Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The Power of Relationships Transcends Human Beings

The human need to form relationships apparently transcends the idea that such connections are exclusively assigned to other human beings. Additionally, the type of relationship is powerfully influenced by need, convenience, function, space, place, time and culture, along with a potent drive to satisfy a need, which resides within.
In the movie Castaway, Tom Hanks shipwrecked and alone, magnificently captured the powerful drive to satisfy the need for a relationship and used what his time and place provided. He tore open a FedEx package containing a soccer ball. Using what he could find in his environment, he sketched basic facial features on the ball to resemble a human face, and all other ascribed intrinsic human attributes came out of his need. What or who we form relationships with, once we are free to choose, maybe just as much influenced by our immediate surroundings as the drives from within.
Increasingly during the past few decades, technology has permeated our social matrix in ways that make it difficult to view a world without it. Such familiarity through constant exposure makes it almost impossible not to have a relationship, on some level, with technology. As the relationships with technology increases, so does our familiarity, which in turn provides more opportunity for a variety of interactions and experiences with technology, just as in any other relationship. It is the human need for relationships and the way this need is used which may have teaching implications in helping seniors, those with learning challenges, and/or adults re-entering the work force, and others acquire a level of skill and mastery in the use of technology.
There is familiarity and there is space which is also a factor in a relationship. It sets the parameters, helps to define the type of relationship, is a gauge in measuring the quality of the relationship, and provides the context and the history of the relationship. An intangible personal possession holds vastly different meanings for different people, but, nonetheless, requires understanding and appreciation. The cry for more "space" is a common theme expressed by couples experiencing problems, along with sentiments about one partner not willing to share "their space". As we enter a "meaningful" tech-relationship, the space the machine occupies is critical to the quality of the relationship.
The illustration below presents a playful approach to looking at these issues from a psychological perspective. There is acknowledgment of our tendency to ascribe human attributes to inanimate objects thereby establishing the basis for a relationship. The intent of the illustration is to provoke some thinking about teaching techniques and new designs which give recognition and value of human beings' powerful need to form relationships, even with a machine.
My Tech-Relationship
Unrealistic Expectations:
I need Tech-Relationships that are easy, understanding, loyal and can readily make adjustments to my needs.
There were times when I felt downright immoral, moving from one relationship to another, searching for "Tech-Right". Maybe I had difficulty with commitment. My longest meaningful relationship was with my last PC. It was wonderful, most of the time, although complicated. It held everything that was dear and important to me and shared meaningful moments in my personal and professional journey. It knew my secrets, my vulnerabilities, my desires. It was a true partner.
As in all relationships, there were issues. I tolerated and sacrificed a lot for the sake of the relationship, often confronted with degrading and ugly material. The stance was always the same, viewing me as inflexible and not understanding the bigger picture.
My Space
Why should I allow it to get so close if our relationship is not an exclusive one?
Its purpose was larger than any one relationship, and this fact was muddled by it being situated in a space that belonged to me. In hindsight, I realize that my expectations may have been warped, because it shared my space. Its existence transcended the space it occupied, but the space it occupied, influenced my feelings. How could it so uniquely be part of my life, with entry into such private areas and not fully respect, and appreciate my needs?
In the end, I came to terms with the certain facts about its character. It had no loyalty, little integrity, no sense of decorum, and was arrogant. It was filled with layers of complex messages and material, stuff that was poured into its tech-mind by people it knew nothing about, and then delivered into my space as if invited. At times, it took on the persona of the messages it so diligently delivered. It did not care, but I was left to deal with all of those thoughts and feelings that were now part of me. It felt nothing when I entered into its space, but I felt everything when it entered mine.
I do not feel like my needs are being met.
The relationship lasted almost three years. I am not sure exactly when the final turning point occurred, but I remember feeling that it was becoming less and less responsive to me. There were times when it would just stop in the middle of a sentence, with no explanation on what I did wrong. How can I be expected to change if I don't know what I did wrong? I tried everything to fix the relationship. I sought professional advice; I cleaned out the clutter, which I thought could be interfering with clear communication. I even gave it more space (memory) so it would not feel so cramped. Things got better for awhile, but I just did not feel the same. I needed to be able to count on this relationship, and the frequent problems made me question its sincerity and willingness to stay with me during the ups and downs. I was having a difficult time trusting it, and the stress this was causing only served to exasperate feelings that I had been silent about for too long.
Dealing with loss:
It was over and I needed to move on. As I took steps to terminate the relationship, I must admit that I was ambivalent. It was not easy to walk away when I had invested so much. However, I must admit that walking away was empowering, equalizing. I never felt like an equal in the relationship, and there were times that I sensed that it loathed my ignorance. It was putting up with me only because it knew no other existence, and to be functional was to be alive. Its short life span was a defect; a defect that ultimately made me feel more like an equal.
Preparing for a new relationship:
During my rebound, I was introduced to my first laptop. I needed something to fill the gap and I did not want to rush into another PC-Tech Relationship. I was still getting over my lost files. It did not take long to realize that this relationship would not come close to satisfying my needs, having so many quirks and issues that I just could not resolve. It became a good friend, one that could take care of "certain" needs, and one that I could turn to while building a relationship with my new PC.
I hope I have grown in ways that will make this relationship better. Perhaps, I need to expand my skills and make adjustments in my thinking so that I bring a broader understanding and more realistic expectations to this next Tech- Relationship. I will attempt to make some changes, but it must still understand that its existence remains intricately tied to my needs. Nevertheless, I need to better manage my emotions and alter my expectations because I do want this relationship to work.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

