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Cleaning up the mess- The skills of relationship

Taken from:
Saanich News August 10, 2005

Paul Beckow M.Sc. R.P.C.
Individual couple and Family Counsellor

Dear Paul

My wife and I had an upsetting quarrel the other night. So far this weekend we havenít even spoken. I canít stand it when we do this. We just seem to wait it out. I hate this distance between us. Any advice ?


Brian, your relationship, any relationship, is as strong as the actions and skills that you bring to it. If you have a satisfying relationship, it is evidence of your many skills.

This quarrel calls for clear skilful actions. There are a few specific actions in relationship which are powerful and make all the difference in moments like this.

The fact is we can cause a lot of mischief in our relationships. We make mistakes Ė little ones, medium ones, sometimes big ones. We make lots of mistakes.

Our mistakes are ways of behaving that donít match our commitment to our partner, our promises or our ideal. Some of our mistakes cause big fusses, hurt feelings, misunderstandings, defensiveness and protectiveness on our partnerís part.

When we make mistakes, our tendency is to deny them. Often we fail to even see them. Or we see our mistakes and simply wonít openly acknowledge them. We prefer to hide them. Or justify them. This is part of protecting ourselves and being right.

So after a big fuss or upset together, youíre at a crossroads. You can ignore what happened; you can resurrect the quarrel and do it all over again; you can continue to be annoyed; or you can just wait it out, go about your life together, cautiously, until your partner seems ready to connect again.

However, there is another response.

You can ďclean up the mess. ď

I recommend cleaning up the mess. It brings less suffering. It creates more good will and completeness between partners. You have fewer weeds growing in the garden that way.

To authentically clean up the mess is a skill.

What are the actions of cleaning up the mess?

Cleaning up the mess begins with you looking for, and owning, the unhappiness your behaviour may have caused. Look to discover for yourself what you can be responsible for.

If you became involved in a conflict, thereís usually something you can be responsible for. Relationship is a dance between two. So you could always find something you did or something your didnít do that contributed to how it all went together. Look to see what that could be.

Now letís remember that being responsible is not being at fault or blame. Being responsible is simply doing what works, it is being response able.

You become responsible, then, by acknowledging the mischief caused by your way of interacting and further, by allowing your partner to communicate to you any upsetting feelings still there for them.

To be with your partner in this way requires a special kind of listening and is a challenge as most of us cannot listen very well when someone is feeling hurt or troubled with them. The tendency is to defend rather than to listen. So this will definitely test you.

However, it is these kinds of communications that allow both people to be complete, to put the troubling event behind them, at rest in the past.

Thatís cleaning up the mess.

Two of the other actions of cleaning up the mess are apologies and forgiveness.

Thank heaven for apologies and forgiveness! Whoever first invented and performed these two particular actions in human affairs was wise indeed.

Both actions are so simple and powerful. An apology, genuinely given, is a clear offering of yourself for peace and a return to the innocence and commitment required of relatedness.

My recommendation then Brian, is to apologize. However you can. Write it down. Speak it personally. E mail it. Just do it.

ďI apologize for the way things went with us Thursday evening. I know my reaction caused a lot of upset for you, for both of us. I didnít handle myself well. I was reacting and blaming you. I said some unkind things and Iím sorry. I hope you will accept my apology.Ē

Next column weíll explore the skill of forgiveness.

Paul Beckow is a certified individual, marriage, and family therapist. If you have a relationship, personal issue or concern, he can be reached by phoning the Victoria Family Institute at 721 2477 or contacted through his web site at www.paulbeckow.com

For personal or couple counselling, for more information, or to register for a course - please contact Paul Beckow at The Victoria Family Institute.

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