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Day 10
Stress in Relationships

The following chapter is an excerpt from The 14 Day Stress Cure and is approximately 21 printed pages long. You may print it out if you like and remember to return to http://www.stresscure.com often, as we add more materials to help you cope with stress.
Copyright 1991, M.C. Orman, MD, FLP. All Rights Reserved.

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Relationship problems are another type of "stress" we all experience from time to time. Conflicts can arise with our spouse, parents, children, friends, co-workers, employees, bosses, or even with total strangers.

As common as our relationship problems are, we often misunderstand what causes them to occur. Much of the time they come from hidden conversations and action patterns within us, not from the behavior or attitudes of others. The problem is we often don't notice the role that we play.

In addition, most people are confused about what it takes to create happy, successful, long-term interpersonal relationships. This is another hidden cause of our stress, which I will address in the second half of this chapter.

How To Deal With Relationship Stress

The secret to dealing with any relationship problem is to use the six-step method outlined in Chapter 4:

How To Deal With Relationship Problems

Step 1: DEFINE YOUR PROBLEM(S) SPECIFICALLY--i.e. "My husband never talks to me," "My boss hates my guts," "I can't stand to be around X for more than two minutes," or "I'm in love with Y, but he/she isn't interested in me."

Step 2: RELATE TO EACH OF YOUR RELATIONSHIP PROBLEMS AS FEEDBACK--i.e. assume you are partly the cause of the problem.

Step 3: IDENTIFY THE SPECIFIC CONVERSATIONS AND ACTION PATTERNS within you that are causing your relationship problems to occur or persist.

Step 4: REMIND YOURSELF that these hidden patterns EXIST IN YOUR BODY, not your mind.

Step 5: TAKE ACTION TO NEUTRALIZE THESE HIDDEN CAUSES--i.e. challenge your stress-producing conversations; disrupt your automatic behavior patterns; create relationship- enhancing contexts.

Step 6: If your relationship problems don't improve, REPEAT STEPS 1-5 AND/OR GET COACHING.

EXAMPLE: Consider the case of Laura and Steve. Laura came to see me because she was tired of her husband Steve's uncaring behavior. The couple had been fighting about this problem for years, but no matter how much Laura complained, Steve refused to give her the type of attention and caring she wanted.

My first step in treating Laura was to help her define her problems more specifically. This involved showing her that her problem could be divided into two separate parts:

PROBLEM #1: "My husband doesn't care about me anymore."

PROBLEM #2: "My husband doesn't do certain things I want him to do no matter how much I ask."

Next, I helped Laura view each of these problems as feedback. Instead of assuming that Steve was the sole cause of these problems, I asked her to consider that she might also be playing a role in bringing them about.

From this new perspective, Laura was able to recognize some of the conversations and action patterns within her that were contributing to her difficulties. Regarding her first problem--"my husband doesn't care about me anymore"--she eventually discovered that she was wrong about this conclusion. Steve did care about Laura very deeply. He just didn't show his love for her in the ways she expected. For Laura, there was a right way and a wrong way to show a wife that you cared. Even though Steve did many things that--from his perspective--showed that he lover her, Laura couldn't appreciate these expressions because they didn't fit her standards. She had formed a negative judgement about Steve--i.e. "he doesn't care anymore"--which kept her from recognizing the truth about his feelings.

As Laura began to deal with this internal conversation, she was able to challenge and "disprove" the false "reality" it created within her. She began to notice that Steve did express much love and concern for her, and this helped her feel better about the future of their relationship.

With regard to her second complaint--"Steve doesn't do what I want him to do no matter how much I ask"--Laura also found the feedback perspective of value. By asking herself how she might be contributing to this problem, she recognized the following issues, which had previously escaped her attention:

a) By assuming Steve didn't care about her anymore, she repeatedly interacted with him in a negative, resentful fashion. Given that Steve could feel her blame and anger, why should he try to please her when he knew she would never be satisfied?

b) Because Laura wanted Steve to behave in ways that were contrary to his nature, she spent much of her time trying to make him into someone different. This caused Steve to resist her even more.

c) Instead of praising and rewarding Steve for the few loving things he did the way she wanted, Laura constantly put him down for not doing these things more often. She noticed that her parents did the same to her when she was young, and she remembered she didn't like it much either.

d) Even though Steve found it difficult to give Laura what she wanted, he was not incapable of making certain changes. By assuming he would never come around, however, Laura stopped herself from exploring other ways to ask for what she wanted--ways that might work better for Steve and motivate him to want to do what she asked.

As Laura learned to free herself from each of these hidden patterns, she began to feel more hopeful about her marriage. Steve noticed this change in Laura too, and his own behavior began to improve spontaneously.

NOTE: Had Steve come in for treatment, with or without Laura, I would have used the same approach with him. I would have helped him discover the ways in which he, not Laura, was causing their marital problems to occur. Since each partner generally plays a role in any relationship problem or conflict that occurs between them, both can usually benefit from adopting a "feedback" perspective.

Relationship-Destroying Patterns

Many of us assume that our relationships should just work out by virtue of our inherent goodness and kindness. Our thinking goes something like this: "Human beings are naturally loving, caring, committed individuals who only need to find the right kind of partner to live happily ever after."

The truth about human relationships is often the opposite, however. Most of us have been "programmed" to fail in our interpersonal relationships, and if we follow our automatic tendencies, we will destroy any union that matters to us.

To succeed in our relationships, therefore, we must learn to recognize and deal with the hidden relationship-destroying patterns within us. Not only must we know how to deal with these patterns in ourselves, but we must also know how to deal with similar patterns in other people as well.

We have already discussed several of these patterns. Take the issue of control, for instance. Much of our relationship stress comes from our conscious and unconscious efforts to change or control other people. We want others to behave in certain ways, and when we can't get them to, we become angry and resentful. The more we try to change them and fail, the more angry, frustrated, and depressed we are likely to become.

We are also very critical and judgmental of other people. Internal conversations such as GOOD/BAD, RIGHT/WRONG, CAUSE/EFFECT, AND PERFECTIONISM commonly contribute to our interpersonal problems.

NOTE: Many of our relationship-destroying patterns, such as GOOD/BAD, RIGHT/WRONG, PERFECTIONISM, and CONTROL, have positive benefits in our lives as well. As a physician, for instance, I often must distinguish good from bad, and right from wrong. I need to have a reasonable amount of perfectionism in caring for others. And I often need to take control in difficult or life- threatening situations. When I go home, however, and try to assert these same "successful" patterns with my family, friends, or other individuals, conflicts can occur.

Other Key Relationship-Destroying Patterns

In addition to the conversations and action patterns noted above, there are four key patterns that are very destructive to our relationships. If you learn to recognize and deal with these four patterns, you will be able to prevent or eliminate much of the relationship stress you experience.




Of all the relationship-destroying patterns that affect both men and women, the most damaging is our tendency to blame someone or something other than ourselves when relationship difficulties occur. This pattern is hard to resist, since we can usually find many irritating habits or behaviors in others that seem to be the cause of our problems.

There are two good reasons you should refuse to play this game. The first is that it keeps you from relating to your relationship problems as "feedback." As we have already seen, there are many advantages to adopting this "feedback" perspective, and you lose these advantages when you blame things outside of yourself--even when some degree of blame may seem justified.

The second reason you should refuse to play the blame game is that it is based upon a false understanding of the nature of human relationships. Relationships are not "things" that can be "good" or "bad," "right" or "wrong," or "satisfying" or "unsatisfying" in and of themselves. They are processes that evolve over time and whose outcomes are determined by the behavior of their components. Any "qualities" such as "good" or "bad" that we attribute to our relationships, therefore, are not fixed or immutable characteristics-- they are temporary states that are always subject to change.

When we blame either our partner or our "relationship" as the source of our dissatisfaction, we not only fail to acknowledge how we may have contributed to our problems, but we also fail to see that we often have the power to successfully resolve them.

EXAMPLE: Jean complained that her husband never talked to her anymore, that he had little intimate contact with her, and that he immersed himself in his work to "hide" from her. She repeatedly maintained that her marriage had gone "sour," that there was no joy or satisfaction to be derived from it, and that the only possible solution was to seek a divorce. By blaming both her husband and her relationship for being the source of her dissatisfaction, Jean placed herself in the weakest possible position for dealing with her problems successfully. Had she related to her husband's behavior as "feedback," and had she assumed that the poor quality of her relationship was in part a by-product of her own unconscious attitudes and behaviors, she could have explored many other options. She could have tried new and creative ways of interacting with her husband that might have made him more willing to recognize and address some of the problems she knew existed.

The same could be said for Jean's husband as well. Surely he was aware of the loss of affection and communication in the relationship, and he could have taken the initiative to restore these ingredients too. Instead, he was busy playing the blame game himself--secretly criticizing and punishing his wife for the relationship's demise.

The blame game also causes problems is in our relationships with our children. Parents are often frustrated and perplexed by behavioral or emotional problems in their kids. They may even take one of their children for therapy because they believe the child is primarily to blame for such problems. For therapy with children to be successful, however, parents must often be helped to stop playing the blame game and adopt a "feedback" perspective. This can enable them to identify their own role in causing their children's problems to occur or persist, and by modifying their own behavior as parents the behavior of their children will often improve as well.



Another relationship-destroying pattern I see in many couples is KICKING YOUR SEEING EYE DOG. This pattern is based upon the principle that opposites attract. Most of us become attracted to other people not because they are similar to us, but because they possess certain talents, skills, and qualities we lack. This is why outgoing individuals often hook up with shy, introverted partners. It is also why intellectually-oriented people tend to marry emotion-oriented individuals, and why impatient people often end up with slow, leisurely-paced mates.

If you think about your own romantic relationships, past and present, you will probably notice that you and your spouse or lover differ in many ways.

For example, my wife, Christina, and I differ from each other in the following ways:

-One of us is more intellectually oriented, the other is more sensation-emotion oriented.
-One is talkative and outgoing, the other quiet and reserved.
-One likes sports, the other hates sports.
-One likes camping, the other hates camping.
-One spends money very easily, the other is a frugal saver.
-One likes to watch TV, the other rarely watches TV.
-One likes to go to parties, the other finds excuses to avoid them.
-One likes the kitchen to be clean and neat, the other leaves it messy.
-One likes Apple computers, the other IBM.

When we "fall in love" with someone, we often hope that their strengths and talents will become available to us, and that we can contribute our strengths and abilities in return. If I am an undisciplined spender, for example, it may be good for me to associate with someone who saves (and vice versa). If I tend to be intellectually- inclined, it might be good for me to have a partner who can remind me of the emotional side of life (and vice versa).

Like a person who knows he or she is blind, we often hook up with others who can function as "seeing-eye dogs" for us in life. When we find someone who can fill this valuable role, we tend to marry them to keep them around.

But then a very curious pattern emerges. This is the pattern I call KICKING YOUR SEEING-EYE DOG. Often, it begins very slowly, but eventually it becomes full-blown and threatens the survival of the relationship.

KICKING YOUR SEEING-EYE DOG is the pattern whereby you try to change or mold your partner into someone who thinks, feels, and acts just like you. Instead of respecting and appreciating your partner's differences, you begin to judge them negatively for being the way they are. Instead of keeping yourself open to what their differences have to offer you, you embark upon a foolish and futile project to change them to be the way you like.

This very common pattern makes no sense at all. Indeed, if we were aware of it, we would stop it very quickly. It's as though one day we recognize we are "blind," so we go out and find a seeing-eye dog to be our partner. Then, we bring the dog home and every time it tries to pull us in a certain direction, we kick it for disturbing us. This is exactly what we do to our spouses and other loved ones. No wonder they resent us and claim, quite correctly, that we don't respect or appreciate them.



Another relationship-destroying pattern is INVALIDATING OTHERS' OPINIONS AND POINTS OF VIEW. Most people who fail to deal with this pattern have trouble maintaining successful interpersonal relationships.

This pattern stems from our basic tendency to want to be right most of the time. We want to be right about our thoughts and ideas. We want to be right about our feelings, opinions, and ways of acting in life. We want to be right about our theories, values, and moral standards. In short, we want to be right about almost everything, and when we actively pursue this goal, we can destroy our relationships in the process.

You see, in order for you to be right, you must view other people's thoughts, feelings, and opinions as wrong or invalid, especially when they differ from yours. While proving yourself right may allow you to feel temporarily satisfied, your partner often ends up feeling hurt and resentful. These small hurts are not easily forgotten, and they will often come back to you in subtle--and not so subtle--ways.

The secret to dealing with this hidden cause of stress is to: a) recognize when this pattern has been triggered within you; b) resist the temptation to act upon it; c) do the exact opposite--i.e. consider that other people are "right" rather than "wrong" as much as possible. While this may appear like a foolish thing to do, most people benefit from creating this context.

NOTE: Choosing to view someone else as "right" does not mean you must view yourself as "wrong" or invalidate your own opinions and points of view. The purpose of this strategy is simply to compensate for your automatic tendency to invalidate other people. As I pointed out earlier, most people--including yourself--are right about their point of view in one way or another. By consciously creating the context WHEN I THINK SOMEONE IS WRONG, THAT PERSON MAY BE RIGHT, you can compensate for your tendency to overlook this possibility.



Most people assume they know what it takes to succeed in interpersonal relationships. They think that if they just find the right partner, or if they feel strongly "in love" with another person, their relationship will succeed and they will live happily ever after. This common fallacy is another hidden cause of stress.

FAILING TO BE A BEGINNER is a pattern whereby we fail to admit that we don't really know how to succeed in a particular area of life. Instead of finding out what it really takes to succeed, we act like we already know and there is no further need for us to study the matter. Love and marriage are two big areas where this hidden pattern repeatedly gets us into trouble.

For example, most people don't really know what it takes to have a successful marriage (divorce statistics attest to this fact). Many people assume that "love" is all they need to succeed. Aaron Beck, one of the original pioneers of cognitive therapy, argues against this popular belief in his 1988 book entitled Love Is Never Enough:

Although love is a powerful impetus for husbands and wives to help and support each other, to make each other happy, and to create a family, it does not in itself create the substance of the relationship--the personal qualities and skills that are crucial to sustain it and make it grow. Special personal qualities are crucial for a happy relationship: commitment, sensitivity, generosity, consideration, loyalty, responsibility, trustworthiness. Mates need to cooperate, compromise, and follow through with joint decisions. They have to be resilient, accepting, and forgiving. They need to be tolerant of each other's flaws, mistakes, and peculiarities. As these 'virtues' are cultivated over a period of time, the marriage develops and matures. (p. 4)

Beck also points out that we are rarely taught how to establish these personal qualities and skills. In addition, many of the ideas we have about them are also mistaken. Thus, no matter how many times our relationships fail, we rarely question our own fundamental understandings.

It is possible to learn how to create successful relationships. But in order to obtain this wisdom, you must first admit you don't have it. Then, you must seek out other people who can teach you to succeed. Many excellent relationship coaches exist who could help you do this. They are not hard to find, if you actively search for them. For example, I suggest you read Beck's Love Is Never Enough (see Suggestions For Further Reading). I also suggest that you study the next part of this chapter very carefully. You will also find several other helpful references in the Suggestions For Further Reading section.

Four Key Patterns That Cause Much
Of Our Relationship Stress


  • What Does It Take To Have Happy, Successful Relationships?

    Misunderstanding what is needed to create successful, long-term relationships is another hidden cause of our stress. In the remainder of this chapter, I will briefly discuss ten important ingredients for creating successful relationships of all types.


    All human beings are purposeful beings. Our purposes in life--both conscious and unconscious--guide our choices and behaviors, especially in our relationships.

    We all have a purpose, or purposes, for each interpersonal relationship we enter. These purposes may be either consciously or unconsciously adopted. Some of them are relationship-enhancing. Others, however, can be relationship-destroying.

    Most of our automatic--that is unconsciously adopted--purposes tend to be self-centered. These cause us to enter into relationships primarily to get things from others--love, sex, happiness, pleasure, security, prestige, or children--instead of making our relationships about pleasing and supporting the other person. This is especially true for marriage.

    (Other self-centered purposes for getting married include getting away from your parents, doing what society expects you to do, avoiding the pain of loneliness, having someone to take care of you, etc.)

    The best purpose for marriage, or for any other long-term relationship, is to forget about what you might get in return--although this is still the ultimate motivation--and focus on what you can give to the other person. Hans Selye described this as the "philosophy of gratitude." According to Selye, the best purpose you can adopt is to be of service to others, so much so that they are genuinely filled with gratitude for having you in their life:

    . . . to incite gratitude in others is perhaps the most natural basis for a long-range aim of man. It can be hoarded throughout life and accumulated into a tremendous wealth, which more reliably than any other assures our security and peace of mind in this world. . . . It can be pursued through whatever talents one may have. . . It can be accumulated as long as you live, and even your offspring will benefit by it. . . And--best of all--this is one type of selfishness for which you certainly need not dread censure: no one will blame you for hoarding avariciously the gratitude of your fellow men. . . I know of no other philosophy which necessarily transforms all our egotistic impulses into altruism without curtailing any of their self-protecting values. (The Stress Of Life, p. 290.)

    I can personally vouch for the wisdom of this philosophy. Whenever I enter into a relationship for the purpose of obtaining things from others, the relationship quickly deteriorates. On the other hand, every time my aim is to ensure the success, happiness, and well-being of other people, the quality of their lives improves and so does mine. Our relationships remains fresh, exciting, and mutually rewarding. This holds true for relationships with spouses, friends, children, parents, colleagues, co-workers, and even total strangers.

    NOTE: Most relationship-enhancing purposes are not natural for human beings. We are not "programmed" to adopt them, and we must therefore create them through repeated conscious effort. Frequently I find myself slipping back into my old, self-centered purposes. But the moment I catch myself doing this, I immediately choose to become other-directed.


    The dreaded "C"-word today is commitment. For many people, commitment means loss of freedom, obligatory suffering, fear of making the wrong decision, fear of financial ruin, and many other negative outcomes. While most people make (and break) commitments all the time, few of us know what it means to live committedly.

    In order to have happy, successful relationships with other people, you must understand the nature of human commitment. For example, you must know that commitment has little to do with your thoughts, feelings, desires, or opinions. It is not a mysterious force or ability, such as "will power" or "self-discipline," which some people possess and other people lack.

    True commitment is a context we create to keep our promises REGARDLESS OF OUR CIRCUMSTANCES. It is an unconditional pledge to ourselves and to others to live our lives consistent with our word. It is a decision--in advance--to always rise above our fleeting thoughts, feelings, moods, and situations and to deal with any problem or conflict in a way that enhances, rather than diminishes, the quality of our relationships.

    When problems occur during the course of our relationships, each of us is triggered to respond in automatic ways. A key issue for all of us is:



    Are we going to act on the basis of our triggered thoughts, feelings, moods, or beliefs, or are we going to act in a manner that is consistent with our word? This one ingredient often determines whether our relationships succeed or fail.

    Unfortunately, when most people commit themselves to other people, they do so conditionally. What they really mean is: "I'll remain true to my commitment as long as you remain true to yours, or as long as I feel good about my promises, or as long as nothing better comes along, or as long as we don't have any major conflicts or difficulties." They know that if certain events occur, or if their thoughts or feelings change--which they frequently do--they can go back on their word.

    The reason why commitment is so important for human beings is because that's all there is, in essence, to our relationships. A relationship is a process that flows from the promises--and only the promises--of each individual. It does not flow from our thoughts, feelings, needs, or desires, even though these are obviously important.

    For example, two people can interact over time, but if they have no implicit or explicit commitments to each other, they do not have a relationship. Also, when the commitment of one or both members dies, the relationship dies along with it, even if the people remain together. This often occurs in marriages, when one or both spouses struggle to preserve the outward semblances of togetherness even though the heart of the relationship is no longer present. (Sometimes the relationship can be revived!)

