Ask your partner, "What was it like to be a child in your family?" Then just listen, following the three steps of the dialogue process we discussed in the second article in this series. Asking this question is a good first step in becoming curious about your partner. Becoming curious and listening deeply is the first step in moving into acceptance of difference.
Several years ago, my marriage to Helen nearly collapsed. We had been teaching relationship skills for years but we hadn't been practicing them at home. Something held us in place, but we felt like hypocrites. Finally, we made the decision to set a timeline-we would give our marriage one more year, but we would devote ourselves to trying to repair the relationship.
I've already told you how negative we were with each other and the decision we made to end all negativity. We also committed to doing dialogue habitually. We even followed the three steps of mirroring, validating, and empathizing when we ended our days with the expression of three appreciations of each other. We learned so much more about each other as we stretched into each other's world and learned to appreciate our differences.
I not only had to learn that Helen was very different from me, I came to appreciate those differences and, finally, to adore them. Our incompatibilities-and there are many-became the juice in our relationship, what gave it interest. In fact, we came up with a new truism that we tell all couples: incompatibility is grounds for marriage! When our marriage fell apart, we could hardly stand to be in the same room together; now we look forward to every minute we spend with each other. She is so interesting to me. And I feel loved in a way I had never experienced before.
We now realize that we went through seven stages of growing in acceptance of each other as different people. We now teach these steps to couples who come to our workshops. Each step expands your consciousness to include an "other" who is different.
These "seven A's"-accept, affirm, appreciate, admire, adore, and advocate-eliminate negativity and create the opening for joy. As you take each of these steps, you replace fear with joy. You are no longer judgmental. You become a safer person for your partner and thus safer with your partner. You are no longer an object of fear.
- To begin, simply acknowledge that your partner is "other" - a separate individual, not you and not like you. Say: "I acknowledge that you exist and you are not me." You begin to get "difference," that it is okay for your partner to be himself.
- Stay with acknowledgement until you accept that it's true. To accept is to stop objecting that your partner is not who you think he should be. You stop trying to change your partner. You surrender criticism. Say, "I accept that you are you."
- Next, take it a bit further and affirm your partner's right to be who he is. Say: "I affirm your right to be the you that you are." You're serious; you're starting to get it.
- Appreciate your partner. Your positive feelings toward your partner increase and you see his value as a person. You say "I appreciate the person you are." In your daily practice of expressing appreciations, find three positive traits or behaviors, noticing who he is and what he does for you.
- Admire the specialness of your partner. Your partner is special and you regard him with pleasure, wonder, and approval. You feel deep respect and say with feeling, "I admire who you are and the things you are capable of doing."
- Adore the exquisiteness of your partner, her special qualities. Show her your utmost esteem and praise. Say, "You are amazing!! Say it with passion and intensity. Now you see your partner's essence, or true self, the "God-ness" within. You truly honor your partner.
- Now you advocate for your partner's being and potential. Advocate means to speak for or on behalf of. You now speak only positively about your partner and in his behalf. You speak up for your partner's welfare, his reality, and his potential, all without judgment and without conditions. You are her advocate. You say, "I will speak to everyone and anyone on your behalf."
When two people become safe for each other, the relationship becomes more important than your individual needs. When you shift from yourself to the relationship, it is no longer "how am I going to get my needs met" but "what does the relationship need?"
- Does it need more fun?
- Does it need more sex?
- Does it need a night out once a week?
- Does it need a dog?
- Does it need to be de-toxed from negativity?
- Does it need more admiration?
What are we going to do to nurture this relationship so that it becomes healthy enough to nurture us?
Helen and I know this works because we've done it. We've tried and failed and come back from failure to achieve the greatest success. We used to say that our marriage was a journey, not a destination. We now say that it is the ultimate destination. Our marriage is the safest place we've ever been, the most peaceful, the most joyful. It is our dream marriage and we couldn't be happier. My wish for you is that you, too, will have the marriage of your dreams.
Dr. Hendrix, in partnership with his wife, Helen Lakelly Hunt, created Imago Relationship Therapy and co-founded Imago Relationships International, a non-profit organization that offers training and support to 2000 Imago therapists in 30 countries. Dr. Hendrix has appeared on the Oprah Winfrey Show 17 times. For more information, go to www.gettingtheloveyouwant.com or www.harvillehendrix.com.
Articles in the series, “Discover Each Other and Deepen Your Connection”: