Linda: Becoming competent 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 place to pit yourself against the challenges that relationships provide if you want to really experience the rubber meeting the road.
Some of the things that you get to practice are:
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 career rarely if ever see themselves as flawless in their performance, even though many others may see them that way.
Morihei Ueshiba is the originator of Aikido. He was a gifted marital artist and a great spiritual teacher. Mitsugi Saotome Shihan was a student of Ueshiba for fifteen years in Japan, and then went on to become an accomplished Aikido master himself. Shihan once recounted a profound teaching story about addressing Ueshiba saying, “Your techniques are perfect! You never make any mistakes. You never lose your center!” To which his wise, accomplished teacher replied, “I lose my center frequently. I just find it again so quickly that you can’t see it.”
The development of any new skill 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 path upwards to mastery, we’re likely to get disappointed, frustrated and will probably eventually 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 inevitability of being with someone with whom we have some differences in how we see things, in our personalities, and even certain values, learning to manage differences before they turn into destructive combat is a more realistic view.
Like Ueshiba, we may not be able to always stay centered, but we may recover when we lose our center. 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” being 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, with less effort, and automatically, once we have overridden the old habit of reacting with defensiveness and/or offensiveness. Our new default becomes an instinct to:
1. Experience the feeling that is being activated
3. Identify the feeling
4. Take a moment to pause and reflect
5. Communicate your experience to your partner
6. 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 steps. 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 your partner even noticing.
Misunderstandings come up at least occasionally, but they need not derail us. And even if they do, we can put ourselves 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 an effective agent in this process rather than a helpless victim is a game-changer. When we see the results of our experience, it’s hard to ever go back. But then, why would you want to?