    As long as we make intelligent, sincere promises to other people, and as long as we endeavor to honor these promises--NO MATTER WHAT HAPPENS--our relationships usually flourish. When we make foolish, naive, or insincere promises, however, or when we violate either the letter or the spirit of our commitments, our relationships tend to die because we destroy the very ground that gives them life. Unfortunately, our society supports and condones such destructive behavior. It exonerates people for breaking their word, especially if they have any reasonable excuse for making such a decision. In truth, most of these excuses are not really justified, except in extreme situations such as repeated physical abuse, verbal abuse, or other serious offenses.

    Thus, to have happy, successful, long-term relationships, you must conduct yourself in a manner that supports both you and other people. This includes, but is not limited to, the following types of promises:

    Successful Interpersonal Relationships

  • To promote the health, well-being, personal growth and success of your partner

  • To communicate openly and honestly

  • To let your partner know if something important is bothering you

  • To deal with any problems or conflicts in a way that both you and your partner feel satisfied

  • To always keep your word or immediately atone for any slips you make

  • To do whatever it takes to preserve the quality and integrity of the relationship, regardless of whether this is comfortable or easy for you to do

  • For example, people who avoid dealing with the "little" hurts, disappointments, and minor broken promises in their relationships often suffer as time goes on. Not dealing with such "little" problems is equivalent to intentionally ignoring the early signs of cancer. Your interpersonal problems will continue to multiply, until one day you notice that your relationship is "terminal."

    People who make and keep the promises listed above often have a minimum of stress and dissatisfaction in their interpersonal relationships. On the other hand, people who are reluctant to make such commitments, or who try to get around living up to them, often find that their relationships fall apart.


    Another component for successful relationships is accepting other people exactly as they are and exactly as they are not. When we form a relationship with another individual, we should honor and respect that person exactly as they are, including all their faults and weaknesses. Since each person is a composite of positive and negative features, we must accept all of our partner's attributes, even the ones we don't like.

    True acceptance of this kind is not a passive act. It is a positive gift that you give to other people. In fact, you could say that love, which we normally assume to be a feeling or emotion, is the natural consequence of such generous acts of acceptance. When you accept other people exactly as they are, they feel love both from you and for you. Because you grant them the freedom to be the way they are, they feel nurtured and secure whenever they are in your presence.

    EXAMPLE: When Christina and I married in 1984, we composed our own vows for our wedding ceremony. Notice how the first of these vows embodies this principle of acceptance:


    -I promise to love you just the way you are.
    -I pledge to share my life with you, to honor and trust you, and to always be faithful to you.
    -I know that the experience of loving you can be mine whenever I choose.
    -And I will not hold you responsible for my own happiness and contentment.
    -I will cherish you, love you, and be truthful to you through all the changes and miracles in our lives.

    When you don't accept people exactly as they are--i.e. when you set out to change them, improve them, criticize them, or make them into someone different--they stop feeling loved and appreciated by you.

    NOTE: Most of us have trouble accepting others as they are because we mistakenly believe that our happiness and success are dependent upon others. If you are highly dependent upon someone for your happiness and success, you will strive to change or control that person as much as possible. This will eventually produce feelings of hostility and resentment in the other person, not to mention feelings of frustration, disappointment, and resentment within you.


    Trust, like commitment, is another essential ingredient for successful interpersonal relationships. Since our relationships are products of our promises and commitments, it is mandatory that our partners trust our basic integrity. It is also essential that we conduct ourselves in a trustworthy manner, and that we demand the same from anyone who wants to have a relationship with us.



    Many people believe that they can get away with minor transgressions, as long as the immediate consequences are not terribly serious. Trust, however, can easily be destroyed by such minor transgressions.

    Since I am dependent upon you to keep the major promises of our relationship, I am going to have doubts that you will come through when times are tough. If you break your word to me on some minor occasion, why shouldn't I assume you might do the same on more important issues? You may think no harm results from breaking little promises, but my trust in you--not to mention your own trust in yourself--will always be diminished.

    Similarly, the way you can rebuild trust in a relationship, once you have damaged that trust, is to demonstrate that you can be counted on to keep your word--NO MATTER WHAT! Never make a promise you know you aren't going to keep, and keep every promise you make or promptly acknowledge when you fail to do so. (It is also important to communicate to others as soon as you discover you might not be able to keep a promise you made.) This will tell the other person that you are sincere about having integrity and will go a long way toward restoring their faith and trust in you.

    NOTE: Some people assume that trust should be granted to them, regardless of their past behavior. This may be reasonable at the beginning of a relationship, but once you have damaged that trust, only a fool would give it back to you. You must work to earn back the other person's trust by demonstrating that you are now, and intend to remain, a trustworthy individual. Prior to establishing this, you don't really deserve to be trusted.


    Everyone knows that successful relationships require good communication. What most people don't know, however, is what separates good communication from poor communication or from verbal or non-verbal interactions that are either inconsequential or destructive.

