Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Owning Our Complaints

In response to our suggestion that "The thing that we can’t accept about ourselves is the thing we complain about in the other," someone asked, "I never understood this. Can you explain please?"

The idea is this: We are all capable, even if only in a small way, of whatever we might complain about in someone else.

The other day we were driving on the freeway in heavy traffic. A car approached from behind, traveling faster than the rest of us. At the last second, he swerved around us, into the path of the car in the adjacent lane, sped up, and zoomed back into our lane.

"The guy's crazy!" I said.

Joe put his hand on mine and said quietly, "Maybe his wife's in labor and all he's thinking about is getting there as soon as possible."

Those words brought me instantly to the awareness that what I was complaining about in this stranger—aggressive driving—is something I, too, am entirely capable of, given the right conditions. And endangering others—including my daughter in the back seat—is something I'd like to believe I don't do! But the truth is, sometimes I do. And while going into complaint makes me tense, the awareness that "this could be me" makes me a much safer driver.

If you could recognize that you are fully capable of doing whatever it is you're complaining about someone else doing, you'll be much more likely to have compassion for them—and for yourself.

Monday, May 17, 2010

What Are You Committed to—Right Now?

Mark, a swim coach, was helping a young woman named Kristi learn to dive. She’d stand up on the starting blocks, nervous, worried that her goggles would come off or that she'd end up doing a belly flop. After every awkward splash into the pool, she’d pop up immediately, whirling around for his critique on just what went wrong.

After several minutes of this, Mark walked to the edge of the pool, looked Kristi in the eye, and said, “Look, you’ve just got to commit. Stop questioning yourself. Dive in and swim to the end!”

It worked. Kristi entered the water straight and clean, swam to the end of the lane, and came up with a smile on her face. She didn’t turn around looking to the coach for advice, because she knew she’d given it everything: full on, without hesitation.

Commitments have the power to carry us through our fears and toward our greatest accomplishments. Committing is an act of intention, of telling the world “I intend for this to work.” In a committed state, you’re better able to handle the unexpected, as you already have faith in the outcome.

In every aspect of our lives, including our relationships, the most powerful commitment is the one we’re making right now.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Must Soulmates Share the Same Values?

We were asked whether soulmates necessarily share all the same values. In a word, we believe the answer is no.

We are, of course, naturally drawn to people whose overall value system is similar to our own. If I believe that children will develop into their best selves if they are given a safe but wide-open space to explore in, it’s unlikely I’ll be drawn to someone who believes that the most important way to help children develop into successful adults is to shape them with well-defined guidelines and a firm hand. And vice versa!

These different approaches are simply two different systems of values, or beliefs, about how best to raise children. You will likely feel yourself aligned more with one than the other, based on your own values. In the most basic sense, what we call “values” are really just collections of ideas in which we’ve chosen to invest our belief. In other words, our values are collections of ideas that we believe are important. Once we understand that our beliefs—and thus our values—are choices we make (consciously or unconsciously), things become a little easier.

We each have our own life experiences that contribute greatly to our personal value systems. For example, although my partner and I may agree on the surface about what “respect” means—our definitions may sound quite similar—out in the world, all of our life experiences, our current situations, and our other desires and beliefs come into play and can make our day-to-day expressions of respect look quite different in many ways.

We get into trouble when we try to make someone else’s beliefs conform to our own. That’s because it’s practically impossible to force someone else to change their beliefs. And even if we do manage to get them to modify their behavior to line up better with our own beliefs, we’re going to have to deal with something that can be even tougher on a relationship than conflicting values: resentment.

For instance, suppose I hold the belief that my partner should show respect for me by not looking at other women when we’re out to dinner. When we go out, if he’s trying to abide by my wishes, he will try not to notice attractive females. He’ll still notice them; he’ll just try hard to pretend he doesn’t. This may make me feel more comfortable in the short term, but it may well introduce some level of resentment into our relationship that can be difficult and even devastating in the long run.

Now suppose that I am practicing being more flexible with my belief system, and that my partner and I are able to create a safe space to talk about such things. He might get me to understand that he loves me just as much when he’s looking at me as when he’s noticing the attractive woman who just walked by. In fact, he might feel even more love for me if we come to an understanding that I’d like to get to a place where he’s comfortable being human around me, something he’s never experienced with a significant other before! (Of course, to change my belief about this, I’ll have to look deeply into why I have that belief in the first place, and perhaps find ways to raise my own sense of self-worth—which can only have positive benefits for me!)

Now, is it always MY responsibility to adjust my belief systems, or values, rather than my partner’s responsibility? Well, no. But it’s the only real choice I have—besides either remaining frustrated with the way things are or leaving the relationship altogether.

We can’t change our partner, though we can be a catalyst for change through demonstration. If my partner sees that I’m able to change my belief about something to create a more harmonious experience for myself, he just might be willing to try it himself.

The more receptive we are to working with whatever shows up, and the more flexible we are with our beliefs, the greater the possibility there will be to connect on a soul level.