Aspects of Healthy, Generative Relationships
We are being very choiceful including Choice as a basic part of relationships (OK, couldn’t help myself). Often our automaticness precludes choice, not only in ourselves, but also in how we allow others to be in choice. How does choice play out in your relationship? How are you practicing choice? Let us know your thinking.
“We are our choices.”― Jean-Paul Sartre
How do you live with choice in your life? Do feel you have choice? Do you make conscious choices? How has your life experiences shaped you regarding having choice and being choiceful? Do you make your own choices in life, or does your life make your choices for you?
We bring our all habits, behaviors, and historical leanings around choice into our relationship. This can produce some great possibilities and also some frustrating patterns. Some people will use their own parent’s relationship style as a template for themselves without considering their own choicefulness. When these kinds of things are revealed to us, it often feels like an, “Oh, poo!” moment. Like am I really doing what my parents did? Unexamined, the subtleties and sub-conscious absorption of those experiences can sometimes look and appear as choice, but are more likely to live as unconscious patterns of non-choice. One clue is when pressed with a question like, “Why is this important to you?” there is difficulty in finding an answer. It becomes important to practice and become choiceful so we are not living by someone else’s standards. Being choiceful is part of the skill of knowing what you care about, why is important to us, and being able to act on it. If you want the kind of relationship you are really looking for, knowing your choices and being able to express them matters. There is always the usefulness of compromise in relationships, and compromise by choice is much cleaner than the resentment that can build by not thinking choice is a possibility or by feeling pressured to choose.
What things should be considered when choosing to live a long lasting primary relationship? We suggest the first, best consideration is the choice of partner. Pick the right person! This is all about choice rather than being compelled to act in a specific way. It can be the difference between allowing my history to make choices for me, or choosing to do the level of my own personal work that frees me to be able to make choices related to my life’s values, standards, and deep desires. Left to it’s own devices, one’s historical shaping will make decisions for us or possibly move us into indecision, which is an inability to feel our choices.
Living choice in relationship brings the possibility of balance, compromise, and a greater likelihood of getting what you want. First and foremost is the wisdom to know one’s own choices, to know likes and dislikes, and be willing to speak up, especially when it makes a difference to you. If this is difficult, what practice would allow you to know yourself better? Do you have a practice to hear yourself, your own truth? When a moment of choice shows up in a relationship, like making tough decisions together, or when it is just a decision of where to have dinner out, being authentic is most useful. Supporting each other in being choiceful begins with supporting each other expressing truth. Agreement in this moment is secondary, as honesty and authenticity breed trust and connection and is a form of intimacy. Expressing opinions is just that, an expression of a perspective or inner knowing, it is not a decision or a fact.
Being choiceful is first, knowing one’s own truth. Second is a willingness to hear others truths without judgment or by making other wrong. Be open and curious, asking for other points of view and unspoken desires. When truthful choices are out in the open, it is much easier to make decisions, find compromise, and because you care, making sure your partner gets what they want.
This requires that each partner be able to manage possible automatic reactions such as always being right, victim (why don’t I get it my way?), don’t have a voice, push back, or fixing “them.” And it won’t be perfect. We get reactive sometimes, and catching that reactiveness and reeling it back in is possible and useful. And nobody always gets what they want. This is the art of compromise, the willingness to give over here, and receive over there. Some good habits to get into are things like it’s your turn to decide; it’s my birthday, I get to decide; let’s do what you want to do today; hey can we do what I want to do today? All of these things can be built in through practice to make choices fun and generative. It can be occasions to ”give “ to your partner, or just to rack up a few brownie points. As long as choices come from a good place, don’t become one-sided or lead to resentment, being choiceful together is fun and rewarding.
Note how you practice choice in your relationship. Who makes more of the relationship choices? Do you let your choice be known? As a practice, have a conversation with your partner about how choices are made in your relationship. Note if you are satisfied with what is discovered from this conversation.
To practice shared choices, pick a topic like dinners or another activity that is recurrent. With dinners, some relationships rely on one or the other partner to organize meals. As a way to practices choicefulness, have each partner pick an alternate night to decide what is going to be served for dinner. This is first about feeling into what you would like to have for dinner, knowing your own wants and desires, being able to hear them and speaking up about what you want. “I don’t know,” or “I don’t care,” are not acceptable responses. It is true that sometimes you may not care, or really not know, and the practice here is to search for your inclination for a certain choice whether it really matters or not. How is it for you to be clear and definitive about your choice? How are you at allowing other to make choices?
Another practice is around decisions, small and large. For each decision, allow each partner to offer their choice(s). If you are not already, begin the practice of speaking up for your choices, and, if you are not already, begin the practice of listening and taking into consideration other’s choice.
If you see a recurrent issue that is difficult or seemingly impossible to shift, the practice is revealing a place for your continued self-work.
We look forward to hearing from you with experiences, comments, and questions!
Cartoon courtesy of Meredith Broome http://www.relevantelephants.com