Madanes's cutting-edge methods produce real results and create rewarding, sustainable relationships. Using simple, step-by-step exercises and drawing on the examples of clients who have benefited from this technique, Relationship Breakthrough teaches readers how to:
- overcome life's inevitable losses
- resolve long-standing family conflicts
- synchronize their needs with those of others
- create outstanding relationships in every area of their lives
This is the only book that ties the guiding principles of Tony Robbins's work with Cloe Madanes's revolutionary approach to relationship therapy. Our connections with the people in our lives have the capacity to bring us great joy, if only we understood the fundamental needs we all have, but sometimes express differently. Drawing on her trademark wisdom, empathy, and extensive clinical experience, Madanes shows readers how to better understand their own needs and those of others, bringing clarity and insight into any relationship.
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Read an Excerpt
WHAT ARE YOU THINKING?
Not much in life compares with the feeling of being a We, not just an I, of giving and receiving love freely, of being part of a team. The varieties of such relationships are legion: between spouses, lovers, parents and children, siblings, relatives, intimate friends, co-workers, neighbors. It is the feeling we get when we know someone is helping us "pull the wagon" in an endeavor, when someone "has our back." There is immense joy in a happy, permanent relationship. Most of us want nothing more than a permanent bond with someone we love. Yet so often our relationships go bad, and we don't know how to turn them around.
We all want the perfect relationship; alas, there is no such thing. Relationships are messy. It's how we deal with the messiness that makes the difference between a relationship filled with passion, growth, depth, and joy, and one that is mired in negative patterns of anger, blame, and boredom. A good relationship--whether with a partner, child, friend, or family member--is one of life's greatest gifts, and there's no reason to settle for anything less. When problems and conflicts arise, I counsel against exchanging one relationship for another, like a Christmas gift we take back for a store credit in hope of finding that thing we desire most. I believe most troubled relationships can be transformed into satisfying, rewarding ones. Simply falling into a great, long-lasting relationship is about as rare as finding a gold coin on the street. Good relationships take work, but we all have the capacity to create joyful, lasting, deeply satisfying connections in our lives.
Relationships are not always what they appear to be. A submissive wife may actually dominate her husband, even though he is the one who appears dominating. A loving husband may only get angry responses from his wife-- could his loving behavior possibly be the cause of her anger? How do we understand cause and effect in relationships? What are the sources of power that one person has over another? When we overcome a challenge, are we creating new problems? Is it possible to plan what will happen in relationships?
The first step to changing a dysfunctional or unsatisfying relationship is to change our focus--to look underneath the obvious problem and focus on our underlying needs.
It's Likely You Created the Problem You Are Trying to Solve
It is human nature that when faced with difficulties in a relationship, we tend to blame the other person.
"If my husband were not so rigid in his views about everything, then we could communicate. He becomes judgmental even before I can express myself!"
"I walk on eggshells around my son for fear that anything I might say could produce an emotional outburst!"
"He is so critical of everything I do! I am never good enough for him."
"Her hostility is out of control. The moment she opens her mouth, I expect to be attacked."
"He wants me to do everything for him, just like his mother did."
These are common complaints in relationships. They could have been expressed by a spouse about the other spouse, by a parent about a child, or by a child about a parent. The typical belief is that if only the other person would change, the relationship would be much better. And so people get stuck in patterns of blaming one another.
Most of us see ourselves as innocent bystanders in our relationships. The way we are seems totally unrelated to how others behave. Reality, of course, is quite different. We tend to only see things from our own point of view. We tell ourselves a story about "us," and this story can be very different from reality. Even though we prefer to deny it, we know that in relationships everything is interaction and that our behavior provokes a response in the other and that response in turn provokes a reaction and so on.
For example, if a wife expresses an outrageous view, the husband might respond with a cautious, conservative opinion, which she will then criticize, and he will respond by becoming even more rigid in his view. It's often difficult to determine what came first--her outrageousness or his rigidity.
Wife: I'm going to get the new Volkswagen Rabbit. I love the shape and the colors!
