The Art of Caring Confrontation

What happens to my marriage if I choose to be “nice” rather than honest?

…if I go “silent” rather than confront an issue head on?

Usually there’s an ugly consequence.

Today I’m sharing an amazing tool I call “The Art of Caring Confrontation”.

I always assumed that going silent and being nice is better than blowing up into a raging argument.

I’m not advocating blowing up, but clamming up doesn’t work either.

Why?

Because a healthy relationship requires vulnerability.

And vulnerability takes courage, not just being nice.

I’ve learned that I tend to avoid vulnerability like the plague.

I’d much rather hide what I really feel about something than to confront it in a scary conversation.

Can you relate?

I call it “being nice” rather than being honest.

“I know how sensitive she is. I don’t want to get a reaction.”
“Talking about it only brings up the pain of the past.”
“Sharing how I really feel will hurt his feelings. I don’t want to go there.”

I’m so “nice”.

Really?

Sometimes being nice is just a big cover up job for something I’m too afraid to broach.

What a whimp!

It takes COURAGE with a capital C to be vulnerable.

There is a relationship in my family were we have gone silent for 20 years.

There are things that we do not talk about – and have not talked about for two decades. And stuff we will not talk about for another 20 years, unless something changes.

And that big fat elephant shows up and sits there in the room with us every time we’re together. And no one talks about it.

Oh, there are some people who tell me “Just say it because it needs to be said!” If I did that, it would just trigger everyone’s defenses so that no one would really listen.

So, it’s easier to just be “nice”.

Why? Because it’s too painful to open old wounds.

Wait a minute! Too painful!?

Too painful compared to what? (Now I’m talking to myself again.)

Have I even considered the price of silence?

Evidently I’m willing to suffer a slow death over 20 years rather than facing the pain of a brief surgery that might start the healing process.

For me that’s been the price of silence. And it’s a heavy price.

OK, whew…! I hope there’s some value in that catharsis I just went through.

Now I want to lighten up, and apply this amazing tool to our marriages. It’s a skill you and I can use every day.

I call it…

THE ART OF CARING CONFRONTATION

This is how I’m working against that forceful tendency to go silent in a conflict.

This is how I’m learning to say what I need to say in a healthy way that leads to dialogue.

It’s a skill I adapted from the book Crucial Conversations. It’s a way to be honest while being nice.

It goes like this:

caring-confrontation-2

1. State the FACTS

Start with the facts because facts are less controversial.

Facts are the basis of the story I’m telling that is creating my emotions.

So start with what happened. “This is what I saw or heard.”Facts are what a video camera with sound would have recorded about the event.

2. Tell your STORY

This is my interpretation of the facts. The meaning I’m adding to the facts. The story I’m telling myself about what happened.

Use a sentence stem that goes something like this. “This makes me wonder if…”

3. Ask the QUESTION

A question that invites dialogue. Something like, “Is that what’s happening, or am I missing something?”

Here’s a real life example from Chuck and Sandy’s experience.

CHUCK:

FACTS: “You asked me if I’d be willing to tear out the old tomato vines and I said I would. But then you went and did it.”

STORY: “That makes me wonder if you don’t trust me to do something when I say I will.”

QUESTION: “Is that what you’re thinking?”

At this point I was in control of my emotions because I’m not leading with my “story”. Rather than judging Sandy’s intent I used this process to turn on my curiosity.

And this actually made it safe and got us into a healthy dialogue.

SANDY:

“Sometimes I’m afraid you’ll forget, or you’ll think I’m nagging you. So I went silent and just did it myself.”

CHUCK:

“That makes sense.”

Then we try to be open to a Behavior Change Request.

SANDY:

“Is there a request you’d like to make?”

And this is how Dialogue becomes the means to a real change in the relationship.

CHUCK:

“Yes. It would be help me if you would use your Caring Confrontation skills and talk about it rather going silent and then not trust me. That feels bad.”

SANDY:

“Can we have a do-over?”

Now Sandy is in the game. She’s not going silent. She’s choosing to be honest rather than “nice”. (But honest in a nice way.)

And she’s willing to practice it by going back over it. (We notice our skills get better when we practice them.)

SANDY:

FACTS: “Chuck, when I mentioned the dead tomato plants needed to be removed, you said you’d take them out. After a few days I noticed it wasn’t done.”

STORY: “That makes me wonder if you forgot or you’d changed your mind. And I started feeling frustrated.”

QUESTION: “Can you help me know what’s going on?”