What Is Commitment in Relationships?

The question of when a relationship is committed is a source of much confusion and debate. We live in a time when the marriage rate is going down, the co-habitation rate is going up, and the majority of first-born children are now born to unmarried parents.
In this article I hope to shed some light on this question to facilitate your work with couples and individuals challenged by different perceptions of the status of their relationships.
I recently had a conversation with a woman who told me she had just broken off a "committed" relationship. A few questions later I learned that she had been dating this person for a year, they were not living together, and the reason she broke it off is that he "cheated."
We talked about pre-committed vs. committed relationships, and she agreed that it was a pre-committed relationship, but insisted that they had made a "commitment" to each other.
OK, things are getting clearer. On the one hand is the status of the relationship- pre-committed vs. committed, and on the other hand are commitments made within the relationship. Macro vs. micro. Two different things, right?
In our conversation, it occurred to me to make a distinction between a "Commitment" vs. a "Promise." They made a promise to each other within the context of a relationship that was not committed. That distinction seemed to help her make more sense of things.
When I asked the RCI coaches for feedback on the "commitment vs. promise" distinction, most felt that it was just semantics and there is not much of a difference. The general consensus was that when you make a promise you are making a commitment.
Well, I agree that it is a question of semantics, and here is my definition of terms:
PROMISE: Verbally stated future intention to perform a specific act.
- I promise to pick up your dry cleaning and not forget this time - I promise to be exclusive in our relationship
COMMITMENT: Both a FACT demonstrated by behavior, and an ATTITUDE consisting of thoughts and beliefs.
- I am committed to keeping my promises - I am committed to our relationship
In short, a promise is something you say, and a commitment is something you do. A promise is situation-specific. A commitment is contextual.
A promise is a small commitment. If a potential partner doesn't keep promises, I would question their ability to keep commitments, as they are definitely related.
Whether or not you agree with my semantics, the distinction I made between a commitment and a promise was helpful for the above conversation.
The larger picture though, is that I see a lot of confusion about the status of today's relationships. Some years ago when I coined the term "pre-commitment" to describe couples that were exclusive but not yet committed, it was a helpful distinction, but the question remains- "What is commitment?"
When you are married, it is clear you are in a committed relationship. Your commitment is a legal contract and a publicly witnessed FACT. However, it is common for couples in trouble for one or both partners to have an uncommitted ATTITUDE.
I have talked with many unmarried people, as the woman above, who have described themselves in "committed relationships." They clearly have the attitude, but often have nothing but verbal promises (and sometimes not even that!) to demonstrate that the relationship is committed.
1. Your partner is not aware your relationship is committed
2. You are wondering if this relationship is committed
3. You and your partner have differences of opinion about the status of your relationship
4. Your family and friends have different perceptions about the status of your relationship
5. You and your partner have not acted to explicitly formalize your commitment in some way
6. You are relying on verbal promises without a significant track record of them being kept
A commitment is explicit and unambiguous. A commitment is a formal event of some kind between two people. A commitment is something you DO over time. A real commitment is usually legally enforceable and there are consequences for breaking it.
And, for a relationship to be truly committed, there are no exits- mentally, emotionally, or physically. When the going gets rough, you make it work.
Commitment is not a light switch that goes from "off" to "on." When building a relationship with someone, the level of commitment gradually increases.
Then you have all the shades of gray. living together, dating exclusively for more than a year, even engaged to be married, that might look and feel like commitment, but is it really?
Commitment in a relationship is complicated in that it takes two people, and it requires an alignment of FACT (events, actions) and ATTITUDE (thoughts, beliefs) for both of them.
It is common to be committed in fact (e.g. "married") but not in attitude (e.g. "I'm not sure this is the right relationship for me").
It is also common to be pre-committed in fact (e.g. dating exclusively) and committed in attitude (e.g. "This is 'The One!' ").
In my work with couples I have found that the most important variable determining their future success is their level of commitment to the relationship.
In my experience, when couples are committed in fact, but not in attitude, their prognosis is poor.
Then, there are the pre-committed couples that generally fall into two categories-
UNCONSCIOUS- typically following the "mini-marriage" model of trying the relationship out, acting committed without actually making the commitment. A disconnect of fact and attitude.
CONSCIOUS- aware that they are not yet committed, usually have commitment as a goal, asking themselves "Is this the right relationship for me? Should I make a commitment?" An alignment of fact and attitude.
So, when is a relationship committed?
-- When there is an alignment of fact and attitude.
What creates the "fact" of commitment?
I propose these three criterion:
CRITERIA #1: Promises made to each other about the permanent nature of the relationship that are kept
CRITERIA #2: Explicit, formal, public declaration
CRITERIA #3: Unambiguous to partners and others
In today's world, if all three of the above are met, I would say it is a committed relationship, whether legally married or not.
I sincerely hope this article helps address the common questions about commitment that arise in relationship coaching. There are no pat answers or prescriptions, but it is my hope that these ideas and concepts will help you have productive conversations with your clients that are caught in the gray areas to support them to make effective relationship choices.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

