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If we want to help our partner change, we must change. There is no other way. And more: unless we’re exceptionally blessed, it’s unlikely our partner has the same wish that we do: to keep growing and exploring a love that, at the start, was filled with surprising changes, but that has lost some of that sparkle because one, or both of us has stopped changing.
All this is to say: odds favor you’re the one who will have to initiate the work needed to refresh your relationship. No problem. You’ll find everything you need to get started in the three special relationship exercises that follow. They are designed to work in a two-fold way.
Part one unfolds as you initiate the first action and receive the revelation that will help make changes in you. The second part of the exercise happens as your partner sees and experiences this change in you. When you no longer act toward them in the old way, they can’t help but see their own mechanical nature that only knows the “old way” to react to you.
In effect, your new actions help to reveal their old limitations so that – for a moment, anyway – and to whatever degree it occurs, your partner suddenly sees the need to change! If ever there was a real “win-win” situation, a way for two people to realize the highest possibilities a relationship can offer, this is it.
Let’s say you’re with your partner and you see something in their character that “strikes a familiar nerve” in you. Maybe it’s impatience, an obvious pretense, or just the unpleasant tone in their voice when they say something unkind or otherwise painful to your ear. There are so many options here, but suffice it to say that it’s whatever “stone” they seem to put in your shoe in that moment.
You feel a sudden negative reaction come up in you, generally attended by an unspoken thought along the lines of “there they go again.” As a rule, the next thing that happens is you feel obligated to give this negative feeling a voice. After all, if you don’t point out their misstep how will they know they’ve stepped out of line, let alone how they’ve troubled you?
Call it what you will, there stands revealed some kind of pain; perhaps anger, an old resentment, a sense of disappointment. By whatever name, it’s negative. But you’re not...and here’s why: your new awareness of this unconscious nature is the same as your freedom from its compulsion to prove itself right.
Your conscious struggle to bear its pressure in you – to not let it push you to speak its pain – is the same as sparing your partner the brunt of its dark nature.
You are changed on the spot because now – thanks to the exercise of looking within before you speak out – you can now see, clearly, who you can no longer agree to be.
In the meantime, actually at the same time of your revelations, your partner is watching you. It may not seem so, but in the same moment of their misstep they could feel your negative reaction. Even if you think you masked it for fear of an unwanted encounter, your partner feels that dark energy. It unconsciously registers within them, creating an opposing reaction. So your partner is waiting, albeit unaware that they’re preparing to defend themselves from what they think you’re about to say!
But not a contrary word slips out of your mouth. You’re busy learning about yourself, and your silence is deafening to them. It’s giving your partner the momentary room – and the freedom – they need to see that the only thing punishing them at the moment is their own defensive thoughts and feelings. They’re ready to fight...but your silence has left them no one to fight with! They’re left alone with their pain, with no one they can blame for its mounting pressure. This new awareness is the same as their realization of a limitation in their nature they would have never seen otherwise. What was concealed is revealed, and the healing can begin because now your partner has seen the need to change.
All forms of competition between partners breed conflict, especially in the unconscious form that it takes in what seems – on the surface – to be a casual conversation.
It all starts as simply as you wanting to tell your partner about something that you did that day; perhaps to share an insight you gained, or just to talk through some condition at work or at home that’s concerning you.
No more do you finish your sentence – or at times, right in the middle of your words – than your partner interrupts you. They’ve decided to change the topic – on the spot – to one that’s obviously more interesting than whatever it was you had to say. They start talking about themselves!
Now maybe you show it, maybe you don't, but you’re hurt. So you do one of two things: you either pull the conversation back in the direction you intended it to go, or you sit there, tune out your partner, and have a dialogue with yourself about how all your partner can do is think about themselves.
Of course, you could tell your partner about how self-centered they are by always hogging the spotlight but, as a rule, they'll just take your comments as proof that you want the stage all to yourself. If you want things to change, to end this unseen tug-of-war between the two of you, then try the following exercise.
The next time you begin to talk about yourself to your partner and they step in front of you – in order to talk about themselves – don't compete for the stage. Let them have the center spotlight.
Don’t compete with them. Allow them the room they need to complete feeding the unconscious parts of themselves that believe they’re the only thing that matters in this world.
Don’t contest their solo performance. And, to the best of your ability, don’t judge it either. Instead, witness it and yourself at the same time. You’ll see that most of the pain you feel in these moments isn’t because your partner wants to steal the show, but rather because you want the same thing that they do: some attention.
We all want to be the main attraction, and some seem to need it more than others. The more clearly you see this, the less interest you’ll have in the parts of yourself that always want to fight for that part.
On the other side of this equation, by giving your partner the stage all to themselves, you help make it possible for them to see how empty it is to be on it all by themselves. They may not change their “act” all at once; in fact, it’s unlikely. But, for your choice to no longer compete for the “top spot,” you’re awarded the “Freedom” prize for best supporting actor.
Excerpted from Relationship Magic: Waking Up Together by Guy Finley.
©2018 Guy Finley
Used by permission from Llewellyn Worldwide, Ltd.