    Good communication is not merely the sharing of experiences, thoughts, or feelings. To create successful, long-term relationships you need to communicate in a way that is purposeful, powerful, and meaningful to other people.

    By purposeful, I mean your communications should always be consistent with the purposes and promises of your relationship. If you say that your purpose is to please and empower your partner, both your communications and your actions should attest to this fact. If you say you will love, honor, and cherish your partner exactly as they are and exactly as they are not, your communications and interactions should reflect this commitment.

    By powerful, I mean your communications and interactions should be effective. This means they should regularly produce your desired result. If you are angry with your partner, or if you encounter any type of problem that detracts from your sense of love and admiration, you should be determined to communicate until that problem is resolved. Whatever type of interaction might be required, you must not rest until the result has been produced. This is the type of purposeful, powerful communication that is needed to succeed in long- term relationships.

    And last, to be effective your communications must be meaningful to the other person. It doesn't really matter what you think or how you feel about the things you say or do. The only thing that matters is how others are affected by them.

    Two people never experience the same event or reality in exactly the same way. Each has his or her own "internal reality" about whatever may have happened, and these internal realities must always be taken into account.



    Remember, the realities you perceive or think you have communicated will often have very little correspondence to the "realities" that appear within others.


    Marriage and other relationships are ongoing series of negotiations. Obviously, many minor differences and conflicts must be worked out. Requests must frequently be made of each other, and the option to decline or renegotiate certain requests must occasionally be exercised.

    The following rules and guidelines for negotiating often contribute to successful interpersonal relationships:

    Guidelines For Successful Negotiations

  • Each person should be free to request what they want or need from the other person

  • Each person should be free to decline any request that they can't responsibly honor

  • Any conflicts or differences of opinions should be resolved in a win-win manner (no one should be forced to capitulate to any agreement).

  • Each person should be committed to what works for the relationship (as opposed to what works for them, what they personally want, or what would make them happy or comfortable.)

    Another key ingredient for successful interpersonal relationships is surrender. This is not the type of surrender where you are forced to do something someone else wants. It is a voluntary type of surrender whereby you willfully give up control to someone other than yourself.

    One form of such surrender is choosing to go along with the thoughts, ideas, and opinions of your partner. This involves voluntarily giving up two of your most cherished desires:

    a) Your desire to be right;

    b) Your desire to be in control (i.e. to have things your way).

    Another form of voluntary surrender is allowing others to function as "seeing-eye" dogs for you. Each of us has gaps in our knowledge, skills, and abilities in life. When we recognize such "blind spots," the wisest thing we can do is surrender ourselves to the guidance of another. Let your partner (or a coach) be your guide in these areas. Let them do the seeing and thinking for you, since you will only get yourself into trouble if you try to do these yourself.

    Remember, one of the major benefits of forming intimate relationships with other people comes from sharing your weaknesses and blind spots with them. This is one way you can compensate for some of the limitations and drawbacks of your ingrained, automatic tendencies.

    Another type of voluntary surrender involves the promises and purposes of your relationships. Once you make these promises-- provided they are well-designed--forget about ever going back on them. Close any door that might provide you with an escape. In other words, voluntarily surrender to your own promises and commitments, and then live as though your life depended on them. It might!

    Also, when you create an equal partnership with another person, you must give up certain "rights" to do things as you please. You can no longer function as a separate, unattached individual since your choices and actions will affect the other person. Therefore, in order to succeed in your relationships, you must give up wanting to be right, wanting to have your own way, wanting your partner to think and feel exactly as you do, and many other desires.




    We discussed the nature of forgiveness in the preceding chapter. With regard to our long-term, interpersonal relationships, forgiveness takes on an even larger role. Not only must we forgive our friends, lovers, and partners for what they may have done in the past, but we must also forgive them--in advance--for the fact that they will probably do similar things again in the future.

    Biolinguistic organisms (i.e. human beings) cannot easily change or control their automatic programming. When you form a long-term relationship with another person, it's important to remember this. Even though the other person may truly want to change or improve certain behaviors, the chances are good that he or she will continue to respond automatically. Thus, you will need to be forgiving and understanding when such slips occur.


    Responsibility is also a major cornerstone of successful, long-term relationships. As we have already seen, true responsibility means neither credit, nor blame. It is a stance we take to personally take charge of our lives and to always acknowledge the role we--as well as others--play in the problems and conflicts we experience.

    One of the central problems in all of our relationships is how we respond when things don't go as we want. Do we blame other people, outside influences, or our relationship itself whenever we experience a lack of satisfaction? Or do we view such problems as signals that we need to learn and grow ourselves? Are we going to try to change or control our partner in order to be happy, or are we going to recognize that our own happiness comes primarily from the contexts and commitments we generate--or fail to generate--within ourselves?

    Unfortunately, many forces in society encourage us to adopt a victim's role. These forces tell us that we are not responsible for our problems and that we do not have the power to generate our own satisfaction and happiness. This widespread trend toward "victimization" in our society is another prominent myth that produces much unnecessary stress and suffering.