Husband: We need to look at the safety and consumer ratings before we make a decision.
Wife: You're so boring! Buying a car is like buying a dress; it's the shape and the color that matter.
Husband: We are not buying a new car this year. We simply can't afford it.
In every situation, we make three unconscious decisions: what we focus on, what it means to us, and what we should do to create the results we desire. While the wife was focusing on the pleasing aesthetics of the car, the husband was focusing on safety and performance ratings and finances. By changing her mental framework, her point of view, the wife might have changed her husband's reactions. If she had taken into account the sorts of concerns she knew her husband would focus on, she might have presented her desire differently.
If the wife had said, "I'm thinking of getting the new Volkswagen Rabbit. I love the shape and the colors, and I think it has great ratings," the husband's response might have been different. Likewise if the husband had replied to her first statement with "I like the shape and the colors, too. Let's look up the ratings," the wife might not have immediately jumped to the conclusion that her husband was boring.
A simple change of focus can immediately change a habitual mode of conflict.
Attempted Solutions May Sustain a Problem Instead of Resolving It
Sigmund Freud observed that people tend to repeat the same behaviors over and over again, even when those behaviors make them unhappy. He was interested in how people make the same mistake repeatedly, even when knowing that they are making a mistake. For example, a woman falls in love with a man, and soon she becomes emotionally dependent on him and demanding. He feels stifled and leaves her. She then falls in love with another man. Again she becomes dependent and demanding, again he leaves her. Freud called this the repetition compulsion.
Charles Darwin had already observed that the survival of a species might be threatened by its inability to abandon what at one time was an optimal adaptation. When a creature stubbornly maintains the same behavior in the face of a changing environment, survival is at risk. Yet changing habitual patterns can be very difficult to do, as everyone knows who has tried to abandon a bad habit or get someone else to do so.
Every marital therapist has struggled with spouses who think they have an optimal solution to their spouse's bad behavior. A typical issue for wives is the husband's sloppiness. The idea that husbands are sloppy might sound like a stereotype, but I reference it because often it is a problem in many relationships.
A conversation might go like this:
Wife: I get upset and yell at my husband when he leaves a mess in the kitchen.
Therapist: Does yelling work, or does he do it again? Wife: He does it again.
Therapist: So then what do you do?
Wife: I yell louder.
Therapist: Does it work?
Therapist: Perhaps it's time to stop doing what doesn't work and try something different.
It's remarkable how difficult it is to abandon an attempted solution that we believe will work, but time and time again doesn't. Not only is the solution not abandoned; it is often intensified or embellished. By attempting to perfect the solution, we can become blind to other strategies for change that may be available to us at any time. And to change, we need to shake up our old patterns of behavior, to think out of the box.
The inability to change the way we attempt to solve a problem can prove to be fatal to a relationship, even to a life. For example, army ants (Eciton) are known to have an almost unbelievably complex and purposeful social order. They march in columns of thousands and are extremely aggressive. However, an ironic disaster occasionally overcomes them when they are marching. A rainfall can wash away all traces of their colony trail. Having lost the trail, they begin to follow in each other's footsteps, and pretty soon they are walking in a dense circle that can involve thousands of ants-- and they continue to walk in this ever-compacting circle until they die. Apparently, they have only one solution to attempt when they lose their trail, and that is to follow each other, even though this solution eventually kills them.1
Attempted solutions that don't work and that actually exacerbate problems are as commonplace in the physical world as they are in our social world of relationships. In medicine they are so frequent that there is even a name for illnesses caused by a doctor's attempts to cure another illness. They are called iatrogenic.2 In many of our relationships, our attempted solutions become chronic as we repeat over and over a strategy that doesn't work, and we become like the ants, marching endlessly around and around, getting nowhere. Just as with bad habits, when we repeat certain behaviors, they become second nature, even when they're not good for us.
