but are not limited to):
And oh, did I mention Practice?
In case you ‘re not familiar with the definition of that word, here is the Webster’s version: Repeated exercise in or performance of an activity or skill so as to acquire or maintain proficiency in it.The key word here is: Repeated. To develop competency in any area of life in which we seek to develop expertise, we need to practice. The best place to practice if you seek to master the art of relationships is to be in one yourself. Books and workshops are good too. They definitely help. But there’s no better way to pit yourself against the challenges that relationships provide if you want to really experience the rubber meeting the road than actually being in a relationship.
Some of the things that you get to experience as you practice include:
Despite the old saying that “practice makes perfect”, in most cases, it doesn’t. Even the most gifted musicians, doctors, writers, actors, and others who stand out in their chosen field rarely if ever see themselves as flawless in their performance, even though others may see them that way.
The development of any new skill usually involves the process of moving forward and then slipping backward, repeatedly. That’s where patience comes in. If we expect that it’s a steady upward path upwards to mastery, we’re likely to be disappointed, frustrated and eventually may stop practicing. In order to master the art of relationships we need to become skilled in the art of “conscious combat”. Although most of us would prefer to avoid conflict, because of the likelihood of having a partnership in which there are some differences in our personalities, how we see things, process emotions, and even certain values, learning to manage differences before they turn into destructive combat is probably a good idea.
We probably won’t always be able to stay present, conscious, and centered, but we can learn how to recover quickly when we get thrown off track. It’s possible in fact, to recover so quickly that no one but ourselves even notices that we temporarily lost it. But this takes practice and that means that we have to be willing to experience being thrown. Not just literally thrown like a practicing martial artist, but thrown off our internal center which happens when we lose it. The “it” is our sense of emotional balance. Every instance of losing it in an argument represents another opportunity to practice getting it back. This happens more quickly, and with less effort, once we have overridden the old habit of reacting with defensiveness and/or offensiveness. Our new default becomes an instinct to:
- Experience the feeling that is being activated
- Identify the feeling
- Take a moment to pause and reflect
- Communicate your experience to your partner
- Repeat until you either feel more complete or need to take a break or a time out.
At first this process may feel awkward. Even though practice doesn’t necessarily make perfect, after a few repetitions, it begins to feel natural and you will find yourself running through the steps more quickly. At first it may take several minutes to get through the process. You may not even be able to get through them all. In time, you will find yourself going through the whole process in seconds. Eventually you will be able to complete the process within yourself, without the other person even noticing.
Misunderstandings come up at least occasionally but they need not derail us. And even if they do, we can put ourselves back on track by focusing on what we can do to get re-railed rather than what they did that threw us off. The realization that we can be effective agents in this process rather than helpless victims is a game-changer. Once we see that, not just as an intellectual construct, but from the results of our Actual experience, it’s hard to ever go back. But then, why would you want to?