Relationship Skills

Recently life and professional circumstances have had me working with people who are navigating relationships through stormy seas. I hear confusion and pain as they seem to be clinging to the ship of the relationship with just their fingernails. I have long believed that the greatest spiritual discipline, and one providing the most opportunity for growth,  is relationship work when consciously engaged.

An aptitude that will serve any relationship well, and one I have been noticing is often weakly developed, is the ability to separate one’s Self, the sense of Selfhood, from basic behavioral skills. We can unconsciously tend to think of our self and our skill level as the same thing.

If I am learning to be a carpenter and don’t know yet how to hold a hammer or saw or drive a nail, that doesn’t make me a bad or a dumb person. Obviously these are skills to learn. Relationship skills are just like that, and every relationship has some unique ones to be learned. Tremendous growth is possible if we can go into the relationship knowing that it is ok if we keep getting it wrong over and over again until we finally start to get it right, just like learning any craft.

If I take it personally when a builder tells me I’m not holding the hammer right, and allow myself to think this makes me a bad person or is a negative reflection on my character, it will be really hard for me to become a good carpenter. If I am grateful to know the flaws in my technique, advancement will flow and will be exciting.

Developing relationship skills can be tricky territory because the human psyche is so complex – and so full of complexes (a Jungian term) – but the same principles apply. Don’t drive your point in this way, say it differently and I can hear it. There are numerous techniques to learn so that communication and growth don’t have to be so painful. I have witnessed this in a number of situations just recently.

As thoughts are shared there is nearly always a gap between the actual meaning of what is being said and that which is heard and interpreted by the other. But even if what is said is heard right and the meaning is irritating or anger-producing, it is hard to remember that it is the thought, not the person, that is offending us.

As David Bohm says, “I am not my thoughts.” At different stages of life our thoughts shift and change, sometimes radically, but that doesn’t mean anything has changed in terms of our essential self. I am the same person I have been during all the stages and thought systems that I have moved through in life. None of those define me. I may have a very different frame of reference next year. Why should I feel hurt if my thoughts are challenged? They are not me. They are things, and malleable, and best if open to new understanding.

“Don’t take yourself so personally,” says James Hillman. We have to be able to challenge each other’s thinking without feeling challenged personally. But, Bohm says, mistakenly “we bring the instincts of the jungle to the defense of our thoughts,” as if our own self and survival were at stake.

My heart breaks when I see a person go down the tube of self-deprication, or into an unnecessary fury, when their partner is challenging the thinking taking place. Holding one’s self and the other in a deep place of respect and compassion, keeping the vision of their love foremost while discrepancies are clarified, creates possibility for new thought, new love, big breakthroughs.

I hope this helps someone. I have watched it and suffered it and am trying to learn it. Relationships are precious, and it is very sad to see them break apart for lack of just a few tools when that is the case.


One Response to “Relationship Skills”

  1. informationforager Says:

    Good post. Keep hammering away. Thanks.

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