Sometimes Our Attempted Solution Becomes Bigger Than the Problem We Want to Solve
Let's say Jerry is a slob. He drops his clothes wherever he takes them off, leaving a trail of dirty clothes around the house. His wife, Eva, over the years, has become more and more annoyed by the habit. She's sick of picking up after him. But no matter how much she nags, Jerry can't seem to remember not to simply leave his clothes where they fall. Every day she comments on the dirty socks in front of the couch, yesterday's shirt on the bedroom floor, yesterday's underwear on the floor by the shower: "Pick up your socks. I'm sick of coming out every morning and seeing your smelly old socks in front of the couch. Why can't you put them in the laundry before you go to bed?" "Your shirts are on the floor again." "I can't stand the mess you leave in the bathroom," and so on. Every day Jerry answers: "In a minute." "Okay." "Sorry." He does as he has been ordered, but only after she nags him. Over time the interchange becomes almost ritualistic. She complains, he apologizes and eventually does as he is told. The problem is no longer simply that he doesn't pick up his clothes. The problem has become the unpleasant interaction around picking up the clothes, which leaves Jerry feeling harassed, unappreciated, and nagged, and Eva feeling frustrated and angry and as if Jerry doesn't care how his behavior affects her.
What if Eva changed her attempted solution and tried something completely different? Instead of complaining or pointing out the clothes Jerry has left all over the house, she might passionately kiss him every time she sees that he has picked up an item of clothing--even if he's picked it up only to put it on again. Without uttering a word, she kisses him. Jerry is puzzled as to why the sudden passion, but after a few incidents, he sees that there are large rewards for the small effort of picking up his socks.
You might think that a woman should not have to kiss her husband when he's being disrespectful to her. You might think: "Why would I be in the mood to kiss someone who can't pick up after himself?" That is precisely the issue. From the point of view of the story Eva tells herself, Jerry is being disrespectful to her by not picking up his socks. From Jerry's point of view, he is simply taking off his socks; he's not thinking that Eva will pick them up later. However, Jerry's behavior can easily be changed when the story is no longer about disrespect but is about playfulness and passion.
This was actually an experiment conducted as part of a doctoral dissertation. A number of wives of graduate students had the same complaint: The husbands didn't pick up their clothes no matter how much the wives complained, nagged, and cajoled them. The experimenter instructed the women to stop all those behaviors, and instead each would kiss her husband passionately whenever he happened to pick up a clothing item. In a matter of weeks, all the husbands were regularly picking up their clothes.
By adding a dimension of surprise, spontaneity, and playfulness, the wife has changed not only her focus (I want that man to pick up those clothes, I'm not going to do it for him this time) but also her husband's (All I have to do is clean up a bit and she's in the mood--oops, there are some socks on the floor, let me pick them up, I think she may be watching me out of the corner of her eye).
Positive reinforcement is always more effective than negative.
Change the Solution
I have worked with many couples in which the husbands complained that their wives wouldn't stop talking about unpleasant matters. The issue could be money, in-laws, the children, or the relatives. At dinner together, on a walk, during a visit with friends, even on vacation, the wives would bring up the same old issues. They wanted to be heard. Being heard made them feel understood and loved. But the husbands were overwhelmed by the negativity that seemed to permeate every interaction. They were unable to divert their wives' focus onto some other more pleasant subject of conversation.
I suggested that the husbands propose to arrange for a meeting once a week where the couple would be able to discuss these unpleasant issues, with the explicit instruction that at no other time should they discuss these matters unless it was an absolute emergency. Once the couple had agreed to this, the husband was told, in the presence of his wife, that should she forget the instructions and begin to discuss one of these matters outside of the special meeting, he should begin to take off his clothes. He might first remove his tie, then his watch, his shoes, his socks, and continue undressing no matter where they were, for as long as the wife continued to talk about the issues. He will continue to undress even if it means that he will end up naked in public. The husbands typically loved this idea, and the wives quickly learned to remember to stay away from stressful subjects when the couple is having a good time together.
Sound outrageous? That's the point--we have to move out of our zone of comfort, which so often involves destructive patterns, and into our zone of creative power. This might seem extreme, but the point is that we need to find a way to break the pattern of negative interactions and turn them into playful exchanges. Introducing outrageous behavior and humor is a great way of doing this.