    The last ingredient to be considered is support. This is related to Selye's "philosophy of gratitude." If you make your relationships about supporting other people, you will find this strategy reaps dividends beyond your wildest imagination. If you are committed to helping others achieve their personal goals and ambitions, they will feel indebted to you and will often repay you in kind. Even if they don't, you can still get pleasure from contributing to their well-being, while finding the support and encouragement you need elsewhere.

    One problem with this strategy is that some people are good at "giving" love, support, acknowledgement, etc., while others are inclined to be "takers." Such givers and takers often end up together. This is because for a giver to give--and feel personally fulfilled--he or she must find someone who takes, and vice versa. Stress can result, however, when givers make the mistake of expecting their giving to be reciprocated. Instead of enjoying the pleasure of supporting their partners, they become angry and resentful when little is given to them in return. It is not so much the inequity that causes them to be resentful, but rather it is their unconscious expectation that the other person should return their generosity in kind, even though they are not programmed to function in this way.

    In addition, most of us--whether we are givers or takers--are often reluctant to accept support from others. This is another unrecognized cause of relationship stress which must be overcome if we want to be successful.


    1) Purpose
    2) Commitment
    3) Acceptance
    4) Trust
    5) Communication
    6) Negotiation
    7) Surrender
    8) Forgiveness
    9) Responsibility
    10) Support

    How To Deal With Anger Or Criticism Directed At You By Others

    In addition to the issues already discussed, I will briefly address three other topics that have a bearing on stress in our relationships. The first of these is how to deal with anger or criticism when it is directed at you by others.

    The secret to dealing with this common situation is to use the technique of Flipping To The Opposite Reality (see Chapter 6 and Appendix B). The best way to deal with anger or criticism from others is to:



    Instead of defending yourself or counter-attacking, assume there may be something you can agree with regarding the accusations or criticisms of others.

    TIP: I am not suggesting that you should ALWAYS agree with the accusations of others--especially if such accusations are totally incorrect--nor am I suggesting that you VERBALLY agree out loud with the other person. What I am suggesting is that you INTERNALLY take the point of view that the other person may indeed be "right" rather than "wrong" in one way or another. (The validity of other people's criticisms and accusations may not be apparent at first glance. If you look at these accusations honestly, however, you will often discover that they do have some merit.)

    The rationale for using this technique is explained in Appendix B (Flipping To The Opposite Reality). In short, no matter how things initially appear to you in terms of right and wrong, you can "flip" to the opposite reality and assume it is true as well. In other words, there must be something you said or did (or didn't say or didn't do) that irritated the other person. People rarely accuse you or criticize you without provocation. Even if you didn't do what you were accused of doing, the fact that someone chose to verbally assault you often means they are angry with you about something else. Thus, even if you are certain that you didn't do anything wrong, it is worth considering that the opposite may be true.

    NOTE: If you have trouble following this argument, or if it appears to you that I am encouraging you to tell a "lie" or agree with something that isn't really true, consider coming back to this section after you have studied Appendix B.

    Benjamin Franklin once said "the sting of any criticism comes from the truth it contains." It may be difficult for us to appreciate these truths, however, because of the harsh, critical manner in which they are usually been communicated. We are all guilty of sins and omissions that escape our conscious detection. We can be mean, insensitive, inconsiderate, arrogant, insulting, demeaning, unforgiving, or inhospitable in many ways that we aren't consciously aware of. But these behaviors are often very obvious to others, especially when they feel hurt or offended by our words or deeds. This is why we should always assume that others are "right" rather than "wrong" when they criticize or accuse us. By agreeing with their accusations, WE PLACE OURSELVES IN THE BEST POSSIBLE POSITION TO RECOGNIZE THE TRUTHS THEY CONTAIN.

    Another benefit of this approach is that other people's anger toward you will quickly disappear the moment you stop defending yourself and agree with their accusations. People will feel you have listened to them, heard them, and that you acknowledge the validity of their observations and points of view. They will respect you for admitting that you may have been wrong--even if you weren't--and they will be grateful you didn't respond defensively. Thus, even when you can't understand how another person's accusations may be true, it is almost always a good idea to make this assumption.

    Several points are worth noting about this advice:

    1. Everyone likes to criticize. It's our way of trying to make the world a better place to live. So don't be shocked or offended when someone decides to criticize you. While it may feel like they are trying to hurt you, they may actually be operating with good intentions.

    2. Don't take criticism personally. When someone criticizes you or is angry with you, try to focus on what you did or didn't do and ignore any generalizations or personality attacks that also come along. People can sometimes be very vicious and insensitive when they are angry. If you put their viciousness aside, you can still benefit greatly from the feedback they are providing you.

    3. If you don't understand the legitimacy of the other person's anger or criticism, ask them to help you better understand their point of view. As long as you are interested in what you can learn from other people's negative comments (instead of arguing against them), they will usually be willing to explain things in more detail.