CHUCK:

“Oh yeah. I was planning to do that this weekend. It did slip my mind, but I thought about it the other day and figured I could do it Saturday morning. Thanks for the nudge and reminder.”

Right on, Chuck and Sandy! Issue resolved!

But…in that first round, why did Sandy go silent?

Fear…fear that I would get upset.

But which is harder? Doing the surgery now and having the hard conversation, or letting it fester and become a disease in the relationship?

Can we see how avoiding conflict keeps you in conflict? I’m starting to get it.

Using a skill like The Art of Caring Confrontation opens things up so that we can stay connected and grow and heal together.

Try this out the next time you’re tempted to be “nice” rather than honest.

And share with us the results in the reply section below!

Until next week…

My goal is to provide free relationship resources delivered to your email inbox every Saturday morning! To receive my weekly blogpost just subscribe below.

What to do when your marriage partner keeps “leaving the relationship”

I’m not talking about moving out. I’m talking about taking  seemingly innocent “exits” that rob your relationship. 

“Exits” are places where you go to get your needs met outside your relationship.

Things like hobbies, sports, computer games, the kids, work…

or pornography, an affair, etc.

Some “legitimate”, some not so.

Whenever anything becomes a substitute for intimacy with your partner, it can drain your relationship of the energy it needs to flourish.

Does this touch a nerve? Please read on.

In last week’s post, Katie felt like her husband, Frank, was playing way too much golf.

But through the Couples Dialogue, they got to the real issue in their relationship.

Golf wasn’t the problem it was Katie’s hidden fear.

Katie’s hidden fear was  that something would always take her place in Frank’s life.

Their marriage experienced a breakthrough when Frank began to understand this.

Frank began to see all Katie’s “nagging” as simply a hidden desire for more closeness with him. When he finally got that, Katie’s nagging stopped. Fantastic!

But what about Frank? What was Frank’s issue, and how did he contribute to this relationship problem?

Turns out, playing golf was an “exit” from the relationship. It was one of many ways Frank would “leave” Katie when he felt unsafe.

In the counseling process, while Katie learned to turn her criticism into a spoken desire, Frank learned to close the exits that were robbing their relationship.

He began to channel that energy into building an intimate partnership with Katie.

And you can do that too.

Here’s how  to close the “exits” that are robbing your marriage.

1. Identify your unconscious defenses

If you met Frank you would not see any indication there was a problem. He is funny, and outgoing, and well-loved by all their friends.

But as the Dialogue process went deeper, Frank discovered a secret about himself.

Although Frank was super outgoing and a real “people person”, he was terrified of intimacy.

Abuse suffered early in life from his father, and neglect from his mother led to a deeply ingrained belief that intimacy is painful.

The message was, “If you get close to someone, you’ll end up getting hurt.”

Frank learned to survive childhood by keeping a safe distance from everyone.

The first step for Frank was to identify his unconscious defense strategy:

Frank was an “isolator” who would take a convenient “exit” anytime Katie would get “too close”.

2. Identify ways you avoid your relationship

Katie complained that “golf was the problem”, but we saw that golf wasn’t really the problem.

It was that Katie felt like Frank was “leaving the relationship”. Golf was one way he did that.

When Frank quit playing golf on the weekends, Katie was still not happy. Why?

Frank’s “exit” switched to computer games. Again, Katie felt him leaving her.

It wasn’t until these exits were identified that a plan for change could happen.

Katie longed for closeness, but from the very beginning of their relationship whenever she would get too close, Frank would exit.

It was Frank’s  fear of intimacy that kept him on the run.

And there was always an exit to be found!

What about you? What are your exits?

Take time to look at your activities and ask yourself, “Am I doing any of these things in order to avoid my relationship?”

One husband realized that he was staying late at work, because when he would walk through the front door, a wave of depression would come over him. It was real easy to stay at work.

When we are disconnected from our partner, anxiety can make our relationship a real downer. That’s when it’s easy to exit.

So take time to identify your exits.

3. Redirect energy into your relationship

It’s important to not just close the exit. We must also find a way to redirect that energy into the relationship.

The best way I’ve found to do that is by using “Caring Behaviors”.

A “Caring Behavior” is something your partner has expressed to you that makes her or him feel loved.

In last week’s post, Katie made a “Behavior Change Request” of Frank. That request  pointed to a “Caring Behavior” – something that, when done, makes Katie feel loved.

Her request was, “Next month, will you choose one weekend and plan something for us to do together?”

