Putting "Relating" Back into our Relationships

A key ingredient in relating consciously to others is to assume that the other person's behavior, thoughts and feelings are meaningful. Then it becomes our task to learn what that meaning is. We may not immediately understand the meaning of certain behaviors, so it is critical that we replace our tendency to react, judge, or dismiss with an interest and curiosity about what is going on. When our goal is to discover the other person's intent instead of drawing our own conclusions, a relational possibility opens up in the relationship.

We are not the only game in town

One of the main reasons that this is difficult is that when another person does something that causes us to react, we disconnect. We disconnect from them because what they are doing makes no sense to us. We may react to their behaviors by feeling hurt or angry.

When we only view another person's behavior through our own perspective, i.e., how it impacts us or how it makes us feel, we exclude the possibility of the their meanings. We exclude them from occupying a relational space with us.

Finding ourselves caught in an emotional reaction to them, we have little interest in what is going on with them. Our reaction has now created a memorable scene about what they have done to us, how crazy their behavior is etc. We then bring all of our own associations to these feelings.

Unfortunately our reaction often has nothing to do with what the other person is trying to communicate. Our reaction creates a new and highly subjective interaction with ourselves that compounds an already difficult disconnection.

We are playing our own game by ourselves

The first and hardest part of changing these patterns is to realize that our minds create our reactions. We create both how we experience the other person and our reaction to them. For example, when someone expresses anger at me and I automatically get enraged, I now am seeing their anger through my own angry lens. My mind is forming mental and emotional associations to their anger and then judging or dismissing the person. I turn them into an alien object, the hurtful other. I am actually reacting to myself, my pictures, and my stories.

Usually we are not conscious of how our minds are creating our own experience of an other's behavior. How we experience them usually has very little to do with them or their anger. This same type of interpersonal reaction can happen over and over again, so that we seldom if ever actually connect to the other person. It is very hard to keep our reactions separate from what the other person is experiencing.

Playing together has more meaning

Why does this matter so much? It matters if we are interested in establishing a real connection with the other person; one based on mutual understanding. Creating a real connection means discovering how the other person is constructing his or her experience.

It is one thing to understand yourself and see how you react to another. This can be a lifelong practice, slowly gaining the internal silence to actually look at your reactions as they arise. It is a totally different thing when you take in and understand what someone else is feeling, and what meaning their behavior is having for them. Understanding another person is a very different event from understanding the impact they have had on you. Of course, in the process you may also need the other person to get what impact their behavior has had on you.

Emotional contact creates a new game

Emotional contact with another person happens when we are being understood and received or at least an effort is being made to do that. Connecting to your own self is important and expressing yourself to another helps, but part of the equation for true connection and feeling emotional contact is the experience of someone else taking in what you have thought or felt. The experience of contact can happen both in being received by another person or in the act of receiving them.

It is sometimes enough that they have simply shown interest in how you have felt, even if they do not understand your whole experience. The critical thing is that they have been able to turn their attention to your experience and they have assumed that your experience has meaning apart from how they experience it.

Copyright 2015 TruceWorks