    How To Deal With Distrust In Your Interpersonal Relationships

    Earlier, I talked about the importance of being trustworthy. But what should you do when other people break their word to you and your trust in them is diminished? My first piece of advice is try to prevent this problem from occurring whenever you can. When I form a relationship with someone who is important to me, I will often let that person know that my word is very important to me and that I expect them to honor theirs as well. When people know you'll be watching them very carefully, they often think twice about breaking their word.

    My second piece of advice is whenever such a problem does occur, don't let it go by. I will generally confront an individual the first time-- and any other time--a major or minor promise is broken. I don't let such violations go by, even though they may be minor and even though it may be uncomfortable for me to address them. The consequences of ignoring such minor transgressions, especially with regard to trust in your relationships, can often be enormous.

    Similarly, when people repeatedly fail to keep their word with me or are reluctant to acknowledge such failures as a problem, I either don't get into relationships with them, or I will terminate one if it is already in progress. Would you board an airplane if you saw it only had one wing? Would you try to drive a car, if you noticed it had a defective tire? Why then would you try to have a relationship with someone if you knew he or she lacked the intention to keep their promises? Relationships depend upon trust in the same way airplanes depend upon wings and automobiles depend upon tires. Stress is an inevitable outcome whenever you try to conduct a meaningful relationship when this essential ingredient is missing.

    NOTE: This is one good example of where you WOULDN'T want to use the technique of "Flipping To The Opposite Reality." If you know someone is dishonest or untrustworthy, don't switch to the opposite reality and assume you can count upon this individual. Remember, "Flipping To The Opposite Reality" is merely a technique you can use to "see" certain options or alternative interpretations that are not immediately apparent to you. Sometimes you can benefit from these opposite "realities," while at other times you may recognize that it would be imprudent to follow them.

    Also, it is important to understand that human beings operate on the basis of two very different types of promises--explicit and implicit ones. People will not only hold you accountable for the promises you verbally make (explicit promises), but they will also hold you to promises they assume you have made or they expect from you (implicit promises). Most of us understand that when we violate our explicit promises, distrust will be created. But when we violate an implicit promise, whether or not we agreed to abide by it, our trustworthiness will also be reduced in the eyes of other people. Often, you may not know or suspect that you have violated such implicit promises.

    This is why FAILING TO CLARIFY YOUR AGREEMENTS AND EXPECTATIONS is a stress-producing pattern. It's important to recognize your own and others' unspoken expectations and get them out on the table. Only then can you be responsible for accepting or rejecting them and for knowing the types of standards your behavior will be judged upon.

    Teaming With Your Partner To Defeat Your Own (And Their) Relationship-Destroying Patterns

    Defeating your relationship-destroying patterns is best accomplished as a team. While both parties in the relationship have their own stress-producing patterns, each can team up with the other to prevent their own internal patterns from becoming destructive. In fact, when you and your partner know and accept each other's relationship- destroying tendencies, these patterns can even become a great source of fun and satisfaction in the relationship. Since you can't change them or eliminate them anyway, you might as well accept them, have fun with them, and include them as part of your relationship. (I am not talking about "acceptance" in the pessimistic sense, such as hopelessness or resignation, but rather as a necessary first step in learning how to deal with such patterns more effectively.) Share them openly with your friends, associates, lovers, and other companions. Find out what their secret relationship-destroying patterns are, and ask them to support you in dealing with your own. You can also offer to do the same for them in return. Once you make such a pact, you can then play a game to see who can give up their destructive behavior patterns first whenever a problem or conflict arise. The one who gets free first can then try to support the other.

    When a friend, lover, or associate agrees to play this game with you, you will have an invaluable ally in your fight against your own relationship-destroying patterns. When both people in a relationship share this basic commitment, the relationship can be strengthened, not pulled apart, by any difficulties that arise.

    Where To Go From Here

    We have briefly examined some of the hidden patterns and issues that contribute to stress in our relationships. If you agree that these issues are important, I encourage you to continue exploring them on your own (see Suggestions For Further Reading).

    Remember, whenever you are faced with a difficult relationship problem, you can return to this chapter and review its contents. Refreshing your memory may be all you need to get yourself focused in a more useful direction.

    If you can't seem to resolve a difficult relationship problem by following the step-by-step method outlined in this book, consider getting coaching. This may help you to identify other hidden causes or other potential solutions that may not be apparent to you.


    1. Think of a time when you were either angry or frustrated. Which of the following contexts might have been helpful to you in that situation?:

    2. What is your understanding of the following context: "The best way to get love is to give love"?:





    3. What is your understanding of the following statement: "A relationship is what happens between two people who are waiting for something better to come along"?:





    4. To what extent do the following patterns occur for you in your relationships with others?

                                                            More Than
                                Almost                      I'd Like 
                                Never       Occasionally    To Admit

    A. BLAMING OTHERS _________ _________ _________

    B. KICKING YOUR SEEING EYE DOG _________ _________ _________

    C. INVALIDATING OTHERS OPINIONS & POINTS _________ _________ _________ OF VIEW

    D. FAILING TO BE A _________ _________ _________ BEGINNER

    5. List four ways in which the issue of CONTROL causes problems in your relationships?






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