When Frank gave up his weekend golf to plan a suprise weekend with Katie, it was a positive experience for them both.

Katie felt loved, and her response made Frank feel like he could move closer to her.

It doesn’t help to just close your exits. You must redirect that energy into the relationship in a way that works for you both. That’s when reconnection can occur.

How about you in your relationship? Perhaps you can relate to Frank?

Is it scary for you to think about giving up something you love on a slim chance that you might be able to make your partner feel loved?

I can relate!

So begin with small steps.

There was wife who would go jogging every day at lunch, and then again after work. She learned that jogging was an exit – a way she was avoiding intimacy.

A small step for her was to continue jogging during her lunch break, but stop jogging in the evening in order to spend that time with her husband. 

She didn’t give up jogging altogether. She just turned some of that energy back into the relationship. They spent time using some of the Dialogue tools they were learning in therapy. It was a step in the right direction.

Small steps…

So closing the exits is not about giving up something. It’s about getting the love you’ve always wanted!

Instead of leaving the relationship, identify your defenses, call your exits what they are, close them, and redirect all that good energy into your relationship.

You’ll be glad you did!

Need help? Reach out to me. I do coaching with couples all over the world through video conferencing.

Also…

If you haven’t already, please subscribe to my weekly post in the form below. My goal is to provide free relationship resources delivered to your email inbox every Saturday morning!

Why incompatibility is the basis for a great marriage

Marriage incompatibility can be transformed into an intimate partnership for healing and growth!

Ever feel like you’re married to the most incompatible person on the planet?

You’re not alone. Turns out “opposites” DO attract!

And being opposite can feel like you’re incompatible.

But here’s a secret…

Incompatibility is the basis for a great marriage!

“Ok Chuck, I get it that opposites attract. But incompatibility…the basis for a great marriage? Give me a break! Is this going to be another post where you say the opposite of what we’ve always thought? Like ‘Conflict is a sign you married the right person’?”

I could hear your objections already and you’re not alone.

I googled “relationship compatibility” and found many who agree with you. Countless articles warning you NOT to be in a relationship with someone incompatible with you in areas like…

  • Strict punctuality vs. hang loose “I’ll get there when I get there.”
  • Neat-freak vs. slob
  • Spend-thrift vs. stingy-sourpuss
  • And God forbid you get into a relationship with someone who is not “sexually compatible” with you.

“Experts” are saying that differences like these will make life miserable!

“So don’t commit!  Find someone compatible!!” 

But recent neuroscience discoveries are turning what we thought about the marriage relationship on it’s head.

Think about it:

Each of those differences listed above represent opportunities for healing and growth…but only when those two “incompatible” people are together in a relationship!

Get my drift?

Here are two reasons I’m convinced “incompatibility” is the basis for a great marriage.

1. Incompatibility creates opportunities to heal the past.

Case in point: Nate and Susan.

Nate was a very intelligent, but very quiet young man in my premarital counseling group. When I tried to point out traits in Susan, his fiancé, that foreshadow future areas of conflict, he said, “No way! Those are the things I love about her!”

Nate was sincere, but he was also in the Romantic Stage of the relationship, and was seeing Susan through rose-colored glasses.

Isn’t it cute the way she’s so expressive with her emotions! I can listen to her talk all day.

So why is it that after only a year of marriage he found himself leaving the house because…

She never shuts up!  

hmm??

At some point after the wedding vows, the neurotransmitters that induce the romantic love coma subside.

That’s when we wake up to the fact that we have married someone different from us.

Surprise!

The rose-colored glasses are ripped off. Welcome to the Power Struggle Stage.

So what was going on with Nate and Susan?

Nate had married his “Imago match”.

His what?

Harville Hendrix uses this term, “Imago”, to describe an image you carry in your unconscious “lower brain” (brain stem and limbic system).

And that image consists of…

1) The positive and negative traits of your primary caretakers.

and

2) The disowned, denied, and lost parts of yourself.

Imago Relationship Theory posits that the selection of a romantic partner is partly unconscious, driven by an agenda which is to…guess what?

Finish childhood.

What?

To finish childhood. To resolve the wounds, unmet needs, and frustrations that occurred while growing up.

That’s why we fall in love and marry someone who is like our parents!

Not in just their positive traits, but even more significantly in their NEGATIVE traits.

Now why would I want to do that? That doesn’t make sense.

Did I say that it happens unconsciously?

Those positive and negative traits in your partner feel familiar. This explains in part why you’re drawn to his person and why you fall in love.

But as you encounter the negative traits, old wounds are activated.