5 Reasons Love Takes Six Months In A New Relationship

Love takes time. A minimum would be six months of dating to even accurately say "I love you." What about love at first sight and all the other miracle attractions of life, cinema and fiction? They are the exceptions, often rare if successful, to the Rule -- Love takes Six Months. Why? You cannot love someone you do not know and it takes time to get to know someone. Dating is a euphoric state in which each party wants the other to like them. So everybody is on good behavior, trying to empress, hoping weaknesses don't show through to soon, taking extra care with appearance and niceties. Over time you see a person at their best and worst. Specifically pay attention to relationships with family members, attitudes about ex's and others of your gender. Then just before you utter the "L" word ask these nine questions about yourself and the other person:
1. What is the dating history?
One pattern to look at is too much/too little. Beware of the person who has been " in love" a lot. Such a person may be in love with the idea of being in love and continues to move one warm body in after another. Or there is such a fear of loneliness someone has to be in their life. Or there is strong emotional neediness to be loved or to love that a vacuum is abhorred. People who have never dated or dated very little likely know very little about the skills necessary to sustain an ongoing intimate relationship. Or the person is jumping on the first person who shows interest in them to escape a bad home, relationship or life circumstance i.e. broke, unemployed, debt, etc.
2. What is the roommate history?
Most of the time roommates voluntarily select each other. Get this history early in the dating process, because once people think you are "serious" you may not hear the truth. Beware of a person who has had four different roommates in two years. Is the person irresponsible by not paying a share of the bills on time? Or rude or unthoughtful by playing music loud when a roomie has a big deadline or a project. Talk to short term roommates about issues of disrespect, dishonesty, or selfish, narcissistic behavior.
3. Are there any family issues?
Is there a family history of abuse -- verbal, emotional, physical, or sexual? These abuses can leave feelings and reactions that fast forward into here and now relationships. People can overcome these abuses, but it often requires therapy, hard personal work, and/or patient supportive healthy relationships. Carefully consider a family history of addictions, mental illness, or divorce. This is not an exhaustive list but certainly include those issues most often discussed as problematic. These issues, if present, do not have to be a deal breaker for a relationship but should be carefully considered as to there impact on a marriage, children, in-laws and your future.
4. What is the history of friendships?
Friendships tell volumes about a person's ability to get along in the broadest universe of relationships. Harry Stack Sullivan, eminent American psychiatrist, believed even the most horrible hurts in childhood could be overcome with a good friend in a process he called "chumship." Have friendships lasted since childhood or adolescence? Are most of these people emotionally healthy, leading productive lives, and have stable relationships. A yellow caution light ought to go off in your head if someone you are dating only has crazy, messed up friends. Or if the person tends to have a new best friend and all past friends are trivialized or hated. At the least it may mean extensive use of cutoff or alienation if the person is hurt, at the worst it could mean use of splitting which indicates a character disorder.
The first four questions ask about history. The answers are usually in the form of observable, countable facts. Some say love is blind. Well it sure can be dumb if we don't ask important sometimes hard questions.
5. Are each of you happy persons?
One of the myths in our culture is I can marry happiness. If I find Mr./Ms. Right I'll be happy! Wrong! Each person carries happiness within the self. Imagine its a bucket within your personality. Whatever has happened to you for good creates a reservoir of happiness. Whatever has happened to you for bad creates holes in your bucket. Life is the challenge of patching the holes and keeping the bucket filled within. No amount of someone pouring goodies and love form the outside will keep you happy long if the holes remain unpatched.