Nate had that mysterious quietness that Susan was drawn to.

And when we talked about how his childhood defenses could make her feel abandoned, she was confident that would not happen.

He just won’t. Because we’re in love. He’d never do that.

Don’t you just love the naiveté of the Romantic Stage of a relationship?

But at one point, when Susan felt Nate withdrawing from her, it did activate those feelings of abandonment. And that’s when their conflicts began.

Growing up, Susan’s mom was busy caring for younger twins, while her dad seemed married to his work. And then her dad spent whatever time left over with her brothers.

Her method of coping was to break the rules, act out – anything to get someone’s attention.

So when Nate activated this same feeling of rejection and abandonment by simply pulling away from her, she would become upset and demand to be heard and recognized.

And the more he withdrew, the louder and more controlling she became.
And the louder she got, the more he withdrew.

At that point, so early in their journey, there was no way that Nate could have understood the pain that was driving her.

But during therapy he was able to empathize with Susan, and to see how his pulling away from her triggered those deep feelings of abandonment from childhood.

He realized he was not the source of her upset. He was only the “trigger”.

In the Imago Dialogue process, Susan began making “change requests” of Nate that involved him being present with her during times of conflict, rather than “abandoning” her.

She asked Nate for things like this…

“The next time you feel like leaving the conversation, can we just stop talking, and will you just take my hand, look into my eyes, and just be silent with me for two minutes?”

As he granted those requests, Susan’s wound from childhood began to heal as her longing for connection was no longer being frustrated by Nate leaving.

Our lower brain holds pain from the past in an unconscious state, and also in the present tense (as if the wound happened yesterday).

And the lower brain does not distinguish between individuals. It only apprehends the traits of a person.

So when that past wound is activated by someone similar to the one who wounded you…BUT this time their behavior gives you what you needed, healing is the result!

And your lower brain doesn’t complain, “Well, you’re about 20 years too late!”

No! The love you’re receiving registers deep in your psyche, “Finally, I’m getting the love I wanted.” And it’s healing.

Do you see how your marriage can be an amazing partnership for healing you never even imagined before?

Incompatibility creates opportunities to heal.

Wow.  Sounds simple enough, right?

Hold on a minute.

It sounds simple, but…it was extremely hard for Nate to grant that request.

Why? Because Nate had spent all his years protecting himself from this kind of vulnerability. A step like this was threatening…actually terrifying!

This leads to the second reason I think incompatibility makes for a great relationship.

2. Incompatibility creates opportunities to grow.

What Susan needed to heal pointed precisely to where Nate need to grow.

Nate had never had to be present and share his emotions until he married Susan.

Incompatibility provides an opportunity to grow and recover parts of youself that were lost and never developed growing up.

Nate was drawn to Susan because she was so effusive and free to share her feelings. Something Nate had never developed growing up.

How did Nate miss out on this?

His mother was controlling. So he discovered early in life that one way to maintain a feeling of autonomy around his intrusive mother was to keep his thoughts and feelings to himself.

Without this information, she was less able to invade his space.

Nate learned to hide behind a psychic shield he erected as a child to protect himself from an overbearing mother.

He felt smothered by his mom growing up, and now he was feeling smothered by his new wife.

So Nate would respond to Susan’s “intrusions” in the same way – by doing a disappearing act where he could hide his feelings from her.

Susan didn’t realize that when Nate left the conversation, he was only trying to survive his own pain and not trying to “punish” her.

But notice how Susan’s “change request” was a challenge for Nate to begin to learn to stay present and connect emotionally. Something he’d never had to do. Something he’d never developed. But something that he was actually very capable of doing.

Because, in doing this, Nate was recovering a lost part of himself.

So for Nate to provide what Susan needed most (his presence during conflict), required him to stretch. To stretch into behaviors he never learned as a child. And it was not easy.

But through this process Nate began to feel much more “whole” as a person.

So…not only can incompatibility create opportunities to heal, it also creates opportunities to grow.

“But, Chuck,” Nate could have said (he didn’t say it, but many partners do), “That’s just not who I am. I’m not a ‘feelings’ person. I feel like Susan wants to change me into something I’m not.”

I hear that a lot.

This growth challenge is not about changing who you are. It’s about becoming more of who your are.

It’s about recovering those things that are actually in us, but have been walled off by our childhood adaptations and defenses.

That’s why Nate felt more whole as a person after this.

Here’s a super big takeaway:

Your partner’s need for healing will always point to your need for growth. And vice versa.

An amazing thing this thing called marriage!

What about you  today? Does your partner trigger this kind of upset in you? Or do you trigger it in your partner?

Have you felt like giving up on your marriage because you’re “incompatible”?

If what I’m saying is true, the best place for you to be is right where you are.

So let me encourage you to stay put. And work toward building this kind of mutual partnership of healing and growth.

Subscribe below to receive my weekly post that will come to your email inbox every Saturday morning! 

My goal is to provide free relationship tools and resources delivered to your inbox every week! 

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Conflict is a sign you married the right person!

Marriage conflict is not only normal, it opens the door to your healing and wholeness!

Experts tell us that compatibility with your partner is the recipe for boredom. And incompatibility is the recipe for a great relationship!

A transformative relationship! One that is dynamic, powerful, growing and exciting!

Jessica burst into tears as she shared the pain and disappointment she felt after only a few weeks of marriage.

“I thought Ron would be there for me, but now I feel like I’ve married my dad who was never there for me!”

Jessica realized that her new husband was triggering pain from her childhood that she didn’t even know was there.

This happens to some degree with all of us, because recent relationship research shows that…

…couples fight because they bring their childhood into their current relationship.

It’s not something we try to do, or we’re even conscious of, but our childhood adaptations and defenses continue in their “adult versions”, wreaking havoc in our present intimate relationships.

And that’s why we have conflict.

According to relationship expert Harville Hendrix…

“Romantic Love delivers us into the passionate arms of someone who will ultimately trigger the same frustrations we had with our parents, but for the best possible reason! Doing so brings our childhood wounds to the surface so they can be healed.”

I’ve heard pain like Jessica’s expressed in so many different ways by so many frustrated partners, but underneath, the message is always the same:

“This dream I married has become my worst nightmare!”

This happens after the “romantic stage” when a couple enters what we call the “power struggle stage” of the relationship.

It happens sometime between a few weeks and a couple of years after saying “I do.”

In the Romantic Stage you’re high on drugs!

Your brain releases pleasure chemicals called dopamine, norepinephrine and serotonin that cause you to fall in love and see your partner through rose-colored glasses.

And the events that occur in the brain when we fall in love have similarities to mental illness :-).

That’s no joke!

And yet romantic love is wonderful, and if we understand it, it’s a foretaste of what is to come – healing, wholeness, mature love, passion and full aliveness.

But soon after a commitment is made guess what happens?

The drugs wear off.

And like Jessica, you feel like, “Oh no. What have I done? I think I’ve made a huge mistake.”

That’s why many Millennials aren’t too keen on marriage. They see what a commitment leads to and they are reticent.

But like most of us they miss the point.

It’s just the power struggle stage folks. 

It’s normal, and though it may be hard to fathom at the moment…

…it’s simply a sign that you’re with the right person!

It’s confirmation that you’re in the best place on the planet to heal, and grow and recover the wholeness you lost along the way.

Not every case is as extreme as Jessica and Ron’s,  but most couples admit that at some point they wonder if they may have married the wrong person.

Tragically, many marriages fail at this point.

Many of us have relationships that failed because we  didn’t know how normal the power struggle is, and  how conflicts provide  such great opportunities to grow.

Some of you understood it, but your partner didn’t and wouldn’t, and because it takes two, the marriage died.

No matter where your are it’s never too late to change your paradigm about conflict and get on the journey of healing, growth and transformation.

Somehow we got the idea that when romantic love fades, it’s time to move on.

Some of us are in love with being in love. So when the the feelings of love leave, so do we.

Others of us are so committed that we’re determined we won’t move on (at least for now), but we’re stuck in the power struggle and we’re wondering if we’re going to be sentenced to a life of unhappiness, or mediocrity in our marriage.

With your permission I’d like to challenge those ideas.

I see couples every week experiencing transformation in their relationship and that shift begins when they start to see their conflicts as opportunities.

You can move through the power struggle stage to mature love and experience healing and wholeness!

And not only that, after Mature Love comes the next stage which I call World Impact where your partnership for healing and growth becomes a positive force that begins to transform your family and the world in which you live.

It’s not too late to turn your conflicts into a partnership of healing and growth.

My online course will give you some powerful relationship tools that can help you build the marriage of your dreams. Click here for more info.

Also to receive encouragement each week simply subscribe to my weekly blogpost below.

Subscribe below to receive my weekly post that will come to your email inbox every Saturday morning! 

My goal is to provide free relationship tools and resources delivered to your inbox every week!